WASHINGTON, D.C. – Longtime radio personality John Walton summed up what fueled Tuesday’s 2018 Stanley Cup championship parade with just one word.
“Belief,” he said. “It’s a powerful word.”
It’s been a long time coming for Capitals fans. Finally, after 44 years, fans from D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and beyond took the district by storm to bask in glory as they celebrated the team’s first ever Stanley Cup title Tuesday.
“As a longtime sports fan, I’ve waited 23 years to see one of my teams win it all,” Caps fan Emily Munson, who fell in love with the team after attending a Capitals game in her freshman year of college, said. “I’m overwhelmed… I’m happy.”
The start to the day was relatively normal. The Metro was packed to start the day, as is usual at 7 a.m. on any given weekday, but mixed in with the suits and ties that filled the cars were Capitals jerseys and championship hats.
Heading into Chinatown around 8 a.m., one could feel something special buzzing in the air around D.C. as several Capitals fans set up camp around various spots for the parade. At the same time, the inside of Capital One Arena felt empty and calm as the players piled in for their championship photo, taking one last skate on a somewhat melancholy-looking sheet of ice that lies beneath the floor of the D.C. venue.
As the Capitals took the time to joke around with one another, pose for pictures with the organizational staff and take their kids out for one last skate before summer, thousands of fans were now pouring into the streets outside the rink at the same time. The flood of Caps’ faithful filled Independence Lane, then Constitution Avenue, and by the time the Cup left the arena and the players loaded onto the buses, the flood had drowned the district in a complete sea of red.
The National Mall right now. #ALLCAPS pic.twitter.com/4vs80iNTlY
— Sammi Silber (@sammisilber) June 12, 2018
Over 100,000 people had filled the not only the streets surrounding the parade route, but the entire National Mall, all the way down past the Washington Monument. And the parade was still an hour away, with the temperature rising by the second.
No one seemed to care.
This day, which had been 44 years in the making, couldn’t be ruined by any factor. Excitement and thrills built every second that passed leading up to the Capitals’ celebration. One fan traveled all the way from Israel to celebrate Washington’s historic championship, and others brought their kids, the next generation of Capitals fans, to see the Stanley Cup in D.C. for the first time.
Washington won. Everyone could bask in this moment.
Two of Washington’s most prominent fans, the “Horn Guy” and WIlliam “Loud Goat” Stillell, kicked off the festivities two minutes past 11 a.m. with a “Let’s Go Caps” chant. A fire truck blared its siren to match the horn, and then, the players made their entrance on respective championship buses, allowing the party to begin.
Though various fans got to witness the Cup and the celebration on the parade route, there were tens of thousands already waiting on the Mall for the rally to begin. The excitement and adrenaline had been building leading up to that point, and the seconds that went by led to even more anticipation as it was hard for some to stay patient.
But it wasn’t until Ovechkin carried the Cup onto the stage at the Mall, hoisting it above his head, that it hit for the crowd: This was real. A combination of thrill, joy, pride, hope and motivation took over the crowd as they erupted into applause louder than at any game before.
After the players took the stage, the crowd got to relive the Stanley Cup Final against Vegas with a recap and highlights of each game showing on two big screens on either side of the stage, but the setting and parade backdrop didn’t stop fans from watching in awe as if they were watching these games live.
The loudest applause came when Devante Smith-Pelly scored the game-tying goal in Game 5, and then when Lars Eller scored the game-winner minutes later.
Following a speech from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Walton, with the help of play-by-play announcer Joe Beninati, introduced each player with their respective feats. While it may have had a ceremonial, formal feeling to it, it was kept light.
Jakub Vrana’s spirits were still high as he screamed and cheered with the crowd, assuring the fanbase that he is, in fact, still alive and well after a bit of a wild weekend. Andre Burakovsky danced and wiggled his arms as he greeted the fans. T.J. Oshie threw his hat off and pulled his jersey over his head before chugging a Bud Light. Australian winger Nathan Walker followed suit, downing a beer while Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson lifted him up. And lastly, Evgeny Kuznetsov did his “Birdman” celebration for the fans.
“Big day, short speech!” Leonsis says, receiving applause. A fan then yells “I LOVE YOU TED.”
— Sammi Silber (@sammisilber) June 12, 2018
Beyond the players, the coaching staff, training staff and front office staff were also acknowledged as fans continued to show their appreciation. Then, following speeches from team owner Ted Leonsis and head coach Barry Trotz, the Capitals players made continued to rally the crowd.
Oshie inspired D.C. to take on a new chant: “Back-to-back, back-to-back,” already gunning for a championship come next season. Tom Wilson thanked the fanbase for making D.C. feel like a family since he came into the league six seasons ago.
.@TJOshie77’s got a new chant for Washington… #BackToBack #ALLCAPS #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/TYAaG9oQI7
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) June 12, 2018
“Finally we start playing hockey like we can party, so that’s a good thing,” Nicklas Backstrom joked.
Ovechkin took the stage last for his speech, in complete awe of the crowd and swarm of red that surrounded the stage, all to see him and the Cup he and the fanbase fought so long for.
“Look at this people who is here!” he mused. “You thought it was going to be crazy, but it’s basically nuts! You guys killing it… back-to-back, right?”
The 32-year-old Russian, who had been fighting for the Cup for 13 seasons, thanked the fans and then conducted a giant sing-along to he and his teammates’ latest (and probably most-played on Spotify) anthem: Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”
As the festivities trickled to an end, the Capitals, as well as the fans, didn’t disperse quickly. The team continued to stand on stage and hoist the Cup, and as some started to trickle out and off the Mall, Ovechkin wasn’t done having fun yet.
“We’re not going to be (expletive) suck this year! We’re the Stanley Cup champions!” he shouted into the mic before screaming in celebration again.