It’s hard to imagine DC without the Great Eight, but if it wasn’t for Steve Mehlman, Alex Ovechkin might be rockin’ the red in Detroit or lacing up his iconic skates for the Golden Knights.
In 1982, Mehlman cochaired the Save the Caps committee, which kept Washington’s eight-year-old NHL franchise—then suffering from lackluster attendance and financial woes and averaging just 20 wins a season—from merging, moving, or folding.
“I remember sports talk guru Ken Beatrice saying: ‘If you want to watch pro hockey, you might have to drive to Philadelphia,’” Mehlman says. But the inaugural season ticket holder, who stuck with the squad even after their abysmal 8–67–5 debut—which included 37 straight road losses—was not about to trade his Capitals jersey for a Flyers—or worse yet, a Penguins—sweater.
The committee formed that July at mustachioed center Dennis Maruk’s Alexandria sports pub. Mehlman—who would go on to enjoy a 30-year career in communications and PR with AARP—reached out to sportswriters and politicians and helped pass out more than 40,000 leaflets at the MLB All-Star Game that summer at RFK Stadium.
And, after owner Abe Pollin conceded the Caps would stay in DC if the first 10 games of the 1982–83 season were sellouts, Mehlman and 30 other volunteers fielded phone calls during a live telethon hosted by NBC4’s George Michael at the Capital Centre in Landover. “Not only did we achieve [Pollin’s] goal,” but following the acquisition of a new general manager and star defenseman Rod Langway, “the team made the playoffs for the first time ever that year.”
Thirteen straight playoff appearances followed. And when Ovechkin and the Caps finally hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time in 2018, Mehlman was cheering from his home in Southern California. “I’ve always been someone who roots for the underdog, so I was absolutely thrilled. I wish I could’ve been there.”
He was, on October 12, for the Capitals’ home opener against the Bruins. President Dick Patrick invited Mehlman and his family, another committee cochair, and Langway to Capital One Arena to mark the 40th anniversary of Save the Caps. The home team fell to Boston, 5–2, but for Mehlman, who remembers what might have been, it was still a W.