Being blue in a sea of red

The away game experience - there's nothing quite like it. You walk into an arena where your team is the visiting team, and everyone around you wants them to lose. It's so much fun. I think everyone should try it at least once.

I've seen NHL games in Atlanta, Hartford (before they moved to Raleigh), Nashville, East Rutherford (NJ), Philadelphia, Tampa, Vancouver, and Washington. I've gone to AHL games in Albany, Binghamton, New Haven, Syracuse, and Worcester. And I've gone to junior hockey games in Chiliwack (BC), Portland (OR), Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma (before they moved to Kelowna, BC), and Tri-Cities (Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, WA). And then I've seen the random exhibition game in Kamloops (BC), as well as some of the places I've already mentioned.

So I've watched hockey in a variety of places. I enjoy going on road trips, and I love sports, and the two naturally go together. I hope to visit a some other NHL arenas in the next year or two as well. Pittsburgh and Raleigh are on my list, and I've been meaning to see a game at Madison Square Garden for years now.

Of the NHL arenas that I've been in, Washington is pretty good. The Verizon Center has struck me as being a touch utilitarian in appearance, but I guess you're there to see things other than the building. Still, it doesn't really have a lot of personality. But I guess Philips Arena in Atlanta more than makes up for what it lacks.

I walked into the arena last night, and ran right into a couple of women brave enough to be wearing Tampa Bay Lightning jerseys. So I stopped by to talk to them briefly. They were a little wary of me at first, since some Caps fans had said some rather uncomplimentary things about the team earlier, so that was understandable. Going to an away game isn't for the faint of heart, after all. I'd found out that they'd flown up from Tampa to watch the boys play. Considering the kind of season they've had, those are some truly dedicated fans.

As is my custom, I watched warmups. You can usually get a pretty good feel for how a game's going to go if you do that. And, as a woman, you kinda want to see what these guys look like without helmets - and a few of them do skate around bareheaded. No one was really close enough or interested in talking to me, tho. Well, a couple of guys that I was in sitting in one of their seats did, but that's almost not even worth mentioning.

So I went to my seat. I like to sit in the corner or the end when I'm at a hockey game. You can see all of the ice that way. But too low, and you can't see plays develop. I was sitting a bit lower than I like - I was ten rows up from the glass - but it wasn't a bad seat.

I'm still relatively new up here in Virginia, so I went to the game by myself. I've done that for a few years now. It's not bad, really. I started chatting with the strangers around me to make friends and to get some idea of the Caps fan experience. I'm not always so chatty when I'm alone at games, but I went into this game with the idea that I should be talking to people.

The guy sitting in front of me, while a very nice gentleman before the game and during the intermissions, was a first class heckler. He did warn me before the game started, tho. So he'd heckle, and I'd make comments back. He never did confront me directly, though. Funny how he heckled less and less as the game went on. He happened to be a big fan of Martin St. Louis, interestingly enough, and was asking me if I thought the Lightning would trade him - hoping that the Caps would pick him up, of course.

Caps fans are very, very vocal and very, very opinionated. I learned that early on with my friend Sean in Richmond. And they feel the need to try to get people to root for their team. There was an older gentleman and his son sitting next to me, and the son kept trying to persuade me to switch sides now that I live in Virginia. I told him that I wasn't a bandwagon jumper. He respected that, but it didn't stop him from trying.

Still, when the game was on the line, and it was looking like the Caps were going to win, no one was disrespectful of me. I heard no taunts, no one called the Lightning any names, and nothing was directed my way. And it's not like I was being shy about cheering for the Lightning, either. I wasn't wearing a jersey - I actually don't own any Lightning stuff at all - but I was definitely rooting them on.

So while the standard Caps fan is intensely passionate about their team, they're not jerks about it. Not even to the visitors. And really, that's the way it should be.