It's official: Capitals prefer live fans over the cardboard cutouts

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J.J. Regan
·3 min read
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It's official: Caps prefer live fans over cardboard cutouts originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

With a renewed appreciation for the home crowd they had been missing for over a year, the Capitals took to the ice Tuesday at Capital One Arena in front of live fans for the first time since March 4, 2020 and delivered a 1-0 win over the New York Islanders.

Throughout the pandemic, the NHL has had to adjust to playing games in front of empty arenas. Washington was one of the last American teams to get fans back for its home games and Tuesday was the first night the doors were opened to a limited number of fans, much to the relief of the players.

"It felt like your first NHL game all over again," Tom Wilson said. "There's no words to describe what it feels like to have the fans back in the rink. They're our support system. Going into empty rinks night after night wasn't nearly as fun as skating onto the ice with a bunch of people screaming and the atmosphere out there. Even 2,000 fans makes a big difference."

If there is one thing the pandemic has shown us about sports, it is how much the lack of fans changes the experience. Crowds affect some athletes more than others, but they all agree that the game is missing something without the fans out in the seats.

"It was great," Vitek Vanecek said. "When we was going through the warmups, they was yelling. It's something different. It's better hockey. You can stay focusing in the game because they're yelling, they're trying to push you, you know? So it's really nice to have them back."

"We're so lucky to have such a great fan base that that's a huge advantage, and it definitely pushes us to be better when they're there," Wilson said.

Tuesday's game was not just the first time the fans got to see the 2021 Caps this season, it was also the first Capitals game with home fans in Peter Laviolette's tenure.

After the game, Laviolette expressed how happy he was to have the fans back in the arena because...well, the cardboard cutouts that had been lining the seats just don't do it for him.

“It was awesome, just the life in the building," Laviolette said. "We appreciate the cutout human beings, for 40-plus games but to actually have some live ones in there that move around and yell and they are fired up and they get up and give an ovation if things are going well, that’s kind of what I was talking about with the juice in the building, those cardboard people just don’t do that. We were waiting 49 games and they haven’t moved."

With the playoffs on the horizon and home-ice through at least the first round a probability for the Caps, the hope now is that more fans will start to be allowed in soon to add to the home advantage.

"To get some live people in the building and get our fans back here, that means a lot to us and we are real appreciative of their support tonight and moving forward," Laviolette said. "Hopefully it continues to get better and we can push that number and draw even more fans."