Thousands of die-hard and casual Washington Capitals fans flocked to downtown D.C. Tuesday to celebrate the city’s first professional sports championship and parade since 1992.
Tony Johnson of Southeast donned a red polo shirt with a navy blue Capitals baseball cap. He also grabbed some red Capitals beads for himself and his girlfriend, Andrea Crichlow.
“This is history going on in the city,” Johnson said while standing at the corner of 7th Street and Constitution Avenue, a main area along the parade route where nearly four dozen vehicles turned to head to the National Mall for a wild rally. “We deserve a celebration. Haven’t had nothing like this since the [Washington] Redskins in the early ’90s.”
Containers of beer flowed through the throng of fans along the parade route, but several Capitals players also drank a few on the bus and onstage for the rally in front of a sea of red-clad fans.
Capitals right winger T.J. Oshie walked on stage, pulled his sweater over his face and gulped down some beer.
So did Devante Smith-Pelly, one of the Capitals’ two Black players, as fans chanted, “DSP! DSP!”
Center Nicklas Backstrom summed up the Capitals’ playoff run: “Finally, we started playing hockey like we can party.”
The raucous atmosphere was apropos for an organization that waited 44 years for its first championship, and the team and fans alike have partied since the team defeated the Las Vegas Golden Knights to win the Stanley Cup on June 7.
Hours after the team’s victory in Las Vegas, captain Alexander Ovechkin walked around the city and MGM Hotel with the Stanley Cup. Days later, pictures and videos surfaced on social media of Ovechkin drinking from the cup in the Georgetown section of D.C.
Ovechkin and his teammate Braden Holtby, jockey Mike Smith and “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon sipped liquid through straws from the cup on Fallon’s show in Los Angeles Monday.
On Tuesday, Ovechkin hoisted the cup on the bus during the parade, then again onstage at the rally while thanking the fans in attendance.
“What’s up, babes?” he said. “Look at the people who’s here. It’s basically nuts. You guys are killing it.”
Ovechkin then asked to lower the music volume before delivering a speech that may go down in D.C. sports history.
“We’re not going to [expletive] suck this year,” he bellowed as the crowd roared in approval. “We’re Stanley Cup champions. Yeah! It’s yours, boys and girls!”
To help boost the excitement of Tuesday’s event, Metro workers distributed “WE WON THE CUP!” and “WE ARE #ALLCAPS” signs to commuters at various Metrorail stations.
Thousands wore red Capitals sweaters, T-shirts and other paraphernalia and greeted each other like long-lost friends.
Corey Love, 47, and Douglas Reeves, 68, both of Southeast, didn’t know each other until Tuesday.
“We are rocking the red today,” Love said of their attire. “This is uplifting and something that brings the city together.”
Love beamed with pride because his alma mater, Ballou Senior High School, participated in the parade along with nearly four dozen fire trucks, police cruisers and other vehicles covered with a red-and-white banner that read “Ovechkin for President.”
“There was no way I missing this parade,” said Angela Luchini of Pittsburgh, who grew up in Alexandria, Virginia. “My husband is a [Pittsburgh] Penguins fan, so we are a divided household. This is such a great scene. I love it.”
Corey Roberson and his family from Natchitoches, Louisiana, decided to check out the parade while in the area to visit friends who in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Because his two children finished school for the summer, the visit turned into a mini-vacation.
“It’s fun being here,” said Roberson’s son, Devon Brown, 10, who sported a white Stanley Cup Champs baseball cap. “This is great, seeing all this red.”
One of two Black players on the team, Smith-Pelly played on the fourth line among a team filled with offensive scorers and defensive renegades. His position ranks similar to a backup who receives limited playing time.
The right winger, who turns 26 Thursday, June 14, scored seven goals in 75 regular season games. In 24 playoff games this year, he scored seven goals, including two game-winners.
Smith-Pelly, a Scarborough, Ontario, native who signed as a free agent in Washington in July 2017 after playing only 53 games last season with the New Jersey Devils, made national headlines when he said prior to Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final that he wouldn’t visit the White House if the Capitals won.
“The things that he spews are straight-up racist and sexist,” Smith-Pelly said to a Canadian news outlet about President Donald Trump. “Some of the things he’s said are pretty gross. I’m not too into politics, so I don’t know all his other views, but his rhetoric I definitely don’t agree with. It hasn’t come up here, but I think I already have my mind made up.”
To see Smith-Pelly on the ice inspires the Tucker Road Ducks, an all-Black youth hockey team in Prince George’s County.
The team’s rink in Fort Washington was destroyed in a January 2017 fire. Plans to build a new rink are still ongoing.
Atuya Cornwell, a countywide sports coordinator, said the 17-player team played home games this at rinks in College Park and Waldorf in neighboring Charles County. Earlier this year, the team met Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik during a NHL Players’ Association event coordinated by the Ducks’ parent organization.
Cornwell said the team held its closing ceremony last month and watched the Stanley Cups playoffs together.
“Devante Smith-Pelly is definitely an inspiration to the guys,” he said. “We had a player who played hockey for the first time and score his first goal. He sees Smith-Pelly playing and him scoring will hopefully get him excited to continue the sport.”