Sunday, December 28, 2008

Welcome Home Mike Gartner

Photo courtesy of Washington Capitals

As Hockey Mom's hockey boys are off the ice for the weekend, I am at the Phone Booth to celebrate the retirement of former longtime Capital and Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Gartner's number 11. This is my first retirement ceremony (and unfortunately Hockey Mom's retirement is light years away) and I have a great view of all the festivities from the press box.

Gartner is only the fourth Cap to have his number retired and it is a well-deserved honor for a player who ranks second in Capitals history in goals (397), assists (392) and points (789). And did I mention he had a slap shot that could take your head off? Many of Gartner's former team mates including Wes Jarvis, Yvon Labre and Rod Langway came out on the red carpet to honor this notorious and much-loved former Capital. To commemorate this momentous occasion, the current Caps all donned white retro jerseys bearing number 11 during pre-game warm ups. He was also presented with a several momentos of his fabulous career. After Gartner expressed his gratitude and thanked his family, the Caps organization and the great Caps fans, Mike Gartner's number 11 banner was ceremoniously raised to the Verizon Center rafters.

If you've never been to a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, I have to warn you that folks from Leafs Nation are some of the rowdiest hockey fans you ever want to meet. And apparently there were several bus loads of then on hand to help celebrate with Mike Gartner. The whooping and hollering from the blue and white faithful started before the two clubs even hit the ice.

Of course AO had one of the first shots on goal but was denied by Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala. The opening minutes saw lots of hard hitting, despite the absence of Leafs agitator Ryan Hollweg who was a scratch. And great news for Caps fans, both Jeff Schultz and Mike Green are healthy and back on the ice! Speaking of Green, one of prettiest scoring chances at 5:52 in the first period came from a #52 slap shot that came short of crossing the red line - but it was wicked regardless.

Unfortunately, the Leafs fans are raising all sorts of cain in the seats below me as their team scored first on a goal from Niklas Hagman. And a first for Hockey Mom, I have never witnessed a goalie get a misconduct penalty in a professional game (not that is doesn't happen - just that I've never seen one). But that's exactly what happened to Jose Theodore as he got cited for diving. So at the end of the first period, the score is 1 - 0 in favor of Toronto.

Early second period saw a Maple Leafs power play as a result of an interference call against the Caps but Jose Theodore made some pretty sweet saves to avert pending disaster. Brooks Laich (also recognized in the locker room as the Caps' reigning ladies man) netted his ninth goal of the season to tie the score at one apiece.

Captain (Chris) Clark took offense with the Leaf's Jonas Frogren late in the second period and a bout of very animated pushing and shoving ensued. Clarkie and his Leafs pal went to the sin bin and moments later, a fired-up Alex Ovechkin scored yet another of his beautiful goals to give the men in red a 2 -1 advantage. And yes, sports fans, you can use the terms 'pretty' and 'beautiful' to describe hockey plays. I have to add a feminine touch somehow as I am one of the few women on this side of the press box tonight (besides the lovely Lisa Hillary of course - who Hockey Mom would love to interview soon).

There was yet another diving call (c'mon guys - this isn't the Summer Olympics) in the third period from the Leafs' Andre Deveaux and the Caps' Sean Collins took an interference penalty, resulting in a 4 on 4. Meanwhile, Chris Clark seems to have returned full-strength to his physical, gritty style after returning from the injured list.

Brooks Laich lit the lamp for his second tally of the evening with an unassisted goal with about 3:10 left in the third, earning himself the team's red hard hat for the evening. Just to make sure no loose ends were left untied, Alex Ovechkin made the empty net goal for a final score of 4 - 1 in favor of the Caps.

Accompanied by my veteran blogger pal with Storming the Crease, Hockey Mom made her first foray into the Capitals' locker room post-game (I'd previously only been in the visitor's locker room). I laughed when one of the media members remarked about the not-so-fresh smell of the locker room and I have to admit I didn't even notice (reminds me of my car which carries two funky-smelling hockey bags in the back on most days). In the Caps' locker room, Brooks Laich was sporting his well-deserved red hard hat while granting interviews. And Mike Green reported that his shoulder is feeling quite well these days - he's excited to be back in the game and Caps fans are thrilled to see him back.

So here's to another memorable night at the Verizon Center on so many fronts - congrats again to Mike Gartner and here's hoping the Caps continue on this nice run!

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