We spent the entire week at Kettler Iceplex Covering Caps Development Camp. This is our final entry from the week of hockey.
Stewart arrived at the Ballston Mall at 7:00am. He wasn't going to take a chance with any parking issues. He wasn't going to try to fight the crowd. He was going to get Mike Ribeiro's autograph.
The determined Caps fan staked out his territory soon after his arrival and nabbed the first position in line. It didn't matter that nobody else was there. It didn't matter that he would have to wait almost 3 whole hours. Stewart would possess Mike Ribeiro's signature, and nobody would stop him.
(Center) New Caps Center Mike Ribeiro Signing Autographs - (Left) The Line At 9am - (Right) Stewart The Super-Fan
From morning practice sessions on Monday to afternoon scrimmages on Thursday to the Fanfest on Saturday, fans were autograph hungry. Caps Development Camp was supposed to be a time for the players to learn about NHL-Style hockey but these young prospects learned something else; Caps fans are obsessed with autographs.
On Saturday, Stewart was just one of hundreds who made it their mission to obtain an autograph from the new 2nd line center for the Caps. Free ice skating, street hockey, moon-bounces, face-painting, and even a live scrimmage didn't prevent the line on the autograph balcony from looking like an amoeba of red, filled with people who were salivating at the mouth for somebody to simply write their name on a hockey puck.
The fans who waited were treated with an early surprise as former Caps great Rod Langway, who's number 5 hangs from the rafters at Verizon Center, joined the crowd in his Capitals hockey sweater. Parents sent up their uninformed kids to get a signed hockey puck, a task that they pretended was for the benefit of the children and not themselves.
Langway signs autographs for fans on the overcrowded balcony at Kettler Iceplex
Fans all week were having players sign all sorts of interesting items. Hockey sweaters, hats, pucks, sticks, torn out sheets of notebook paper, skin, and anything else they could get their hands on (dollar bills).
One fan who was very excited about getting George McPhee's autograph was getting Ribeiro to sign the same autograph-littered Caps hat. She has been collecting signatures for seven years. "I have 2 more [hats] filled at home" she told me.
Another fan had a beautiful wood-painted Capital's logo which already had the prized signature of Nick Backstrom along with a slew of other Washington players. He told me that Backstrom's signature was nice, but he would never forget Matt Hendricks', the first Caps player to sign his work of art.
(Left) Caps Hat With New George McPhee Autograph (Right) Wood Carving Autograph Piece
Earlier in the week, after practice sessions, fans would line up near the press box in hopes of getting an autograph. The signature-hungry crowds didn't care if it was first rounder Filip Forsberg or relative unknown Adam McKenzie, they wanted an autograph. Often, fans wouldn't even know whose autograph they were getting until it was written down in front of them.
One kid, who was at D-Camp every single day in his Varlamov jersey with a giant Caps 3 ring binder of autographs, said on Thursday that he had gotten every single player in camp's autograph except one. By Saturday he wasn't even watching the scrimmage. He was sitting in the lobby waiting for it to be over so he could continue his quest for a Matt Bailey autograph to complete the set. It is still unknown if this feat was accomplished.
(Left) Filip Forsberg signs an autograph - (Right) Tom Wilson laughs with fans
Caps Development Camp was an entire week of hockey fun. It gave the fans a chance to see some young talent and it gave the coaches and management a chance to evaluate that talent. More importantly to some Caps fans, it gave them the chance to get an autograph that they will never forget.