Bondra scores late in the game. (Photos by Chris Gordon)
This year’s NHL Winter Classic has not had much buildup. Aside from the game, there isn’t much going on. The lack of an official alumni game — which had become a tradition at Winter Classics — angered and vexed many fans. Washington cancelled this year’s Caps Convention, saying they wanted to focus on Winter Classic events and has been hyping its former players all year long, with this season being the team’s fortieth anniversary. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, and Caps owner Ted Leonsis have all given competing answers as to why the event didn’t occur. Nevertheless, a group of former Caps, media members, and As Seen on TV people like NBC’s Washington Amelia Segal, took to the Nationals Park ice on Tuesday afternoon as part of an informal skate that came together in the past few weeks.
“I guess we all unfairly assumed that there would be one,” Alan May, who played in the game, said of an official alumni game, noting that Rod Langway and numerous former Blackhawks and Capitals expressed interest. “There’s nothing that can be done about it.”
In addition to May, former Capitals Peter Bondra, Craig Laughlin, Jeff Halpern, Brent Johnson — who appeared to be wearing his Penguins practice jersey inside out — and Sylvain Cote also took part. Bondra, playing of a team with May and Cote, was the star, blowing past his fellow players and scoring a few goals.
“If I step on the ice I don’t have to think,” Bondra told me. “I don’t have to force myself to do anything. It just comes naturally. It’s like riding a bike. As soon as you know how to skate or ride a bike you’re never going to forget. Same as hockey. It’s a lot of fun.”
May, also on the younger side, looked good as well, scoring an unknown number of times, while Locker added tallies of his own.
“I’m way better,” May said of Laughlin. “I didn’t let myself go to hell after I finished playing. I go to the gym, I don’t look at it and drive by it and go to the Starbucks next door. I actually go inside. Locker doesn’t do that.”
Laughlin brushed off the comments tactfully.
“Who’s Alan May?” he asked when I relayed his CSN’s colleague’s comments. “Alan May?”
Locker then turned to his own play.
“I think there’s a few words: outstanding, super, excellent,” he said. “Those are the types of things. I don’t think they’re for Alan though.”
While CSN pals Locker, May, Johnson and Mike the cameraman all took part, one member of Comcast team was notably absent: former goalie Joe Beninati.
I asked Locker if there was talk he would play.
“There was, but then we thought we’d see a lot of the net so it would be unfair,” he quipped.
In the end, May’s team beat Locker’s — by a lot.
“We stopped counting after 19,” May said, referring to his team’s goals
With all the lighthearted fun, it’s unfortunate there was no official alumni game that was open to the public, with the informal pickup game showcasing the same former Capitals stars the team has honored all year. It also made you realize how far hockey has come in Washington, with the grand stage of the Winter Classic just two days away. The last national NHL event in Washington was the 1982 All Star Game, nearly 33 years ago.
“We all want to consider ourselves a hockey town in DC and this might help get a little bit closer to that,” Bondra said. “It’s great for hockey in DC. You look at the surroundings, we are not too far from White House. Hey, this is the most powerful city in the world and you play hockey here.”
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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