In his 26 years with The Washington Times’ sports section, Dave Fay left lasting impressions on everyone that he met. He’s been described as crusty, cynical, blunt, sour and above all else, a good man.
“It was funny. Younger reporters could kind of be put off when they first meet him because he was a little bit gruff,” Times columnist and longtime friend Dan Daly said. “You just had to get to know him like a lot of older people.”
Unfortunately, many never got that chance. The legendary Washington Capitals beat reporter lost his battle with cancer in 2007, only weeks after receiving the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award and being named to the media wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame. His memory lives on with a memorial hockey game in his honor at Kettler Capitals Iceplex each year.
This year’s event will begin at 4:30 p.m. Saturday and include appearances by six Capitals from the past, including former captain Yvon Labre and four-time Stanley Cup champion Gord Lane (with the ‘80s New York Islanders). It also includes a silent auction with autographed Caps merchandise, one of the many draws that event organizer Rob Keaton hopes will bring fans out to remember Fay and help fund the fight against cancer.
“I don’t know how many guys will turn out, but I think we’ve gotten a lot more attention,” Keaton said. “I think a lot of blogs have picked it up, and I think we’re getting a little more traction this year.”
Keaton and fellow event organizer Gavin Toner originally met on the Washington Capitals message board and participated in a charity golf tournament together. Both wanted to play an active role in the fight against cancer and drew upon their rabid fanhood and Fay’s recent death to plan the event.
“I was really surprised at how there was definitely a segment of our fan base that kind of revered him for being the guy that was there every day for so long,” former Times writer Corey Masisak said. “I mean, the guy’s in the Hall of Fame — I don’t think there’s really any other way to put it.”
Masisak took over at The Times when Fay’s his health worsened in January 2007. As a young reporter filling in for the legend, he remembers hearing countless stories of Fay being Fay.
“Guys our age say that people older than us were old-school, mostly because they were old. But I think he kind of was — he really lived by all the old-school newspaper guidelines and didn’t take crap from anybody,” Masisak said. “There were a couple stories that went around the press box at Verizon Center that were pretty legendary … right before I took over the beat, a guy ticked him off, and he threw coffee on him.”
Masisak also remembers Fay’s tendency to drive to every possible away game, from Toronto to Boston and everywhere in between. He would cover a game in Buffalo and drive throughout the night to cover the game in Washington the next evening. Daly even remembers that Fay gave former center Dale Hunter and defenseman Calle Johansson a ride to Game 3 of a 1998 playoff series against Ottawa.
“I’m saying to Dale, ‘You want to sit in the front seat so you can have a little bit more room for your legs?’ and Dale’s going, ‘No, I’m fine back here.’ And I’m thinking: These guys have to play Game 3 of the Ottawa series in two hours, and they’re in our back seat.”
Fay was like an uncle to the Washington players, who trusted him implicitly and respected the dedication that he put into his craft. Daly called him the team’s “associate PR director” whenever fellow reporters needed to speak with a player, because when Fay asked for a quote, players gave it to them. He inspired a similar trust in his readers, motivating fans such as Keaton to establish an annual hockey game in his name.
Ultimately, it is Fay’s memory, and the shared fight against cancer, that makes the event tick.
“We’re all hockey fans, we’re all Caps fans and we all hate cancer,” Keaton said. “I never met Fay in my life, but I’ve been a Caps fan since probably the early ‘80s, and Dave Fay had the best coverage.”
“To me, if you were a Caps fan, you followed Dave Fay. That was just it.”