- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Since the Stanley Cup parade in June, the Perry family from Rockville, Maryland has looked forward to the return of hockey season.

The season ticket-holders were lined up outside Capital One Arena early for the Washington Capitals‘ first home game of the 2018 preseason Tuesday, eager to catch a glimpse of the defending champions in game action once again.

“We’ve seen (the Capitals) at practices and they’re much more relaxed than we’ve ever seen them,” Carlos Perry said. “So I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun.”

Tuesday’s game against the Boston Bruins was the Capitals‘ first time playing at Capital One Arena since Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. F Street was not blocked off for a roving cadre of red-clad fans and the set of NBC Sports’ telecast, as it was in June. But the palpable excitement in Chinatown for what was only a Tuesday exhibition game reflected the return of the city’s biggest champions.

Season ticket-holder Lotta Danielsson thinks the Capitals will attract more fans than ever now that they’ve won a Cup.

“D.C. loves a winner,” she said.

Danielsson, who was born in Sweden, wore a T-shirt bearing an illustration of popular Swedish rookie Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, a forward with a long, blonde hairdo famous among Capitals diehards. Because it is still preseason, players like Jonsson-Fjallby are matched with a handful of selected veterans like Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.

But the absence of top players like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov did not matter to the thousands of fans in attendance. They erupted in cheers when Capitals prospect Riley Barber scored in the fifth minute of the game just as if Ovechkin sent the puck in.

Tuesday’s game was also the first time sports fans could experience the $40 million renovations Capital One Arena underwent this summer, which will be fully complete before the regular season opener Oct. 3. The upgrades include digital signage around the concourse, allowing more seamless transition between Capitals and Wizards theming, as well as a new sound system, 3D projection system and DJ stage.

“The one that I’m really excited about is the sound system getting better, because if you were up in the 400 level, you couldn’t hear anything,” Danielsson said.

The in-arena music was noticeably louder Tuesday. Many of the cupholders were updated, and a bus will be added to the Capitals‘ Olympia ice resurfacer to allow more fans to ride it during intermissions.

At a moment in time when Washington sports fans are bemoaning the game-day experience at the Redskins’ FedEx Field, the atmosphere in Chinatown serves as a positive contrast for some.

“We are committed to putting on the best show possible for every fan who comes to a game at Capital One Arena,” Jim Van Stone, Monumental Sports and Entertainment’s president of business operations, said in a statement in July.

The Perry family plans to go to at least two-thirds of the 41 home games, including the season opener Oct. 3, when the Stanley Cup champion’s banner is unfurled in the Capital One Arena rafters, and on Oct. 19 to celebrate son Aden Perry’s 10th birthday.

“We love the people that work here. The ushers, security team,” Perry said. “Aside from the hockey and the game, the people that work here are great. We just love the staff.”

Washington plays two more preseason games at home — Sept. 28 against Carolina and Sept. 30 against St. Louis — before the regular season kicks off and the Capitals officially begin their title defense in front of their dedicated fans.

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