- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2009

FREDERICK, Md. (AP)

Washington Capitals jerseys are a hot item in area sporting goods stores, another sign of the team’s growing popularity now that it is winning.

Skate Frederick is among those reporting big sales, far from the 2004-05 lockout season when the store had to hold a clearance sale to get rid of unsold jerseys.

“I’ve been here 15 years, and we’ve never sold them this fast,” said pro shop manager Brian Auge.

At the Shenk & Tittle sporting goods store, two blank Capitals jerseys remained at the end of last month. The Alex Ovechkin jerseys were long gone.

The Capitals, who won their conference last year and lead their division this season, are not only winning, but have Ovechkin, last year’s league MVP. All of that has added up to increased interest in the franchise.

Mr. Auge said his store stopped ordering hockey jerseys for several years because they didn’t sell, but ordered six this year because the team was winning. They sold out in a week. He ordered 12 more and they went quickly, too.

“I would have sold another dozen, if I had them,” Mr. Auge said. “People were calling me from all over, even Pennsylvania, asking about jerseys.”

He has ordered 15 more adult jerseys and plans to order 15 youth jerseys.

Shenk & Tittle also is selling a lot of Capitals shirts, which cost only $19.99, compared with $114 for a blank jersey.

“We are looking at getting in more stuff,” said Kyle Sartory, the store’s assistant manager.

Sylvain Cardin, the hockey director at Skate Frederick, points out that hockey is an institution in some cities, where fans will show up no matter what, but Washington is not one of those cities.

“Before, when I went to the Verizon Center, it was empty,” he said recently. “Last week, I went, and it was packed.”

Signs of the team’s recent popularity also have emerged in less obvious ways, including the Club Scarlet female fan club, as reported by The Washington Times.

Mr. Cardin thinks the real difference is how young players are drawn to Ovechkin.

“He does things with the puck that many people cannot do,” Mr. Cardin said. “That’s what people like, the spectacular part of the game.”

Another likely reason for the Capitals’ popularity is that the team has held clinics at four Frederick County schools as part of their Capitals Hockey School program. At a recent clinic at Monocacy Middle School, about 150 youngsters came to hear from players Tomas Fleischmann and Milan Jurcina and assistant coach Dean Evason.

Phillip Meese, 16, says the sport is becoming more popular.

“This team has been winning a lot, and people are starting to talk about them more,” he said. “A lot of people are walking around with Ovechkin jerseys on. I’ve been to two games this year, and everyone wears red and goes crazy.”

Chris Turner, 16, has been to five games this season, the most ever for him. He didn’t go to any last year.

“It used to be when I asked someone if they saw the Capitals game last night, they said, ‘Who are the Capitals?’ ” he said.

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