Baltimorean Capitals fans show D.C. divide isn't so wide during Stanley Cup Final

Mike Minnicino and Lori Moore have their seats before the clock hits 6.

The Baltimore residents gazed around the then-fairly empty bar from their location in the far corner by the door. Moore said, “Is this where we sat last time?”

“I think so,” Minnicino said. “We have to sit here.”

The closest flat screen, behind the bar, was at a barely viewable angle. For the game, Minnicino swiveled around his seat, away from his food and drinks, to crane up at the smaller television in the crook of the ceiling.

“Caps fans are the most superstitious fans you’ll meet,” said Moore, wearing a scarlet Washington Capitals top. “I haven’t washed this shirt since playoffs started, and we have to sit over here.”

The two are eight-year patrons of the Hudson Street Stackhouse, Baltimore’s most popular Capitals bar.

Stackhouse wasn’t the only place colored red for the Capitals. Baltimoreans across the city turned their channels to the game in large numbers; the MARC Penn Line train added extra service to accommodate Charm City fans heading down to Capital One Arena this weekend; even the Orioles got on the bandwagon, wearing Caps hats, T-shirts and jerseys throughout the week.

While every bar and restaurant with a TV somewhere inside in the Washington area was understandably packed with Capitals fans Monday night for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, Baltimore bars such as Stackhouse held their own community watch parties.

“This is where I go to celebrate with the people,” said Baltimore resident Dallas Childers, 50, who couldn’t find a seat in the packed pub for the puck drop. “This is not going to be a heartbreak year.”

Unlike a typical Baltimore joint, there were no Ravens paraphernalia decorating the barrel-like walls, and only a lone Orioles “O’s” sticker, tucked into the side of the bar’s fridge where only someone sitting toward the door would be able to see it.

Brian Mowrey, 26, originally of Howard County, joined the fandom eight years ago and found the bar through Reddit.

“I’ve been here for every celebration and every heartbreak,” he said. “I was here for Game 5 against Pittsburgh, and the place was a sea of red.”

An inflatable Stanley Cup hangs from the ceiling; an Alex Ovechkin sweater adorns the back wall behind the bar in between two flat-screen TVs tuned in to the game. Every TV is tuned in to the game.

After a few drinks, it wouldn’t be that hard to pretend the Stackhouse is in fact in D.C. But nonetheless, the Stackhouse is proof the regional rivalry stops at the door when it comes to hockey.

“It’s a neighborhood bar that’s really a Caps bar,” said Paul Binetti, 40, a Baltimore mechanical engineer.

Binetti has been coming to the Stackhouse for eight years. “There used to be red lights strung around the bar. They dyed the Pabst with red during the game,” he said. “We’d look and the bartender’s fingers would be red. And then when [the Capitals] scored, everyone would get a round of shots.”

Soon after owner Dominic DeSantis reopened the Stackhouse after renovating it from what was once the Hudson Street Cafe, the sports bar quickly took on the role as Baltimore’s best-known Capitals fan hub.

“I never pushed to make this a Caps bar,” DeSantis said. “This is a hockey bar because I’m a hockey guy.”

Football season aside, the Stackhouse is evidence of a bridging gap between the two cities’ sports fans, and external forces could be the reason for it.

While the number of people commuting from Baltimore to Washington for work is small compared with the total working class in the capital, the number has doubled from roughly 3,000 to 6,000 in recent years, the 2009-2013 American Community Survey estimates from the U.S. Census.

DeSantis credits the lack of an NHL team, and the 21-year absence of the city’s last minor league team, the Baltimore Bandits, with the transformation of the Caps fan base into a regional one. A Caps minor league affiliate, the Baltimore Skipjacks, played in Baltimore until 1993.

“There is no competition,” he said. “As much as I’d like to have an NHL team come to Baltimore, it doesn’t exist.”

On Monday night, 9 percent of all Baltimore households watched Game 1, making it the fourth-highest rating of any market in the country behind Las Vegas, Washington and Pittsburgh. It was third-highest for Game 2 behind Las Vegas and Washington as 8.5 percent watched.

“I wasn’t even aware that Baltimore and Washington hated each other, to be honest,” said Jack Young, president of the Baltimore City Council. The councilman has staged the Baltimore Street Hockey Tournament since 2011 in partnership with the Capitals. The Caps have also played twice, in 2011 and 2013, at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore.

“I think if you surveyed the city, you’d find a majority go to Washington to support the Capitals,” Young said. “They’re our team as much as theirs.”

Ted Leonsis, chairman and chief executive officer of Monumental Sports & Entertainment — which owns and operates the Caps, Washington Wizards, Washington Mystics and the area’s two Arena Football League teams — praised the area’s Caps fans.

“Caps fans in Baltimore are unbelievable,” Leonsis said in a statement provided by the team. “They’ve been with this team through thick and thin and we all feel very connected. We have a long and deep relationship with Baltimore — I’m sure Baltimore fans remember well that the AHL’s Skipjacks were once a Caps affiliate. We used to fly out of Baltimore when we practiced at Piney Orchard. Many of our Caps alum live in and around Baltimore. We’ve played preseason games there. We’ve launched an AFL team, the Baltimore Brigade, in Baltimore as part of our commitment to the city.

“Love for our teams is one of the things that unifies us all as a region from Baltimore to Richmond and we are so happy in this playoff run to be able to give back to Baltimore Caps fans who have given so much to us.”

Above the Cup decoration at Hudson Street Stackhouse hangs a red, white and blue hockey stick that reads: “To all the good people watchin at the Hudson Street Stackhouse ‘Thanks’ from the 2010-2011 Washington Capitals.”

The blade is covered with signatures.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter donned a red Capitals cap during a pregame news conference May 11, and then a Caps sweater on Monday, highlighting the Orioles’ social media campaign to show their support for their neighbors.

Orioles players wore Caps shirts and hats during batting practice Wednesday before Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

But while most Baltimoreans would still prioritize their own team’s above Washington’s, the Stackhouse remains loyal to hockey.

“There was a game [Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Lightning] on Preakness Day, and this place was packed,” Minnicino said. “I figured all these people would either be at the race or too drunk to show up, but they were in here, in red.”

And for the patrons, some who would turn on each other during a baseball or football game, the sentiment is the same.

“When it comes to the Capitals, we’re one town,” Binetti said.

kfominykh@baltsun.com

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