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Caps Talk Rivalries

Bad memories, current Caps don't have. (200 photo by Rich Lipski - TWP)

The Caps-Penguins rivalry of the early-to-mid '90s is one of the most stomach-gurgling this city has seen in a quarter-century: five postseason meetings in six years, a total of 31 playoff games, and gallons of antacid consumed. The last of that spate of meetings came in 1996, when Eric Fehr was a 13-year old hockey fan. And the rivalry Fehr was most concerned with at that time didn't have anything to do with Petr Nedved. It was the Winkler Flyers against the OCN Blizzard ("Pride of the North") in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, and it was as fierce as it sounds.

"You just make signs, and you boo guys and taunt them, that kind of thing," said Fehr, a proud Winklerite. "Pack the rinks, boo the other team, really have a hatred of the other team."

Ain't no hatred like a Manitoba junior hockey hatred. Anyhow, many of the Caps have no idea about how deliciously their fan base was tortured by Pittsburgh in the '90s; "it's the same fans [but] it's different teams, so there's nothing we need to worry about there," captain Chris Clark said. "I didn't follow the Caps back then; back in the '90s, I was more a Toronto guy," John Erskine said. " I just know that they hated each other....I don't know anything that transpired," David Steckel said. "I wasn't here so it's hard for me to say," Viktor Kozlov added.

But if the specifics of this hatefest are somewhat absent, the Caps still have plenty of experience with some of the most famed rivalries in sports, some even more storied than Winkler-OCN.

Like Steckel, a Buckeye and veteran of Ohio State-Michigan.

"One of the most fascinating rivalries in sports," Steckel said. "If you play Michigan at any time, they're your biggest rival. It doesn't matter what sport. Any time you play Michigan, you [reaalllllly] hate 'em."

Or Clark, raised in New England with the appropriate regard for the New York Yankees.

"I was a Red Sox fan for 20 years, 25 years until anything really happened, so I can appreciate what fans go through," he said. "And getting knocked off in the same round every year is one thing, but if one team does it to you every year then it really becomes kind of emotional."

Kozlov and Tom Poti both experienced the Rangers-Islanders enmity. Erskine went through Windsor-London in the OHL; "I don't think it's as big," he said, when I asked how Caps-Pens compares. Boyd Gordon pointed to Red Deer-Calgary of the WHL. Fehr dipped his skates in the Hershey-Wilkes-Barre battles of the AHL.

"It's just like this, it's crazy," the Hershey alum said. "Wilkes-Barre fans are like Philadelphia Flyers fans, they're just freaking psycho."

Poti did BU-BC, while Clark starred for Clarkson against geographic rival St. Lawrence. Brian Pothier's first rivalry came when he was a pre-teen star for the North Shore Raiders, anticipating each and every meeting with Poti's Mass Bay Chiefs.

"Two powerhouse teams," Pothier recalled. "The rest of the league was ok, but those two teams were the best."

And that's kind of key. Several players said postseason clashes are a necessary pre-cursor to rivaliciousness, although this current Pens thing has come pretty close, what with the accusations of head-hunting, the dueling Russian stars, the sticky webs of personality conflicts and the fans who remember the '90s.

"Oh, I think it pretty much is right now," Steckel said, when I asked if this could approach Ohio State-Michigan. "It's the two best players in the NHL, and I don't think there's been a spirited love affair between us two. I mean, if you look at our previous games, we don't really like each other that much. So with a seven-game series, I can't think anything's gonna be different, except for more of a hatred towards each other by the end of it "

Really? We're talking hatred already?

"Not yet," Pothier said. "I'm sure I will after this series, though."

By Dan Steinberg  |  April 30, 2009; 8:59 PM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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rivaliciousness is my new favorite word.

Posted by: kikinguyen616 | April 30, 2009 9:11 PM | Report abuse

Fehr, despite his apparently inability to do anything in the first round, is freaking awesome for this alone: "Wilkes-Barre fans are like Philadelphia Flyers fans, they're just freaking psycho."

Posted by: RedBirdie | April 30, 2009 10:58 PM | Report abuse

Heh. I have to agree. Rivaliciousness is cracking me up. Another nice one, Dan. ;)

Posted by: amberlynne | April 30, 2009 11:03 PM | Report abuse

If today's Caps don't get the rivalry, I'm pretty sure the fans will make them understand it before Game 1 even begins.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | May 1, 2009 8:54 AM | Report abuse

The only Rivalry our Russians know is:

Russian National Team vs Anyone

Posted by: SA-Town | May 1, 2009 10:17 AM | Report abuse

I think for a rivalry to be real, it has to work both ways. Caps fans may feel stung by the 1990s, but I believe Pens fans view the cross-state Flyers and the ogre Rangers and their fans as true rivals. For Caps fans, it would be a monkey off their back. But, sorry, this isn't a rivalry. Simply facing off with a conference opponent doesn't represent a rivalry.

Posted by: Jumpy66 | May 1, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Just lovin' all the upstate NY/Central Pa references this morning. Who knew people were so nuts in Wilkes Barre? :)

Posted by: suzannepdc | May 1, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

you'd be "freaking psycho" if you lived in Wikes Barre, too :)

Posted by: RedBirdie | May 1, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

FYI, Eric Fehr was born in 1985. In 1996 he would have been 11.

Posted by: Caps1Fan | May 1, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

As a resident of south-central PA and a STHer for both the Caps and Bears, I can attest that Fehr's comments are right on the money. The Baby Pens' fans are just nuts; they make the Flyers' fans look like model citizens.

Can't wait for tomorrow! I'm doing the playoff double-header: Caps & Pens in the afternoon and Bears & Pens in the evening.

Posted by: cort1000 | May 1, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

cort, if Baby Pens' fans make Flyers fans look like model citizens, I'm somewhat scared to know the level of insanity in Wilkes-Barre. Wow, just wow.

Posted by: RedBirdie | May 1, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Pens Fans are quite crazy especially here in Wilkes-Barre. The fans here go to great lengths for the WBS Penguins. Ask any of the players that have ever been to our arena, at one time it was dubbed the ear shattering arena at Casey plaza.
We love our team and when they do win the Cup, this place is going to be insane.

Posted by: pensfans4everdotcom | May 1, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

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