24 April, 2014


Taking a Wrecking Ball to Capitals Country Club (Part II)

Back in January 2010, Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, speaking of his team’s American League affiliate in Hershey, told the Patriot News (Pa.), “The excellence with which that organization is run washes up on us.”

Umm . . . not . . . quite.

This season in Washington, it’s as if the Capitals barricaded Kettler with sandbags to prevent the very winning tide of Hershey hockey from bathing them in good fortune.

The Bears last June successfully defended their Calder Cup title of the season before, earning their 11th overall (best in the AHL). Then, anticipating a healthy contingent of promotions to the parent club, went about strengthening their roster for the following season. As they always do. For there is only one acceptable outcome to a hockey season in Hershey.

For some years now, there have been reasonable forecasts suggesting that all that winning in Hershey — all that championship pedigree on the farm — would, like a rising tide, lift the good cruiseship Capitals. It hasn’t happened. In fact, water levels are approaching the bridge this season for the parent club. It’s with this curious competitive disconnect in mind that I identify my next principle in my renovation of Capitals culture:

  • How can Washington be more like the Bears?

You can point to the absence of a salary cap in the American League, you can further suggest that the Bears are uniquely advantaged as the big (and perhaps the only) game in their town, but the bottom line is that winning at pro hockey requires a lot of blocking and tackling basics, and the Hershey Bears block and tackle in pursuit of victory better than anyone in hockey. You don’t get 11 Cups with merely a big checkbook or by luck. Hershey has a championship culture. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to study it a bit closer, I think.

If I could help usher in a new culture for hockey in Washington, I’d urge a re-orienting of the Capitals’ relationship with its American League affiliate, trying to bring a little better balance to it. It’s one-sided not only in terms of winning when it counts, but in subtler ways that from my vantage evoke a bit of a patriarchal arrogance. For instance, I find it incredible that Alexander Ovechkin has never been showcased in a training camp skate or NHL exhibition or in a parent-affiliate exhibition before some of the greatest fans in all of hockey. It’s rather arrogant I think to in effect say to Hershey hockey fans, ‘Come on down to D.C. and see Ovi.’  The Caps should take him up there, and maybe even once a season. We are so fortunate to have him; absolutely we should share him with our affiliate. And so I say:

  • Let’s give back a little to the affiliate that’s done do much for us in player personnel development.

It isn’t just Ovi who ought to be showcased in Hershey. Bruce Boudreau should be behind the bench again in Giant Center for an NHL exhibition game, or leading a camp session on the ice sheet in historic Hersheypark Arena.

George McPhee told me straight out a couple of seasons ago that, notwithstanding that other NHL clubs pursue them, he doesn’t like parent-affiliate exhibition games. Thinks the youngsters will try and show up the stars with some rough stuff, trying to make a statement with parent management watching. I imagine there’s validity in there somewhere, and of course a parent-affiliate exhibition game is his prerogative, but imagine the fun of such a game in old HPA, perhaps ticketing just Bears’ and Caps’ season ticket holders. The greatest hockey player in the world (prior to this season) ought to skate at least once in one of hockey’s all-time greatest barns.

Washington I think needs greater tangible integration with such a historic hockey town. Let’s try and change our culture a bit by better associating ourselves with one of the all-time best hockey cultures.

  • Planes, trains, buses, and automobiles. The American League is a bus league, but not all that long ago, busing it wasn’t all that uncommon in the NHL.

Back when they were in the great old Patrick division, the Capitals never had 300 miles to travel to meet a division rival, and consequently, they logged a decent bit of time on buses. Today in the Southeast, the Caps have no such luxury, so they’re up in the air a ton. But buses are a touchstone to a pro hockey player’s development roots — at least for North American pro hockey players. I don’t think it would be such a bad idea to incorporate a wee bit more everyman travel to the Capitals’ comings and goings — remind them of their roots. Today, the Caps see buses pretty much only from the ride from the airport to the hotel, and from the hotel to the rink. I think this Capitals’ club should bus up to Philly, New York, New Jersey, and Long Island, harkening back a bit to the good old Patrick division days. Schedules permitting, Alan May and Craig Laughlin ought to be on a good many of those rides, and other Capitals’ alums, and they ought to share their history of the rides they took to lace ‘em against the dynastic Islanders, the nasty Flyers, etc.

And have you seen the caliber of bus pro sports teams utilize today? It’s not exactly roughing it. The Caps would still fly for 75 or 80 percent of their road travel in this scheme.

  • TV timeout? Nah. But TV pitchman dough out to have a charitable kickback.

If you’re like me you’re having a tougher time watching Bruce Boudreau making bird calls, or elderly white man dancing, during his pitches for Mercedes Benz these days, relative to say last fall. It’s misplaced concern, though, I think suggesting that the Caps lose focus spending hours before television commercials cutting spots. All of this work is pretty much done in the offseason. Moreover, athletes and coaches have every right to earn supplementary income, to commercialize on their respective individual brand. It’s part of what makes America distinctive and insufferable.

However, management could approach the participants and ask if they’d be willing to direct a fraction of their television-derived income toward local charity. Some of them already do. But it’s at times like now when it’d be less galling to see the TV antics if we knew, for instance, that the Friends of Fort Dupont Foundation was benefiting from the mayhem.

It has to be acknowledged: the Capitals are exceptionally well immersed in their community, and their charitable commitments and impulses are exemplary. But you can always do more. Incidentally, when I participated in a bloggers’ roundtable discussion last weekend with my friends from Russian Machine Never Breaks and Capitals Outsider, organized by the Capitals’ Fan Club, donations in our names were made by the Fan Club to Fort Dupont. I really liked that.

This last principle for a reformed Capitals Culture is purely symbolic, but I’m a big believer in the power and effect of symbolism.

  • The raised stick salute.

The toughest moments fans endure are those seconds that follow the season-ending horn, especially when it sounds on home ice. We endured that last April. But in that agonizing moment we also saw something special: Alexander Ovechkin, our captain, raise his stick high in the air in a salute to the Red Army. And the Red Army in turn warmly acknowledged its hero. I thought it was a special moment. And this morning, suffering as all you are, I worry that unintentionally the Capitals this season have frayed a bit of their special connection with so special a fanbase.

The Capitals like every other hockey team bounce off their bench at game’s end and embrace their netminder. But I think after every home game, before exiting the ice, win, lose, or revolt us with sub-par effort, every Capitals player ought to offer a raised stick salute to the foundation that is Washington the hockey town. No other team does it. What’s been built here the past 5 years has been so special. It ought to be acknowledged.

[If you missed Part I, check it out here.]



9 Comments

  1. Sherri wrote:

    The raised stick is a fantastic fan salute. Our trip to Philly last season was capped off by a salute by Mike Green when he was chosen as third star of the game. It’s unusual for an away team’s player to take the ice when announced as a star and that he did so, amid the jeers of the Flyers’ faithful, to show love for the Caps fans in the house was just awesome.
    http://bit.ly/fEZvFz

    16 February, 2011 at 9:04 am | Permalink
  2. HITTMAN wrote:

    Having skated in the old HPA more times than I can count in my youth hockey days, I can confirm that it has a ton of character. Bruce Boudreau would look great behind the bench in Hershey again, although I’d prefer his demotion to be permanent. There’s a lot to be said for staying the course, but just as much to be said for making some moves.

    16 February, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
  3. Second bullet, I would offer another sollution vice parent-affiliate match up.
    Thinking back to the early 90′s Caps/Skipjacks relationship, Baltimore Skipjacks would play a late afternoon pre-season game against Hershey(Flyers farm team at that time) followed by an evening game of Caps/Flyers. One ticket got you in and it was a great way to promote the upcoming season. They played at the Baltimore arena which offered the best central location. While the ice in Baltimore has NOT been in place for over a decade, I recommend Carolina Hurricanes/ Charlotte Checkers with alternating hosting years.

    16 February, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink
  4. HBH WC wrote:

    During Ovie’s rookie season the Caps did play the Pens (mostly WBS Pens really) at Giant center.
    At the time I didn’t know who he was. One time, he picked up the puck in his own zone and just took off.
    I remember everyone in the place going, “Holy Crap, who the hell is that”?
    A friend of mine explained that he read about him.
    He mentioned that yea, he looked good her against the majority of the baby Pens but let’s see how he does against the big boys.
    The next night the same two teams played in WBS except it was mostly Bears against the majority of players from the Pens big club.

    16 February, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Permalink
  5. Quinn wrote:

    A lot of these ideas are really good and I agree with them. I also believe that positive energy has better impact then negative energy. The raised sticks is a great idea, and so are the early practices. 7:30 is barely even considered early by most.

    16 February, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Permalink
  6. OvieTracker wrote:

    Part II is yet another thoughtful exemplary commentary P&B. I especially love your suggestions of more bus trips and the raised hockey stick salute. If I read you correctly, you’re recommending an major attitude adjustment for this season’s Caps, one grounded in humility and gratitude for their good luck and fortune and away from the arrogance and sense of entitlement that seems to surround this club. I couldn’t agree more, and couldn’t have said it better.

    16 February, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Permalink
  7. Scott wrote:

    Thank you so much for your blog and for your commonsense prescriptions to mend the Capitals woes. Would that someone in the mainstream press covering the Caps have the gumption to come forward like you have to tell it like it is. I have no idea what your readership is but henceforth count me among your most avid readers. All season and going back to that pathetic collapse in Round I of the Stanley Cups last year, I have watched this team’s lackadaisical effort with mounting frustration and disgust. Last year I attended five home games. This year I haven’t gone once to the Verizon Center. They’re just not worth the $100 to watch. I wonder if the only way to implement the kind of no-nonsense regiment you prescribe is to start at the top, and sweep away McPhee and Boudreau. Something I would have prescribed after last year’s spectacular collapse. Cheers, Scott

    19 February, 2011 at 11:47 am | Permalink
  8. Benito Hammerino wrote:

    Would love to have a double-bill featuring a Hershey Bears game after the Caps game. DC Fans would love to see that. They should do that once a year — like a reward for all of the Hershey kids who haven’t made it to the NHL yet, and all of the Caps fans who haven’t made it up to Hershey yet.

    20 February, 2011 at 6:42 am | Permalink
  9. Scott wrote:

    These posts are why I don’t read this blog. Last summer all you did was trash the Caps’ spending, and now they’re first in the East. All you do is complain to make waves and get people to read your blog.

    For a REAL Caps blog, go read Japers’ Rink. Forget this trash.

    7 April, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. [...] days best warm my hockey heart 16 February, 2011 « Tip of the Cap Back at You, Hershey Taking a Wrecking Ball to Capitals Country Club (Part II) [...]