What Would Dr. Puck Say?
NOTE TO READERS: This article was originally published in May, 2017 after the Caps lost in the playoffs to Pittsburgh. We are proudly re-posting this article about sportswriter David Fay as the Capitals are still playing hockey in June...a first for the franchise! At the time of posting (June 1, 2018) the Caps and upstart Las Vegas Knights are tied at one game each for the Stanley Cup Championship, a best of 7-game series.
Well, it’s been another tough season finish for the Washington Capitals and their loyal fans. They “rocked the red” until the bitter end Wednesday night, losing in game 7 of the second round of the playoffs to their archnemesis, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The most crushing blow was the “déjà vu” aspect: the Caps were eliminated from Stanley Cup contention last year in the second round, by the same team, and on the same exact date of May 10th! To add insult to injury, they had won the President’s Trophy, both this season and last. This award, presented by the NHL (National Hockey League) goes to the team that finishes with the most points (i.e. best record) during the regular season. Unfortunately, this does not heal the wound of failing to attain the coveted Stanley Cup.
Oh well, what can you do? There’s always next season, but that is a small consolation for the players, fans and even local sports media that follow the team. Among Mount Olivet’s interred population of 40,000, I venture to say that hundreds were former hockey fans, along with likely some players, recreational or collegiate. I can’t say with certainty who these people are, as I don’t have documentation. Sometimes we can easily spot team allegiance as many granite and marble monuments (in the new section of course) display sports logos carved in stone such as the Redskins, Ravens, Orioles and Terps. Other gravesites are adorned with small flags and pennants of the deceased favorite team.
When it comes to the Washington Capitals, I haven’t personally seen any examples of expressed fan adoration throughout Mount Olivet’s outside grounds. However, it’s a different story within our central Mausoleum Chapel, located to the rear of the cemetery. Here, one will find an outstanding connection to the Washington Caps, and professional hockey for that matter, amidst a vast collection of mausoleum tombs and niches.
Most of these spaces have granite or marble coverings and are adorned with bronze plaques, but on the chapel’s interior south wall, stand columns of glass-front niches. This inurnment innovation has been around for 40 years, however many people know nothing about it. Gall front niches are somewhat like “shadow-box” displays, giving families the ability to personalize a final resting place with decorative (cremation) urns, photos and other mementos. These items work in tandem to create a unique “visual” memorial, painting more of a picture of the deceased for not only loved ones left behind, but descendants yet to come.
Like many other visitors, my eye was suddenly captivated by niche space 26-D just inside the chapel doors. This occurred during my first look around in the chapel well over a year ago. Although the name was foreign to me, it was the contents of niche that grabbed me including a miniature statuette of Capitals star player and team captain Alex Ovechkin, a pair of eyeglasses, wedding ring and custom bronze urn in the form of a book, with the moniker of “Dr. Puck” etched on the spine.
I’m not an engaged hockey fan, but have great respect for the sport and have seen about a half dozen professional hockey games in the past, most involving the Caps. I had recalled once hearing the name of Dr. Puck before, referenced by an announcer on a Washington sports radio station. He was held in esteem as an expert on Washington Capitals hockey. I was immediately inspired to perform a Google search on the niche’s inhabitant, David G. Fay.
Born March 5th, 1940 in Brighton, Massachusetts, “Dave” was the son of parents Leo and Mary Fay. He received a public school education in both his native state, and later Pennsylvania. After graduation, he would serve in the US Navy and was honorably discharged in 1981. From here he gained employment with the Warren Times-Mirror newspaper (Warren, Pennsylvania), thus launching a career in journalism that would span nearly half a century.
Dave Fay worked in his field as both a manager and as an editor/writer, but it appears that he felt much more at home with the latter. Employers included the Pennsylvania Mirror (State College, PA), the Evening Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island) and the Washington Times. For the final 25 years of his life, he was the Times’ undisputed, resident hockey expert as he served as beat reporter for the Capitals. His reputation grew across the region and country as authentic, honest and passionate about his craft. Just days after his death on July 17, 2007, former Times colleague Dan Daly wrote:
“And Dr. Puck, as he came to be known, was very much a real man…in both the “real” sense and the “man” sense. There wasn’t a phony bone in his body, but there was spine enough for two people—spine enough to wage, without complaint, a 12-year battle with cancer before it took him from us Tuesday night at 67.”
Over his career, Dave Fay covered every sport imaginable. I did a search of the internet subscription site newspapers.com and found several examples of Fay’s earliest work at the Warren Times-Mirror. Here were stories ranging from high school football, baseball and basketball to track and field, swimming and bowling. I even found articles in which he reported on boxing, hurling and "donkey ball." I also found non-sports-related stories penned by Fay. He eventually gained his own editorial forum entitled Fay’s Corner. Dave Fay’s early writing employed sophistication, creativity, and a pinch of sarcasm from time to time. It would only get better over time.
In 1981, Dave Fay served in the Sports Department of the Washington Times—a member of the newspaper’s inaugural staff. He covered the Capitals as beat reporter for all but two of his years in their employ. The others were spent on the Redskins, one of which included their 1991 Super Bowl run. Although football had always been his favorite sport growing up, apparently as a fan of the New York Giants, he quickly embraced a passion for professional ice hockey. He also earned a reputation for being “old school,” a stickler for details and oftentimes, a grumpy “curmudgeon.”
At the start of his hockey tenure, Fay wrote an anonymous column in which he took a “tongue in cheek” approach with players and reporting on events in pro hockey. He used as his source an alter-ego by the name of Dr. Puck. Eventually readers, and players, caught on that it was indeed Fay himself. Once the proverbial “cat was out of the bag,” Fay decided to own the name, exemplified by obtaining custom license plates for his car. Dr. Puck and Dave Fay were now synonymous.
In his July 2007 op-ed piece, Dan Daly continued his eulogy for David Fay:
“I’m not sure what bon-mots, if any, Dave planned for his gravestone, but I’d suggest: “What’s my deadline tonight?” Right to the end, he was filing copy, working-class Irishman that he was. With him, it was never about the language, about performing literary loop-de-loops; it was about clarity and accuracy and completeness—the fundamentals. Nobody who has covered the Caps in this town has been more plugged in or more passionate than he. That’s why he was recently chosen as the recipient of the Elmer Ferguson Award, the biggest honor in hockey journalism, and will live on in the Hockey Hall of Fame.”
Dave Fay was the recipient of 12 writing awards, culminating with the Elmer Ferguson Award. Sadly, he passed away four months before the induction ceremony into the Hockey Hall of Fame by the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association. Announced earlier in the year, Dave knew of his achievement and could take pride in the legacy of his life’s professional work. His wife Pat traveled to Toronto in November (2007) to accept the tremendous honor posthumously on behalf of her husband. A press release (dated May 29th, 2007) adorns the back of Dave’s niche.
Although professional sports-writing took Dave Fay to Canada, the Soviet Union and throughout the United States, he made his home in Monrovia in eastern Frederick County. This is where he spent his final days, working as long as he could. In addition to hockey, he was blessed with something far more important—a loving wife, four sons, daughters-law, six grandchildren and a host of friends and colleagues that loved and respected him. I’m sure the Washington Capitals occupy a great place in all their hearts, and how could they not with Dave Fay already there.
On an old page on Capitals Insider website, I found another July 2007 report of Dave Fay’s passing. In the online comments below the story I found the following entry from a lifelong Caps fan:
“Truly a great man who loved the game and the Capitals organization enough to be honest, when perhaps maybe they didn't want him to be. Rest in peace, Dave. We'll see you at center ice someday.”
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