24 April, 2014

June 4, 1998: Washington Seriously Parties Over Hockey into the Wee Hours

Ten years ago today Joe Juneau scored what many Washington hockey fans consider to be the most significant goal in Capitals’ history — a game and series-ending, Wales Trophy earning tally, one catapulting Capsdom into delirium, 6:24 into overtime, on the road, in the Eastern Conference Finals’ game 6, giving the Caps a 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres and sending the Caps to their lone appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.
It wasn’t a wicked wrister or a booming slapshot but rather a fortuitous tuck-in of a rebound from linemate Brian Bellows’ close-in jam attempt against Dominik Hasek. You remember the JOB line, don’t you — Juneau, Oates, and Bellows?
For those of us who go back a bit with this organization, those seconds immediately after seeing that little black disc cross the goal line — it just glided rather casually across the line, the net never budging behind Dominik Hasek — seeing Joe Juneau’s arms raised in elation behind Hasek’s cage, followed soon after by his being swarmed in the rink corner to Hasek’s right by a skating stampede of teammates, are forever seared in our memories. Steve Kolbe, then new to the Caps’ radio play-by-play duties, horror-movie-screamed a call of the winning goal so memorably that WTEM played it on a virtual loop in its expanded coverage of the Caps late that spring . . . and some of us used it as a voicemail greeting at home for a few weeks.
Good times. Good times indeed.
That ’98 Caps team had a flair for the dramatic that postseason — they played seven overtime games, winning five of them. They played three extra session affairs against Boston in round 1 (going 2-1 in them), won all three OTs against Buffalo in the Eastern Conference finals, and lost one more against Detroit in the Stanley Cup Finals. Still to this day I say to myself, what if Kono hadn’t turned an ankle . . . did we let go of Killer one season too soon?
Any D.C. team that goes on a long postseason run is sure to capture the locals’ hearts, but in ’98, Olie Kolzig’s brilliance, combined with the NHL’s sudden death overtime drama and the Caps’ regular immersion in it, seemed to coalesce our community around those Caps in a way that was distinctive and unprecedented beyond normal postseason bandwagon followings.
Proof of this would arrive about four hours after Juneau’s hero tally, in the middle of the night in the middle of Washington/Baltimore suburban nowhere.
Juneau was the the leading scorer for the Caps that postseason, with 7 goals and 10 assists in 21 games, and so his heroics in that game 6 OT were perfectly appropriate. On Tuesday afternoon, Capitals’ Director of Media Relations Nate Ewell arranged a conference call for a few of us who wanted to stroll down Memory Lane with Juneau in acknowledgement of the 10th anniversary of his historic score. He acknowledged that the goal was the biggest of his NHL career, but then he admitted something startling about it: He hadn’t seen a replay of it until this week.
“Just a couple days before Nate got in touch with me about doing this conference call a friend of mine sent a link to go on YouTube — I was able to see it that way. That was the first time since 10 years ago that I actually saw it,” he said.
Isn’t that amazing?
Next I asked Juneau what made that band of ’98 Caps such a special team.
“It was a great mix. Late in the season the team added some experienced players . . . Esa Tikkanen and Brian Bellows and guys with experience. They just brought something special to the team. Although we did have an older team, we didn’t have guys that actually had won the Stanley Cup or had gone far in the playoffs. Those guys were able to transfer their knowledge and experience of winning and what it takes to win the Stanley Cup.”
After the overtime stunner in Buffalo, iconic Washington radio personality Ken Beatrice urged his listeners to race out to the team’s practice facility, Piney Orchard, in Odenton, Maryland, to meet the team bus that would be returning from BWI airport that remarkable night 10 years ago. Thousands took him up on the invitation. You could tell that something quite dramatic was unfolding a little before midnight in the Odenton area as parked cars packed tightly near one another on Piney Orchard Parkway some two miles from the rink. A facility that snuggily seats 750 for hockey would by some estimates cram 3,000, maybe more, in a weeknight of frenzied euphoria, where they patiently awaited the arrival of their heroes at 2:30 a.m. That following morning fatigue at work felt so f’in wonderful.
Ten years later, it’s difficult to convey to an Ovechkin-era fanbase just how powerful that night was for the devoted. It was preceded by a quarter century of rank incompetence, middling mediocity, and gut-wrenching shortcomings in the postseason as Patrick division favorites. Until Joe Juneau washed it all away 10 years ago today.
I remember folks standing literally six- and seven-deep all around the Piney rink glass that night 10 years ago, standing, cheering — stranger hugging stranger — screaming “Let’s Go Caps” maybe 750 times while awaiting their heroes. I asked Juneau what he remembered about the team bus turning onto Piney Orchard Parkway and seeing such sea of support in the middle of the night.
“I remember that very well — it almost seems like it was yesterday.
“We heard right away that there were some people waiting for us at the practice facility, and it was very special in the middle of the night to get there . . . it was just a dead area and we were just off to unpack our stuff and take our cars to drive home. Getting there that night and seeing that many fans waiting for us outside and inside the building — it was something else.
“It was obviously the high point of my time in Washington.
“I think it would be fair to say that it was obviously the high point of many guys that played in Washington for so many years, you know like the Dale Hunters and those guys, Kelly Miller.”
It was, without question, the high point of nearly 25 years of professional hockey in Washington.
Ten years ago today.
I’ll be toasting to it tonight.


  1. TG wrote:

    I made it out to Piney Orchard. I remember it well because I was terribly sick and my girlfriend (now my wife) said, “We HAVE to go. If we don’t we’ll be so upset that we didn’t.”
    I didn’t even know how to get there, but we ended up hitching a ride with my brother. I was still sick as a dog, but she was right. I would have regretted it had we not gone.
    The other thing I remember is that all the players seemed totally bombed when they made it onto the ice at Piney Orchard. Almost like they had been drinking the celebratory champagne during the entire flight from Buffalo.

    4 June, 2008 at 8:32 am | Permalink
  2. vt caps fan wrote:

    Yeah I barely remember that game. I do remember going absolutely crazy and celebrating with my brother.
    10 years ago tomorrow, I had my calculus final, my only REAL final of my senior year of high school. The only teacher I had that absolutely hated me (I thank my older brother for her vendetta against me). Needless to say, when I walked into that classroom wearing my White Caps jersey exhausted that next morning, she asked if I’m prepared for this exam. I laughed at her and said “I’ve got Joe Juneau on my side.” 1 friend got the joke.
    Needless to say, that was the worst grade I ever received in high school.
    I wish I could have been at Piney Orchard to greet the team. I only hope we get this opportunity to wait for them to come back to the Iceplex. If that day happens, I’ll be there.

    4 June, 2008 at 10:15 am | Permalink
  3. Victor wrote:

    I just got all bleary-eyed watching that.
    I did not make it out to Piney Orchard–as I recall, I had to sleep. However, I remember Joe talking before one of those last games, saying how the Caps making the Cup playoffs would be like sending a man to the moon, and he was going to be Neil Armstrong.

    4 June, 2008 at 11:09 am | Permalink
  4. usiel wrote:

    I remember jumping up and down in the Parent’s TV room. Was just a great moment in caps hockey.

    4 June, 2008 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  5. zelda wrote:

    Wow, does that bring back great memories! My daughter wanted to go out to greet the team, but she was 10 at the time and the next day was a school day. She lobbied hard: she reminded me that we had stayed for the April 24, 1996 Caps v. Pens game that went to 4OT and thus felt it only appropriate to go out to Piney Orchard. (Never mind that she was asleep on my shoulder for most of the OT.) In lieu of going out to Piney Orchard, I had to promise to take her to see and touch the Stanley Cup when it came to town and to take her to one of the playoff games. We did both, and she still talks about it.
    Joe Juneau (and Adam Oates!), the pride of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute!

    4 June, 2008 at 3:11 pm | Permalink
  6. Slightly off-topic (I didn’t live in the area in 1998), but watching that replay, Juneau’s goal looks an awful lot like Talbot’s from Monday to tie the game — same angle, distance, etc.

    4 June, 2008 at 4:37 pm | Permalink
  7. Grooven wrote:

    Ah yes, I remember it well. Except it wasn’t Ken Beatrice who told me about it. I got it from George Michael on NBC. I called my brother and said, “I’m going. Do you want to go? I’ll drive.”

    4 June, 2008 at 11:46 pm | Permalink
  8. Andrew wrote:

    Good stuff. About 15 of us crammed into a friend’s kitchen watching on a 12 inch TV….oh the euphoria.
    Of only Tik hits the side of the barn in the next series…..

    5 June, 2008 at 11:01 pm | Permalink
  9. Bill-DC wrote:

    Aaaah, Ken Beatrice. “Gawd luv ya, you keep these lines lit up every night. Be sure to have a beef and cheddar at Bernie Streeter’s Arby’s!”
    I remember after the game was over I hopped on the computer and Rob F’s Caps mailing list was on fire with messages. It was cool staying up until 2:00 “celebrating” with these folks.

    6 June, 2008 at 8:03 am | Permalink