Tension hangs over Caps' start


WASHINGTON - It wasn't exactly normal. Fans saw canine units as they came up from the subway. A greater number of policemen were present along F Street. And there was extra security at every entrance.

It wasn't what used to be normal, but Matt Williams, vice president of communications for Washington Sports and Entertainment, which owns MCI Center, said it is the norm now.

"For the unforeseeable future," Williams said.

It was the preseason opener for the NHL's Washington Capitals against the Philadelphia Flyers, a game Washington would lose, 6-1, with its only goal coming from All-Star Jaromir Jagr, who was playing as a Capital for the first time since being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But, it was also the first sporting event in the city since Sept. 11's devastating terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.

All week, members of the Capitals voiced concern about playing this game, and the organization had a connection to the tragedy. Ace Bailey, the Los Angeles Kings' director of pro scouting, who was on board the second plane that crashed into the World Trade Center, was a Capital during the first three seasons of the team's existence.

D.C. police lieutenant Shawn Maguire said people shouldn't have been nervous.

"We have absolutely no reports or intelligence that there would be any disturbances here tonight," Maguire said as he stood with five other officers in front of the main entrance.

Still, precautions were taken. A sign on every door at every entrance asked fans to return any large bag of any sort "back to your office or vehicle" and thanked everyone for their "assistance during these unusual circumstances."

MCI security people, however, helped people who had not gotten the word about backpacks before arriving. Williams said a number of fans didn't learn of the backpack ban until arriving and they were allowed to check the packs at the door after a thorough search.

"We didn't want to be unfeeling," Williams said, adding there were a handful of calls during the day from people who complained about the backpack restrictions. "But, overall, the fans were very patient and most of them were expecting this. They'd watched baseball return [Monday] and knew they'd face the same things here."

David Zeltwanger, 29, from Middletown, Md., was pleased to see the added security.

"This should have been the standard prior to those attacks," he said. "I'm in the Marine Corps and I'm pretty big on security. I think we've been pretty lucky for a long time that nothing like this has happened before. I came to this hockey game to relieve some tension."

It was why many of the fans came - though they were sparse in number. It looked like nearly two-thirds of the 18,672-seat arena was empty, even though the announced attendance was 12,190. Still, those who came were happy to be there.

"My mother and father were murdered when I was 5 years old, so I can relate to all the sorrow" said Milt Thomas, 40, a machine foreman for 8 O'Clock Coffee in Landover, Md.

"But I feel pretty good about being here. Life can't be at a stand-still. The people who did those horrible things want to back us into a corner and disrupt our lives. That's the only way they can win.

"So, you can't stop living. I want to see the Capitals' new guy [Jagr] -the guy from Pittsburgh. I want to get a feel for him, see how he skates, how he fits in."

It was why the doors were open last night, so that fans could come and see how the 2001 edition of the Capitals would perform with Jagr, the All-Star right wing obtained from the Penguins this summer and who is generally considered the greatest player in the game.

"We're Americans," said Joel Donaldson, 28, a consultant from Arlington, Va., as he waited for the doors to open. "We're going to come to our sporting events. I think taking the weekend moratorium was in good taste, and now it's in equally good taste to play. I'm looking forward to seeing the flags waving in there and Jagr playing.'

Before the game, both teams lined up at center ice while everyone observed a minute of silence for the victims. The colors were presented and a fan Screamed, "Yeah, America!" and everyone applauded.

Fans joined in singing the national anthem. One waved a sign that said, "Proud to be an American" and, as the game was about to begin, everyone chanted, "USA! USA! USA!"

The Capitals played, but had a hard time scoring. Jagr had an open-net chance 36 seconds into the game, but pushed the puck wide and didn't get his goal until 17:16 of the third period, on a power play.

But that goal came after Philadelphia got goals from Justin Williams, Marty Murray and Jeremy Roenick.

Roenick scored again 76 seconds after Jagr found the net. The Flyers' Pavel Brendl and John LeClair also added goals, making it 6-1. Three of the Flyers' goals were on the power play.

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