RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina State football's season ended just under two months ago, yet the atmosphere in the parking lots surrounding Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday afternoon was reminiscent of a gameday in the fall.
Gates to the parking lots opened at 2 p.m. on Saturday, six hours before puck drop of the Washington Capitals-Carolina Hurricanes Stadium Series clash. Plenty of time to prep for the game, right?
Fans were lined up even earlier, ready to fire up their grills, hang their team flags and spend the afternoon tailgating before heading into Carter-Finley to watch outdoor hockey.
"It's phenomenal," said Ryan Bell, a Capitals fan from Maryland who made the trip with his brother and father after getting tickets to the game as a Christmas gift. "Just walking through and it feels like a football game, but it's a hockey game outside. It's everything about the experience you want. It's everything you can ask for."
Bell was one of the thousands of Capitals fans -- many from the D.C.-area, but plenty from elsewhere -- made the trip to Raleigh for the weekend. Their presence was well-noticed throughout the lots, with Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom jerseys on the backs of many.
Bell's family arrived at the tailgate lots around 2:30, but they were hardly the first ones there. Chas Coady, another Capitals fan who made the trip from the D.C. area, said his group arrived at 1:30 and had to wait for the gates to open.
Coady, sporting a Washington hat to go along with his Capitals jersey, said the experience reminded him of a football tailgate. Getting the chance to tailgate for a hockey game was extra special, though, considering there's no space near Capital One Arena to have a true tailgate before the Capitals' home contests.
"It's awesome to tailgate and be right outside of their arena," Coady said. "Obviously being from D.C., you can't tailgate [at Capital One Arena]. It was cool being able to tailgate and being out here. It's awesome."
Alex Foster, a Capitals fan based in Falls Church, Va., had this game circled on his calendar for months. His finance's parents live in Florida and flew up to Raleigh to meet them for the weekend. Foster's dad, who lives in Charlottesville, drove down to meet the group as well.
Foster is a Capitals' season ticket holder and estimates he attends 20-25 home games per year. Yet, Saturday will be the first outdoor game he watches in person, something he's especially looking forward to.
"I think it will be cool to see hockey with 50-, 60,000 fans," Foster said. "I've been in Capital One Arena with 20,000 fans, you add another 30,000 people on top of that. I'm just looking forward to the atmosphere."
With over 57,000 fans in attendance at Carter-Finley Stadium, the atmosphere will be unlike any Capitals' game before. And, with the numerous Washington fans that made the trip down to Raleigh, don't be surprised if 'Let's Go Caps' breaks out in the crowd.