Brandon Wise used to get "legitimately excited" when he saw someone in Baltimore rockin' the red.
But in the seven years he's lived in Brewers Hill, Washington Capitals hockey has become so popular it's now hard for the 29-year-old season-ticket holder to make it through a day without seeing a Caps T-shirt, hat, or car sticker.
Red was the color of choice last month when the Caps faced Nashville at 1st Mariner Arena in a pre-season game dubbed (in a bit of a stretch) the Baltimore Hockey Classic.
A hockey renaissance in the nation's capital that began with the arrival of superstar Alexander Ovechkin in 2006 has spread to Baltimore. The Caps have become one of the National Hockey League's elite teams and toughest tickets, selling out 106 straight games at the Verizon Center.
"We started looking at ways to expand the Caps brand, and we noticed hockey growing quickly in Baltimore," says Joe Dupriest, the team's vice president and chief marketing officer. "In excess of 20 percent of our single-game buyers come from Baltimore. We know there are a ton of fans and a lot of interest and chatter up there."
Hockey has a proud, if not distinguished, history in Baltimore. Caps legend Olaf Kolzig once was a Skipjack, the minor-league team that played at the arena from 1981 to 1993. But the city's been professional hockey-free since the Bandits skipped town in 1997.
That's around the time Dominic DeSantis was playing for the Junior Capitals. A Highlandtown native, DeSantis, 31, still skates in pick-up games at the Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro Family Skating Center in Patterson Park. His love of puck is apparent at his bar, Hudson Street Stackhouse. Ex-Caps Peter Bondra and Yvon Labre have stopped in, and during games, the Canton pub is hopping.
More Baltimoreans are catching the Caps on TV. The team's regular-season ratings on Comcast SportsNet jumped 42 percent in the Baltimore market from 2009-10.
When Wise wasn't at the rink during the playoffs, he watched at the Stackhouse.
"Eighty percent of the bar was wearing red," he says. "People were cheering and screaming, giving high fives and chanting. It was almost like you were there."
A generation of playoff disappointments has not soured Baltimore's Caps fans on the future. If 2012 is the year Washington finally wins the title, it would almost be fitting if, at some point, Natty Boh flowed from the Stanley Cup.