Photos © 2009 C. Nichols. All Rights Reserved.
The Washington Capitals had a party for their season ticket holders -- all 14,000 of them -- Tuesday night at Six Flags Amusement Park in suburban Maryland. With the park shut down to paying customers, the fans were treated to all the roller coaster rides, autographs and hot dogs they wanted.
And the kicker: when you got on a ride, you might have been sitting next to your favorite Capitals player.
Yes, the players probably had more fun riding the rides than the fans. From superstar Alex Ovechkin down to the fourth-line wingers, all the players took turns on the Superman, Batman's Wing or Joker's Jinx. In fact, Alexes Ovechkin and Semin were having so much fun, they were somewhat tardy for their autograph sessions.
Then, when the signings were over, they went back for more.
While a good time was had by all, it's hard not to see the rollercoaster experience as analogy for the Capitals' season, especially for the collection of players they have currently assembled.
The first thing you notice about a coaster is speed. It's what puts the thrill into the ride. Unless you're a daredevil motorcyclist, you normally don't go 70 MPH with most of your body exposed to the elements.
The Capitals play with that type of speed on the ice. Coach Bruce Boudreau's system is aggressive, fast-paced attack/counter attack.
Roller coasters very rarely go backwards, either.
Then, there are the climbs and descents, engineered in the ride to make your stomach flip and make you feel queasy, uneasy in your seat. If you ride the ride enough, you even know when bad parts are coming.
A hockey season -- even a single game -- certainly has its ups and downs as well, with winning and losing streaks, spates of good and poor play, etc. As with the ride, once you've watched the Caps long enough you can tell when Ovie might pull off some magic. Or conversely, see Semin get caught up ice leading to a breakaway the other way.
There are the twists and curves, unexpected jolts that throw you around in your seat and leave you battered and a little bruised, but not enough that you don't want to rush right back in line.
The Capitals have seen their share of twists early on as well. Michael Nylander's contract and playing status is unfolding in a way that very few people, including probably GM George McPhee, expected.
And while the team has managed to avoid any major injuries at this point, Ds John Erskine and Tom Poti have already missed practice time and Erskine is expected to miss a game or two with an upper body injury after blocking a puck against New Jersey.
Another twist that the team didn't see coming: Semyon Varlamov's struggles so far this season. The young goalie -- still with more playoff starts than regular season appearances -- has given up eight goals in less than two full games, getting yanked in his second start and hasn't been inserted back into the lineup since.
But that's ok so far, as Jose Theodore, like a roller coaster will sometimes do, stood on his head Tuesday night in the third period and overtime versus the Devils, salvaging a point in an Eastern Conference matchup.
And finally, there are the lines. Anytime you go to an amusement park, you expect to have to wait in long lines for your favorite ride. Last night was no exception.
Last year's season ticket holder party there were approximately 5,000 full seasons ticket holders that were invited to the party. This year that number almost tripled due to last season's success, playoff run, and the popularity of Ovechkin.
Just like a rollercoaster, everyone wants to get on the newest and fastest ride around.
So enjoy D.C.'s latest new thrill ride, the 2009-10 Washington Capitals. It's fast, full of ups and downs, with plenty of twists and curves, and sometimes even flips upside down. But it always makes you want to get right back on when it's over.