Hall of Fame, Ride of Fame

Ovi’s Bus, Best Bus! 

Alex Ovechkin is destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame one day. Tuesday afternoon, outside of Verizon, his name was enshrined in the Ride of Fame, an honor bestowed upon other notable athletes such as Henrik Lundqvist, Reggie Jackson, Joe Namath Roger Maris, Joe Theisman and Walt Frazier.

Ovi Ride of Fame Induction

The Ride of Fame is a series of “mobile monuments,” basically double-decker tourist buses, that honor famous New Yorkers (mostly), from the sports world, music (LIZA has one!), movies (Richard Dreyfus), Broadway (Bernadette Peters), and other professions (Donald Trump and Rachel Ray). A contest was held for fans to be VIPs at the induction ceremony and a lucky few got the chance to roll with the captain. It’s a pretty sweet rig.

Dressed like a typical DC tourist in t-shirt and cutoff sweats, Ovi boards his bus for the first time.

Dressed like a typical DC tourist in t-shirt and cutoff sweats, Ovi boards his bus for the first time.

For the next month, Ovi One will be seen all over town from 9am and 11pm and it will have two routes. One will traverse the downtown and federal corridors, the Hill, Penn Quarter and Foggy Bottom.

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A second loop starts on the Hill and heads to Georgetown, up to Woodley Park and through DuPont. For a town that doesn’t allow billboards, this is some pretty clever outdoor advertising.

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There was a nice turnout of fans media and passers-by. After the ceremony, the bus took off for a lap around Verizon and from the top deck, Ovi appeared to really be digging it.

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Ovi was in very good spirits and posed for pics and selfies and spent about 5 minutes doing a scrum with the attending reporters.

Ovi meets the press

Slapshot and the Red Rockers were there, too!

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After a quick trip around the Booth, Ovi One rolled back to the F Street entrance.

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Hockey Pages: The Understatement of the Year by Sarina Bowen

twitter_avatarjeffI’ve had the great job of reviewing books that feature gay hockey players PuckBuddys since the fall of 2012. I can truly say every book I’ve presented here is one that I’ve loved, whether it’s a sweet romance, a coming out tale or a wildly fun story about a vampire hockey league. The Understatement of the Year by Sarina Bowen is not only a book that I love, it’s a book that grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go.

I read this book during a trip to Alabama to watch the Alabama/Auburn Iron Cup tournament in January. I started it during the plane trip and over the course of the weekend I ended up taking my iPad to the rink so I could read before the games started and during intermissions. Finally, I was late to dinner the last night I was there because I was so near the end and I had to finish it. I cried more than once reading it, too, because there are some passages that pull on the heart.

understatmentoftheyearUnderstatement is the third installment of Bowen’s Ivy Years series, but you don’t need to read the others to start this one (she confirms that fact in the interview coming up). The book focuses on Michael Graham and John Rikker. They were high school best friends, and secret lovers. One night they were out together and were jumped by homophobes. Rikker was beaten badly and Graham ran away. They never saw each other after that… until Rikker showed up at Harkness College as a walk-on to the school’s hockey team. Rikker was kicked out of his other college because he was gay. Harkness, however, was all about You Can Play and the coach was happy to bring him on because they had an opening.

Graham, however, is less than thrilled to see him. While Rikker had long since healed from the physical wounds, along with a lot of the psychological damage the attack caused, Graham relives the attacks nearly every night. And he’s crafted a facade around being straight because of what he’d seen happen to Rikker. That facade starts to crack the moment Rikker shows up.

Bowen alternates chapters between Rikker and Graham’s point of view so we’re right in their heads as the hockey season gets under way. It’s the perfect way to tell this story as they deal with interacting with each other, their teammates and Bella, the team’s incredible team manager. Everything isn’t school and hockey either, there are great glimpses at friends and family for both guys.

It’s difficult to discuss much about this book because I feel it’s important for readers to dive in and experience the powerful story without knowing too much. The unfolding of the tale is delightful. I do, however, want to offer up a couple passages to help illustrate Bowen’s great prose.

This is from Graham, as he describes how he ended up building his facade after the attack: “Before that awful day, naïveté had made me far too content. I’d never realized just how dangerous it was to be with Rikker. I knew we could never tell anyone. That went without saying. But I’d never been forced to witness what would happen if people knew. I hadn’t understood the sheer repulsion that I’d somehow earned by loving another boy.”

Now from Rikker, as he takes a shower in his new locker room, knowing some of his teammates don’t like it: “People like Big-D have it wrong. They think that the gay guy is going to be the one who’s slowly soaping up his dick, watching you shampoo. But that’s not how it works in a varsity locker room on planet Earth. The gay guy is the one who discreetly goes about his business, showering quickly and then getting the hell out of there. He puts his underwear on when his skin is still damp, even though it will stick up his ass crack the rest of the night.”

I also want to share a quote. I’m not going to attribute it to a character as I don’t want to give up too much detail, but it’s one of the book’s most important quotes: “Every time you move a person into the truth column, breathing gets a little easier, right?”

Beyond writing great character stuff, Bowen also does some excellent hockey scenes. The game scenes are fast paced, and also, occasionally, cringe-worthy.

I hope you’ll take the leap and try out Understatement of the Year. This is among the very best books that I’ve read in the past twelve months, hockey related or not.

Interview with Sarina Bowen

I enjoyed finding out a little bit more about Bowen in the interview. Here’s a glimpse at the author behind Understatement of the Year. Continue reading

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Diplomatic Dispatches: Czech Style, Best Style!

Love him or hate him, Jagr is one of the all time greats

Love him or hate him, Jagr is one of the all time greats

Havlát. Eliáš. Hašek. Holík. The names are as familiar as sometimes their spelling seems foreign. These are just a few of the many great hockey players the Czech Republic has sent to the NHL – and this only since becoming it’s own distinct nation, separating from it’s brother state in 1993. Not bad for a nation of only 10 million.

Washington and the Czech Republic have had an unusually close relationship over the years – at least when it comes to what goes down on the ice. A surprising number of Czechs have spent time right here with the Capitals: Robert Lang, Martin Erat, Tomáš Vokoun, Petr Nedvěd among them.

But of course, there’s one name missing. One name arguably at the top of the list of all-time Czech greats – heck, one of the best players ever. And one name that stirs conflicting emotions for Caps fans like no other: Jaromír Jágr.

As part of our on-going interview series with ambassadors who represent the great hockey nations, today we take a moment to contemplate the many great things the Czech Republic has contributed to this greatest of games. And also, Jaromír Jágr.

Czech Ambassador Petr Gandalovič

Czech Ambassador Petr Gandalovič

We were scheduled to meet with His Excellency Petr Gandalovič, Czech Ambassador to the US, but it fell on a day when snow blew through DC, airplane schedules were snarled, and we weren’t able to meet with the Ambassador face-to-face.

He was gracious enough, however, to share some thoughts with us via email, which we share below:

What role does hockey play in Czech culture – how important is it to people?

Hockey is one of the most favorite sports in the Czech Republic and plays a very important role in our culture.

For a relatively small nation, the Czech Republic has produced a huge number of very talented players. How would you explain that?

While our country may be small there always has been a very complex system of working with young talent. All of our players dream big and have their hearts set on the NHL.

Finland’s Amb. Koukku-Ronde told us she thought there was something about being a goalie – about fighting it out alone in the net – that felt very Finnish to her. Is there an aspect of Czech culture or the Czech soul that finds expression in the game do you think?

As I mentioned, we may be a small nation but our people are very talented and have lots of drive. I think our players have proven that on the ice worldwide.

Continue reading

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Smoke Show

A Smoke Break With Smokin’ Al

Comcast DCIt’s no secret we’re CSN fanboys. Even thought we’ll be at Sunday’s tilt versus the Flyers, we’re recording CSN broadcast of it. In addition to the action on the ice (prediction: Caps win, 3-1) , there will be something pretty special in the broadcast booth. CSN is marking Al Koken’s 30th season by cycling him around Verizon. From the Post:

During the broadcast, Koken will be featured in each of the four roles he has served throughout his three decades with the network. In the first period, he will work as the game analyst, his position for six seasons beginning in 1984. In the second period, Koken will transition to play-by-play announcer, a position he held during the 1995-96 season. Koken will assume his most familiar role as in-game reporter during the third period before hosting “Capitals Postgame Live” after the game.

al-koken_209Despite Al’s busy weekend schedule with Friday’s Caps game against the Ducks and Saturday night’s college hoops game, he carved out some time to do a Q&A with us about his years covering your Washington Capitals. We thank Al for his time, his service and for making us smarter hockey fans.

 Us: Growing up, who were some of the announcers and play by play guys on TV or radio guys that you liked? And did you try to emulate them once you got into broadcasting?

Al: I grew up in St. Louis. Fooled around as a backyard, shinny player but there was no formal hockey teams,etc. to really be a part of. Went to a few minor league games (St. Louis had the Blackhawks top minor league team  then, in 1967, we got one of the 6 NHL expansion teams. Scotty Bowman as the first coach and Hall of Fame broadcaster Dan Kelly as the play-by-play voice on KMOX radio.

Thanks to my Uncle Bill who had access to his companies season tix, I got to a good number of games. And figured out with some friends how to sneak into many others. But, most games were enjoyed on the radio with the incredible voice and calls of the GREAT Dan Kelly. One of the highlights of my career was being treated as a peer and called by my name by Dan when the Caps and Blues would play.

Us: What was your first year like at HTS? Was it an easy transition from what you were doing at WTOP?

It was tough. I knew the game as a fan , but that doesn’t cut it on TV. My first partner, Mike Fornes, was a great help. His rules were simple: when the puck was in play, it was his. When the puck was out of play, it was mine. That never happens any more today. And Brian Murray and his coaches were a HUGE help. They truly let me ask anything and helped me prep for the games with much better insight because of the access they gave me. Continue reading

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Diplomatic Dispatches: Peter Bondra – Local Star, National Hero

Peter Bondra Capital

The one and only Peter Bondra

 

The debate – to the degree there ever was any except in Mike Milbury’s mind – is over. Alexander Ovechkin has established himself as one of the greatest NHL players of all time, and we here in DC are lucky to have a ring-side seat to history. Years, decades even, from now, people will speak about this moment in the same way old-timers now talk about Gordie Howe, Stan Mikita or Wayne Gretzky.

Bondra salutes Ovechkin (courtesy RMNB)

Bondra salutes Ovechkin (courtesy RMNB)

Yet not so long ago, in the days before Ovechkin, it was hard to imagine that  anyone could ever surpass the sheer scoar-moar-goalsiness of Peter Bondra. Bonzai dazzled DC for more than a decade, although it was ultimately in Chicago as a Blackhawk that he scored his 500th career goal, joining former Hawks Bobby Hull, Michel Goulet and the great Stan Mikita.

Bondra and Mikita share something else: they’re both two of the many great Slovak players to earn their way in the NHL. It should surprise exactly no-one that hockey is the national game in the Slovak Republic, just as in the other great European hockey powers, which helps explain how such a small nation can turn out so many talented players.

Recently, as part of our conversations with Ambassadors from the great hockey nations serving in the U.S., we had the good fortune to spend some time with His Excellency Peter Kmec, the Slovak Ambassador to the U.S., as well as Marek Skovajsa, president of Metropolitan Engineering/Shapiro-O’Brien, a DC-based engineering services firm, to hear their thoughts about Slovak players, the importance of hockey in culture, and efforts underway to encourage more youth to join the sport.

What role does hockey play in Slovakia?

Hockey is our national tradition, part of our national identity. Central and northern Europe are into two types of sports: hockey and soccer. As you’ve noticed, we clearly excel when it comes to hockey; a number of the players are genuine national heroes.

Amb. Kmec meeting with President Obama (Slovak embassy)

Amb. Kmec meeting with President Obama (Slovak embassy)

How closely do they watch the NHL?

The NHL is the best league in the world, and of course any Slovak ice hockey fan watches the games very closely, especially those teams that have Slovak hockey players. It used to be much broader now that the number has diminished a little bit, but we’ve got new faces, especially on the Red Wings. We watch the games, we talk about them in the media, it’s very closely watched.

Do you follow any specific players or teams here?

We definitely very much focus on the teams where Slovak players perform. Marián Hossa with the Blackhawks, where Mikita played before him, and we watch Marián Gáborík with the the Kings pretty closely. Then there’s two rising stars with the Red Wings – Tomáš Tatar and Tomáš Jurčo, they’re great. Slovaks have a good combination of technical skills and strong determination, real physical play. It’s a combination of what’s sometimes called the Soviet school and the US style of ice hockey. Bondra had that, and so does the great Zdeno Chara.

Of course, Mr. Ambassador, while we still love Bondra here in DC, not so much Chara…

Ah, but you don’t hate him as much as the Canadiens do…

Continue reading

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Diplomatic Dispatches: Suomi, Selänne, and Sisu

One of the great things that makes Washington among the most vibrant places in America to live…are the non-Americans living here.

Specifically, we’re talking about DC’s huge international and diplomatic community that extends into just about every aspect of life here – government, development and economics, media, restaurants, the social scene, you name it.

Now, add sports to the list. Starting today, we will be profiling Ambassadors to the U.S. who represent some of the great hockey-playing nations – you can pretty much guess who they are – and listening to their thoughts on all things hockey. As it turns out, Ambassadors have quite a lot to say on the subject.

The Finnish Embassy grand entrance hall (Embassy of Finland)

The Finnish Embassy grand entrance hall (Embassy of Finland)

We’re especially pleased to begin with Finland’s current Ambassador to the U.S., her Excellency Ritva Koukke-Ronde. A 30+ year veteran of Finnish diplomacy, Mrs. Koukku-Ronde is also quite a fan of the sport, due in no small measure to the truly impressive number of talented Finns on the ice.

We were honored to meet with Amb. Koukku-Ronde in her office at the Finnish Embassy – a stunner of a building, by the way – and hear her thoughts on hockey, resilience, what makes for a strong defense, and the Finnish soul.

Give me a sense as to what role hockey plays in Finnish culture?

It’s a national sport, similar to European football in southern Europe, or maybe something like football, baseball and basketball all combined in the US.

We have much more winter than summer in Finland, so ice hockey is a natural sport – and always, there’s natural ice everywhere. We were playing our first games in 1899, of course, all on natural ice, but nowadays we have indoor rinks and ice as well.

The other tradition we have here are sports in schools. Sports have always been a part of our education, and we always do outdoor sports, so if it’s winter, it’s skating and that also means ice hockey. In my day, the boys would play ice hockey and the girls would play ice ball – I don’t know the English term for it, it’s kind of like field hockey.

Then, of course, there are all sorts of sports clubs for after-school hours. If you travel around Finland, small towns and even big cities like Helsinki, you find ice fields, and always there’s hockey being played, and these days many more girls are playing as well. So overall people follow hockey and many play it just as an amateur activity.

Finland is turning out some amazing players these days…men and women.

Amb. Ritva Koukku-Ronde

Amb. Ritva Koukku-Ronde

Exactly. I might even go as far to say that hockey is somewhere in our genes, in our backbones. Because in some way or another, you are always involved with hockey. Very often it’s the fathers and the mothers who are car-pooling the kids to the hockey. As you know, hockey bags are really big, and you can’t easily take public transportation to get to the ice or the rink. So the family is spending hours and hours watching they’re kids play, or fund-raising for the clubs and the teams.

And then of course it’s a very popular game to attend, and it’s great on TV, so World Cups and other games are always highly watched. It’s almost cradle to the grave. My father used to say he can’t watch World Cup games any more because his blood pressure was getting too high!

How much attention are Finns paying to the NHL?

That’s an interesting question, because the Finnish broadcasting corporation, and all the channels really, they’re always covering the NHL. The last time I was in Finland I was astonished to see how closely it’s covered – I got a much better sense there of how Finnish players or the Minnesota Wild were doing than I do here.

In Helsinki there are two [professional] teams, and people are always asking which one you’re supporting! These ice hockey players are celebrities in Finnish society. Many of them are actively involved in fund-raising activities for charitable causes. It’s common to see them visiting hospitals or helping with children’s needs. Teemu Selänne and Saku Koivu were recently invited to our President’s Independence Day celebrations. We celebrate in various ways, and one of the highlights is the President has a ball on the 6th of December. Teemu Selänne and his wife flew in from Los Angeles and Saku Koivu came in, and everyone had to meet them.

Teemu Selanne Ducks 2Has Selänne been something of a father figure, or inspiring figure, for aspiring Finnish hockey players looking at the NHL?

Oh yes. Teemu Selanne every summer holds various ice hockey camps, and many of the other players are as well. And one of the heroes is Urpo Ylönen. One could say even that some of the teams in the NHL rely on Finland and having a good Finnish defense.

Continue reading

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Capitals vs. Capitol Culture

Troy Brouwer

What the Capitals and the NHL Can Teach Washington

As Lee Greenwood stepped to the stage for the 2nd intermission of this year’s Winter Classic, stadium announcer Wes Johnson, working from a pre-approved script, introduced him as one of America’s most beloved musicians. Greenwood took center stage and segued into the song he’s been singing since 1984, “God Bless the U.S.A.”

Some in the audience loved it, standing and saluting to no-one in particular. Others made a conspicuous, eye-rolling show, hopping up to buy yet another hot dog they may not have even wanted.

Loving tribute to American values and traditions, or cheap display of faux-patriotism? The answer depends largely on where in our culture you stand.

This reporter actually saw almost the same scene play out three years earlier. In 2012, on the first night of the GOP national convention in Tampa, I was covering a Democratic watch party near the convention center. Someone at the Times Forum, who I was told was the winner of a TV talent show, began to sing Greenwood’s anthem, captured by the C-SPAN cameras.

Grey-haired Republican delegates in the hall ate it up; hipster Democratic loyalists in the bar nearly threw up.

Standing in Nats Park Thursday, watching this political Rorschach test play out again, I saw that I was witnessing one institution – the NHL – jostling up against the city governed by a very different institution – politics. In short, the Capitals and the Capitol.

And it struck me that while one of these Washingtons is working to build up family, achievement, and society, the other Washington seems to be doing its damndest to pull it all down. Continue reading

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