Devante Smith-Pelly and John Carlson Invite Youth Hockey Team to Caps Game for Sticking It to Racism

When Washington Capitals right-winger Devante Smith-Pelly headed to the penalty box at United Center he was greeted by an unwelcoming surprise from a couple of Chicago Blackhawks fans. Typically a player in the sin bin would expect the occasional boo or fun-playful heckle but this particular group crossed the line in the most despicable way imaginable. Smith-Pelly was subjected to racial taunts including the chants of “basketball, basketball, basketball.” The Blackhawks and the NHL sent a message by banning the fans for life but unfortunately this is a problem for many athletes that still hasn’t been resolved today. To make matters worse, it’s not just the pros who have to deal with it.  Continue reading “Devante Smith-Pelly and John Carlson Invite Youth Hockey Team to Caps Game for Sticking It to Racism”

Everything But Ice Time

The more research I do, the clearer it becomes that the only thing keeping the DMV from becoming a true center of hockey development and participation is ice time. On that front, several existing rinks are in the process of adding sheets or getting permits.

Here’s the current state of the Haymarket renovation and expansion. Woo!

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image courtesy of Haymarket Arena Facebook page
Leesburg’s new rink, set to break ground shortly, seeks to be a world-class training facility run by a former Olympian and his wife. Although the press focuses on figure skating, where there is ice, there will be hockey. 🙂

There’s a mega “sports and wellness” complex slated for Springfield that will have two NHL rinks. Mt. Vernon is set to expand, and while Ft. Dupont is waiting on the financial side of things, but there’s a second sheet in the works, at some point.

The rest of the ingredients for a successful hockey culture are just simmering away, waiting for the ice to become available.

Coaches. There are already excellent coaches here, and this area is among the most desirable to live and work in: we can draw talent, should we want to- not to mention local universities like Georgetown, George Mason, and James Madison grooming young players who will want to coach once they graduate.

Assistance paying for gear. There are programs all over the area that offer players ages 4-8 completely free gear. The NHL and our beloved Capitals  participate in one such program, and many teams and organizations make sure that kids who can’t pay for equipment (especially tough during the years of rapid growth!) have what they need. Leveling The Playing Field is another org that makes my heart sing. They realize that sports is about so much more than playing a game. Anecdotally, I can attest to the generosity of hockey people in general. I’ve given gear, and I’ve been given gear, from people at all levels of the game- not to mention the millions of dollars worth of equipment personally donated every year by NHL players. Warms the cockles of my cold heart, I’ll tell you.

A local NHL team. Yeah, we love these guys.

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Desire.  Every sheet is full until roughly midnight, with many rinks open past 1:30 for us crotchety old beer leagues. Hockey directors have to limit roster sizes and establish months (and sometimes years!) long waiting lists, for players of all ages.

We even have a business magnate with significant interest in hockey and an eye towards legacy- but I worry that he sees things in terms of acquisitions and media mergers instead of as an evangelist for the sport.

I guess the point here is to ask: what can we do, at this grassroots level, to promote hockey in the DC area, lean on the decision makers to grow this sport, and take care of each other as a community while we’re at it?

Beer League Beat-Down: Ringers

Beer league is full of characters. You’ve got the hot head, the shy guy, the girl with the wicked edges, the goalie who only plays well halfway to hammered, the guy who plays three levels down, puts up all the goals and two-thirds of the assists.

It is this guy, the ringer, who is our subject today, and in reference to him, I pose this question:

Is dealing with sandbaggers a rite of passage for developmental players? A burden? A wonderful challenge? Something else?

There’s nothing quite like working hard, taking lessons, going to clinics, renting ice with your teammates to practice and then having some guy with no shoulder pads deke around the entire team, pass to himself off of his skate and drill an impossible angle shot off the turnbuckle and down for the score. Oh yeah, and then celebrates like it’s the playoffs after every single. goal.

I’m always left asking “Who even does that? They must know it’s not a huge achievement!” It’s like an English professor showing up to an elementary spelling bee and then being proud they can spell “scissors” correctly, or maybe if I decided to challenge an amateur cellist for their chair in community orchestra. Just the thought is laughable- but is that all there is to it?

I started the conversation by talking with some friends who also play D and C League hockey, and I hope you’ll join us in the comments!

CompSci maven Jen: “All of us in beer league are objectively terrible at hockey […] way to take the fun out of a thing that exists for no reason other than to be fun.”

West Point grad Jason: “We had this unbelievably good ringer in our league. He never lost the puck, could make crazy passes and score at will. So we asked around and it turns out he was a recent college grad that had spent 10-plus years playing high-level youth hockey around the country. You would think we would be mad, but when we realized his parents must have spent tens of thousands of dollars on ice time, equipment, travel, hotels and so on, only to have him be able to dangle around 40+ year old fat guys after midnight on a weeknight, we kinda felt sorry for him.”

Realtor David: “I actually don’t mind playing against a team who has a ringer or two so long as the ringers generally respect the level of play. I enjoy a challenge and playing against people who are better than you is an amazing learning experience. […] People who skate circles around everyone [who are] the deciding factor between winning or losing is wrong, and I have little respect for the ringer or the team itself. I feel bad that their team isn’t confident enough in their bond to skate hard together and win lose or draw be happy with the outcome and that everyone was out there doing their best and having fun.”

Content dev Tabitha: “In the end, it’s an issue of respect for the game. You can be a ringer, play down, and play respectfully of other players on the ice. Whether that means playing to the level at hand, balancing the skill level using smarter passes and perception up ice, or simply avoiding the heads-down, no-pass drop-in style of play we all know them for, it all comes back to respect. This includes respect for the other players (including abilities, weaknesses and well being), the officials, visiting families, and for the sacrifices we all make to be here each week.”

Well said. What do you think?

Amazing Hockey Hello Kitty from a Chicago Now piece on the same subject!

Rink Think

Series devoted to building hockey in the DMV. Where to build, cost, and ongoing expenses.

My main theory is that the primary barrier to hockey in DC is not a shortage of money or absence of hockey culture, but rather the simple lack of access to a rink. DC itself has one (ONE!) sheet accessible to the public year-round. MD and VA rinks are stuffed to capacity during the after school hours; beer leaguers like me can attest to this: our games frequently start after 11 pm, because that’s the only ice time that remains. From my experience running a team (and having to turn lots of people away) I have the sense that the area could triple the number of sheets and they would still be filled.

Haymarket – 2nd Sheet Going Up (photo by Jeff Woods)

I’m not so jejune as to suggest it’s only a matter of If You Build It, They Will Come, but if They have no place to go, it’s a sure-fire way to guarantee entropy.

So, a few questions to ponder.

  1. Where should rinks be built?
  2. What does it cost and where does the money come from initially?
  3. Where does the ongoing revenue come from/who uses the ice?

These are each huge questions, and I want to be thoughtful with the answers- so I’m going to spend time talking to experts and decision makers in our area to give you, our beloved community, the best possible information. In the meantime, here’s a brief overview of what I’ve learned so far.

Rink Location

If we’re talking about DC proper, there is a surprising amount of unused land, much of it east of the Anacostia. In zip code 20020 alone, there are over 53 million square feet of undeveloped land (the square footage of a standard sheet is ~17,000), all controlled by the federal government. Only 15 percent of the undeveloped land in southeast DC is owned privately. A brief survey of the terrain suggests that new rinks in SE DC would involve talks with Uncle Sam to either allocate funds or sell off some land.

There are unused plots in the other quadrants of The District, too. While I’m not giving up hope on rink development in NW, NE or SW, the area is experiencing Manhattan-like demand for housing: it would take something magical to persuade an entity to build a rink instead of overpriced condos and matching Starbucks/Chipotle/Panera shopping complexes.

MD and VA are wide open compared to DC’s small but mighty footprint. The DMV is rich with dispersed population centers, boasting plenty of money (both in terms of people with disposable income and entities looking to build) and open land. Rinks are currently destinations, with many people driving 30+ mile round trips to participate in hockey. It seems to me that the cornerstone of a robust hockey culture is the idea of a local rink– a place that is easy to get to that caters to the needs of the immediate community.

Rink Cost

The price of building and maintaining a rink varies wildly. Kettler Capitals Iceplex cost in excess of $40 million to build, and is an immense undertaking to operate: it had to be grandfathered onto the withering skeleton of the Ballston Mall (which is now being turned into an indoor/outdoor shopping plaza), boasts the Capitals’ training facilities, front offices, 8 locker rooms, and several large event spaces, making it easily the most expensive and well-appointed ice arena in the region.

Other facilities with more modest accommodations seem to start from the low single millions, depending on everything from state tax structure to the season construction begins in. Long story short, there is nothing cheap about building and maintaining an ice surface- and there are lessons to be learned from the facilities in our area, some of which are bustling, while others fall into disrepair.

Ongoing costs and sustainability

There seems to be consensus that ice rinks are not giant money makers (a few anecdotal sources). Those that thrive tend to be municipally subsidized and use their ice time efficiently, making smaller repairs as they are needed and avoiding the epic overhauls associated with putting off maintenance.

More in-depth research is needed, but every hockey director I’ve spoken to says they turn down more people than they allow into their programs, simply for lack of ice time. The demand is there.

Coming up, we’ll look into why counties choose to build rinks: who applies pressure, the arguments for and against, what politics get weighed, and how they decide where to put them.

Home VS Away: Growing Hockey in the DMV by Emily Wright

Emily Wright kicks off a new series for FiCP which is designed to open a dialogue about ways to expand hockey in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. We’d love to hear your ideas as we begin to explore ways to Grow Hockey in the DMV!  Here’s Emily’s first post in the series:

While I was living in Minnesota, I kept turning one phrase over and over again in my mind. It was emblazoned on signs all over Verizon: Building America’s Hockey Capital. In Minneapolis, I had access to literally hundreds of sheets of ice within a twenty mile radius. League fees were low, ice time was cheap, and there was a sense that still more could be done to promote participation in the game.

Our area could not be more different. We have no great expanse of reasonably-priced land on which to build endless county-run rinks. There is one single sheet in DC proper available to the public. There are a decent number of rinks serving MD and VA, but when you look at per capita figures, it’s no surprise that most sheets are full in the after-school hours, leaving no room for growth. MD has 18 rinks. That’s 1 for every 329,379 people. Virginia’s 15 rinks make it one rink for every half a million residents. In the US, Minnesota is the clear winner with 236 rinks. In terms of access, it’s unparalleled, with one rink for every 22,968 people. It has clearly earned the title The State of Hockey.

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Hockey is growing in the United States, and in the DC Metro area in particular. Our region, dubbed the Southeastern area by USA Hockey, basically consists of all of the “non-traditional” markets east of the Mississippi- places where water doesn’t reliably freeze in the wintertime.

According to USA Hockey, overall enrollment in the Southeastern roughly parallels Minnesota’s. Minnesota gets its own category, because the numbers there are so huge- including it in any other region would be silly. 

Minnesota, population ~5.4 million

57,107 enrolled (13,354 women/girls)

Southeast, (AL, AR, DC, FL, GA, LA, MD, MS, NC, SC, TN, VA) population: ~82.2 million

51,438 enrolled (4,138 women/girls)

source: USA Hockey 2015-16 Final Report

It should be noted that these are not the numbers for all players. There are other hockey orgs, like Hockey North America (HNA), for instance, that run leagues with thousands of players, and many teams are independent. USA Hockey is a great place to look because they are by far the most ubiquitous and have been keeping accurate records for a long time, not to mention that many players are in multiple leagues. USA Hockey casts a wide net.

It should also be mentioned that the Southeastern region’s members are pegged at the extremes of the income and poverty statistics. MD, DC and VA are right up there among the wealthiest states, while AR, MS, AL, SC and LA are among the poorest. It is also worth a hard look at DC itself, where the big money resides west of the Anacostia, while many of those east of it struggle to survive.

It is no secret that hockey has traditionally been a sport for the affluent, and as uncomfortable as it is to talk about, it’s something we’ll have to own up to as a community if we want to increase access and grow the sport for everyone in the DMV. It is for this reason that this series will not focus on the already booming club teams in this area, but rather on what can be done to encourage participation on a similar level to other school-age sports programs.

In the posts that follow, I’m going to take a look at the state of hockey in our region, and what we might be able to do—from practical steps to pie-in-the-sky dreams— to grow this wonderful sport, and possibly do some good in the process.

FiCP Welcomes Another Great Lady to the Team–Emily Wright!!!

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Ok Friends – we are more than a little excited to welcome Emily Wright (@EmilyCello) to the FiCP family. Not only does she have some previous experience covering the Caps, but she also plays hockey and will be bringing us her personal twist (and sometimes twisted) take on all things hockey.

Emily’s favorite things are champagne, undersized journeymen defensemen, and when people wave after you let them into your lane. She plays defense for the Reston Lions.  Continue reading “FiCP Welcomes Another Great Lady to the Team–Emily Wright!!!”

Blind Ice Hockey at Kettler’s Capitals Rink

 

 

Saturday, February 20, 2016, Kettler Iceplex hosted “Try Blind Hockey” on the Washington Capitals ice rink. The event was presented with the help of USA Hockey as part of Hockey is For Everyone Month. As the Capitals explained, the event was “intended to expose visually impaired players of all ages to hockey.”

About Blind Hockey

USA Blind Hockey has its roots in Courage USA. Founded in September 2014, Courage USA, with its sister organization, Courage Canada Hockey for the Blind, hope to develop and expand the rapidly growing Parasport of blind or visually impaired hockey. Since 2008, Courage Canada Hockey has been teaching children and youth learn to skate and Try Blind Ice Hockey. Currently there are seven Canadian blind hockey teams. The participants vision ranges for 10 percent vison to totally blind. Started in the mid-70s in Canada, some of the differences in blind hockey compared to a regular hockey game are:

  • Goals can be scored only on the bottom half of the net because the goalies are legally blind and pucks don’t make noise in the air.
  • The puck they use an adapted puck that makes constant noise, is both bigger and slower than a traditional puck, made of hollow steel and contains eight ball bearings.
  • The partially blind can see the bigger puck and those who are completely blind can hear the puck.

Courage USA hopes to mirror the efforts of the Canadian league to make blind hockey an international sport. If you would like to help support USA Hockey and blind hockey, please check out their web page at www.usahockeyfoundation.com

Brendan Friedrich and Blind Hockey

When we heard that it was Try Blind Hockey Day at Kettler, we were intrigued to learn how someone who is blind plays hockey. Before the Blind Hockey program began, we were watching Caps practice and we met a young man named Brendan who was there to not only try blind hockey, but get the VIP treatment from the Capitals, including meeting his favorite player (and mine) Braden Holtby!

Brendan was standing next to the FICP crew by the glass as the Caps started to skate out. We introduced ourselves and then starting telling him who was skating past him and his family. Brendan himself is blind but you wouldn’t know that from his enthusiastic responses on hearing that Holtby was out on the ice and taking shots from players at the other end of the rink for early goalie practice.
Next thing we knew, Brendan was being interviewed by Scott Abraham of Channel 7 ABC News. Before we could get anymore descriptions on who was out there to Brendan, he was whisked over to meet with Caps radio broadcaster John Walton on the other side of the rink. From there we saw Brendan and his family smile the whole time he was watching thru the glass, hearing the pucks hitting the glass right in front of him. You could see he was yelling at that player to shoot harder!

DSC_0587After Caps practice was over, Brendan and his family were taken to the locker room to meet Braden Holtby and get not only a jersey signed by Holtby but a real game used Holtby goalie stick including one for his brother. Braden Holtby proving once again, he is a class act! If you haven’t seen the video of Brendan’s meeting with Holtby, go watch it now. It’s such a great moment for everyone!

Blind Hockey at Kettler

Following practice, the Capitals rink was resurfaced and it was time for Try Blind Hockey. Watching all the skaters being led by volunteers was an unbelievable experience and the main reason I came to Kettler for the day. The Caps holding a practiceDSC_0435 beforehand was icing on the cake. The best part of watching Try Blind Hockey was the volunteers who were genuinely excited to be there and help out people on the ice. There was one young man who was having some trouble figuring out how to get his feet to move on the ice with the skates on and the volunteer got down on his knees on the cold ice to help move his feet for him. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had and I can’t wait to get more involved in these parts of the hockey community.

As for Brendan, after skating he moved into the broadcast booth, where he’s most comfortable to do a little announcing and to get warmed up for his debut later that night with Wes Johnson at Verizon center to announce the caps on to the ice for warmups!! Our thanks to Patrick McDermott of the Washington Capitals for sharing these photos of Brendan in the booth with Wes.

Well done Brendan!! And you were good luck for the Caps to comeback and beat the NJ Devils 4-3 We were so thankful to meet Brendan and we look forward to following Brendan and his career as an announcer!

Go Caps!! As Brendan would yell!!

 

By Mel Abernethy

Photos by Mel and Brittney, except where noted.

 

Brendan Friedrich, The Voice of Pride, Visits Kettler and the Caps

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We had the pleasure of meeting Brendan Friedrich, Heritage High School’s Voice of Pride announcer, this morning at Kettler Ice Plex. The Loudoun County’s blind announcer has become a bit of a local celebrity since he hosted ABC 7’s Good Morning Washington on February 12th. And Saturday the Washington Capitals invited the freshman to join them behind the glass, in the locker room, and to announce the Caps during warm-ups at Verizon Center with Wes Johnson.

The Caps took the young announcer behind the glass where he met Coach Trotz, members of the press, and then Braden Holtby.

Brendan participated in Try Blind Hockey, an event in which many visually impaired youth and adults took to the ice at Kettler,many for the first time.

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Brendan also had a chance to sit in the announcer’s booth at Kettler.

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Our thanks to ABC7 and the Washington Capitals for letting us eavesdrop on their interview with Brendan!  Brendan said he was excited to meet with the Capitals but mostly for the chance to meet Wes Johnson, the Capitals own announcer.

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The HS freshman’s parting words to us? “GO CAPS!!.

Our thanks to Wes Johnson and Joe Kurnos for the great feature photo.

Hockey in Your Community: Donkeys Kick Cancer

Playing for Hospice at Skate Fredrick

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Your Friends in Cold Places (FiCP) team turned their car toward Fredrick, Maryland Saturday for a charity match to benefit the Klein House. Klein House, in Mount Airy, MD provides services to the terminally ill during their final days. It brings comfort and peace of mind to the entire family as they come to terms with their circumstances.

The Klein House holds a special place with the Fredrick Skate home team, the Navy Donkeys. Colleen, wife of team captain Jason Sedgwick, lost her life to cancer in October 2014. On Saturday, January 2nd, The Hockey Donkeys of Skate Frederick sponsored its first adult tournament called “Donkeys Kick Cancer” featuring men’s teams from around the area to raise funds in support of Kline Hospice, who was there for the Sedgwick family.

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The Hockey Donkeys are based in Frederick, Maryland. The tournament brought out some of the area’s best players to compete while bringing awareness to the needs those who struggle with the devastation of family members with terminal illness. We found that the Donkeys are so much more than a group of hockey players hanging out and drinking beer. They are a group of men, women, and their families who are there to support one another through the difficult moments in their lives. They surrounded the Sedgwick family at their time of need and are there for others in need of assistance.

Team member Wendy Hockey showed FiCP around and introduced us to members of the league. It was clear how excited they were to host this first event. On a beautiful warm Saturday, players from as far away as New Jersey came together for a common cause. The Navy Donkey’s hosted a raffle to raise funds in addition to selling merchandise.

raffle tableThe end result? They raised $3,000 which will be donated to the Klein House to help other families in need. The Donkeys show what it means to be part of a local hockey community that not only has fun but has a commitment to charity. They will host another event next year with the hopes of raising even more funds for a select charity.

Well Done!

Is There Such as Thing as Too Many Caps Blogs????

As the new kids on the block, we had to ask ourselves that very question. And obviously, we think not. There are some great blogs out there, each with a different style or way of presenting information. On this Thanksgiving Day eve, we are thankful for the bloggers who have come before us and paved the way for quality reporting on social media.

JAPERS Rink is the big daddy of us all. Hosted by SB Nation, they provide daily coverage of Caps practices and games. If you follow them on twitter they also link you to all the articles written about the Caps. One-stop shopping at its best. Then there is Russia Machine Never Breaks. They have been writing all things Russian players since 2009. They were the first blog we ever followed and probably who inspires us the most to just have fun covering hockey. They are the best place to go for translations of articles and what Russian players really said! And then there is the blog that got us started and through which we found our own style. NoVa Caps provides a forum for fan to write articles and share their passion. They also recap games and repost nifty articles. Also new on the scene is Washington Capitals Loyal Fan Club Page over on Facebook which reposts great articles from all the outlets and bloggers.  Continue reading “Is There Such as Thing as Too Many Caps Blogs????”