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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The Winter Classic By The Numbers

via NHL Press Release…

2015 BRIDGESTONE NHL WINTER CLASSIC® BY THE NUMBERS

2 Each team is making its second appearance in the NHL Winter Classic; Chicago was defeated 6-4 by Detroit in 2009 at Wrigley Field. Washington bested Pittsburgh by a 3-1 margin at Heinz Field in 2011.

2 Beginning Jan. 1, fans can nominate their community to be one of the two communities (one in Canada, one in the U.S.) that will win the title of Kraft Hockeyville in 2015. The title will earn each community an arena makeover and the honor of hosting an NHL pre-season game in 2015.

5 Of the six most-watched NHL regular-season games in the U.S. since 1975, five are NHL Winter Classic games.

10 Most number of goals teams have combined to score in a single NHL Winter Classic, four of which were scored by the Blackhawks in their 6-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at the 2009 NHL Winter Classic at Wrigley Field.

12 Length, in inches, of the District Duel, which will be served as the Signature Dish of the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. DC’s distinguished foot-long Half Smoke meets Chicago style slow roasted Italian beef, topped with creole mustard, banana peppers and giardiniera. The District Duel is available at Taste of the Major’s stands at sections 115 and 314, and at Anacostia Station at section 217).

14 Players on the Capitals roster who have skated in a regular-season outdoor NHL game. Of those 14, only two have participated in more than one such game: Jason Chimera (2003 NHL Heritage Classic™, 2011 NHL Winter Classic) and Brooks Orpik (2008 NHL Winter Classic, 2011 NHL Winter Classic, 2014 NHL Coors Light Stadium Series™).

16 Number worn by Capitals right wing Eric Fehr, who scored two goals, including the game-winner, in Washington’s 3-1 win at Pittsburgh in the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field.

17 Number of NHL corporate and broadcast partners activating at the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® Spectator Plaza presented by GEICO, a free fan festival with hockey-themed attractions, music and fun for all ages that will be held at the Fairgrounds outside the Center Field Gate at Nationals Park, from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

20 Estimated direct sales, in millions of dollars, that the NHL Winter Classic will bring to Washington, D.C., according to Destination DC.

21 Players on the Blackhawks roster who have participated in a regular-season outdoor NHL game. That includes 18 players who appeared in the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series at Soldier Field.

24 Feet below street level where the field and rink at Nationals Park sits.

24 Approximate number of kids from the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club and the Rooftop Hockey League who will skate on the Auxiliary Rink during pre-game and intermissions.
29 Average low temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit, for Washington, D.C. in January, according to weather.com.

34.7 Average temperature in Fahrenheit at puck drop for the six NHL Winter Classic games (2008 – 31.1°, 2009 – 31.9°, 2010 – 39.6°, 2011 – 51.7°, 2012 – 41°, 2014 – 13°).

38 NHLers who have played for both the Capitals and Blackhawks. Of those 38, only one has skated in at least 200 games for both clubs – current Capitals forward Troy Brouwer (CHI: 238, WSH: 211). Brouwer skated for the Blackhawks in the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic against Detroit at Wrigley Field.

40 Approximate number of USA Warriors military members that will participate in a hockey game on the NHL Winter Classic rink on Jan. 2.

44 Average high temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit, for Washington, D.C. in January, according weather.com.

53 Length, in feet, of the world’s largest mobile rink refrigeration unit, specially built for outdoor games conducted by the NHL.

88 Total number of points earned by the Capitals in their 90 all-time meetings vs. the Blackhawks.

91 Number worn by Blackhawks center Brad Richards, who tallied the game-winning goal for the New York Rangers in their 3-2 win at Philadelphia in the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park.

95 Total number of points earned by the Blackhawks in their 90 all-time meetings vs. the Capitals.

150+ Members of all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, who will be attending the NHL Winter Classic as honored guests of the NHL, and will receive a special salute before the game.

160+ Approximate number of countries and territories that will carry the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® game broadcast.

243 Number of ice pans under the main rink at Nationals Park, each measuring 30” x 340” in size.

300 Ton capacity of refrigeration trailer that will keep the ice cool at Nationals Park.

350 Gallons of paint used to make the Nationals Park ice white.

448 Players and head coaches who have participated in the League’s 13 regular-season outdoor games to date.

600+ Linear feet of LED ribbon board along the inner bowl fascia at the ballpark.

696 Approximate number of miles that separate Chicago and Washington.

2008 Year Nationals Park was completed.

2,555 NHL regular-season games that Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville and Capitals head coach Barry Trotz have combined to coach. Quenneville (1,327 GC; 729 W) and Trotz (1,228 GC; 573 W) rank first and fourth, respectively, among active NHL bench bosses in games coached and wins.

3,000 Gallons of coolant used to freeze the Nationals Park rink.

3,757 Estimated number of jobs in Washington, D.C. supported directly by the NHL Winter Classic, according to Destination DC.

4,500 Square footage of the high-definition scoreboard at Nationals Park.

7,800 Square footage of the American flag to be presented during the National Anthem at the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic (120 feet x 65 feet).

22,184 Estimated number of hotel rooms demanded in Washington, D.C. for the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, according to Destination DC.

24,400 Stitch count in the embroidered 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic logo featured in 218 different retail offerings, including 42 headwear, mittens, and scarf styles at the Official NHL Winter Classic Stores at Nationals Park.

115,000 The estimated value, in dollars, the NHL and Washington Capitals, in conjunction with NHL partners Bridgestone and Constellation, and project partners Franklin, Pepco, ECORE International, and CleanRiver Recycling Solutions, funded in upgrades and renovations to the outdoor rink at the Watkins Elementary School and Recreation Center in Southeast Washington, D.C. The donation to the ‘Watkins Rush Rink’ was part of the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® Legacy Initiative.

370,716 Total spectators in attendance at the first six NHL Winter Classic games.

IT ALL ADDS UP TO FUN!

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We Cover The Waterfront

Before there was Nats Park… 

When the puck drops for the Winter Classic at centre ice on New Year’s Day, give a thought to what was on that exact spot just a few years back. Where on Thursday, the best hockey players in the world will face off, many gay men of Washington will remember it as the place where back door looks and odd man rushes had very different meanings.

Follies 1983

That’s because the old neighborhood around Nats Park was once home to some of DC’s most notorious gay nightlife. The Pier, Lost and Found and Tracks were some of the more boisterous dance clubs. But there was far more to the scene than just dancing.

Glory HLa Cage (aka the Petting Zoo) was a favorite spot to watch (or touch) the go-go boys, and the DC outpost of the Club Baths chain was where one went for… well, bathhouse sex. And then there was the Glorious Health & Amusement Company (aka the Glory Hole). The locus of the action, O Street, Southeast, was razed and removed for the ballpark. As best we can tell, that’s exactly where the player benches will be for the game. Those old joints are just memories now, displaced by the ballpark, soulless office buildings, cookie cutter condos and progress. The old cruise bars are vestiges of the past as well, displaced by Grindr, Scruff and soulless hookup apps. Progress? The sporting life.

To get a feel for what the area was like, DC’s Rainbow History Project did a nice walking tour map of the old gayborhood. Click to enlarge (if we had a nickel…) the pages below.

Rainbow Master 1

Rainbow Master 2

Rainbow Master 3

 

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Winter Classic Visitors Guide: DC’s Sloppy Seconds

DC sloppy secondsSo far, we’ve endeavored to take our our-of-towner Winter Classic visitors to some of DC’s most hippin’ and-a hoppin’-est neighborhoods: U Street, H Street, Barracks Row and Arlington. But there’s plenty of other places around town. Today, the best of the rest…best as determined by a somewhat random metric.

Time was if you wanted to go out in DC you went to Georgetown or Dupont Circle (assuming you didn’t really want to go to the gay go-go boy clubs down in Skankytown.) That’s changed. You don’t really need to know the neighborhoods listed here; any cab or Metro should get you pretty close.

Keep in mind that there’s great places around Nats Park – among them the Bluejacket brewery. But these places tend to get beyond full game days, and we expect on January 1 will be all but inaccessible. Hence, just a few other ideas within a few miles of the game.

Finally, this list is not comprehensive, and especially is not a fine-dining guide to DC. These are more the kind of comfy places you might wish you had in your neighborhood if you lived here: a Cheers bar with much more sawdust and much less light. Continue reading

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