Twenty-three years ago to the day, the Washington Capitals officially left USAir Arena in Landover, Maryland, and played their first game at the MCI Center in Washington DC. Vice-president Al Gore and his wife Tipper were among the 19,740 in attendance.
The Capitals defeated the Florida Panthers 3-2 on December 5, 1997, after bottom-six forward Jeff Toms scored unassisted in overtime. The game marked Toms’ sixth with the Caps since being claimed that November from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“We got a bounce at the blueline and then I used my speed to beat Laus,” Toms said to a much-younger Mike Vogel after the game. “Being picked up by Washington is the best thing that’s ever happened in my career.”
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) December 5, 2020
Panthers forward Steve Washburn scored the first goal in MCI Center history — 7:23 into the first period — while Richard Zednik lit the lamp first for the Capitals. Chris Simon would later tally the first power-play goal in building history after getting assists from Joe Juneau and Phil Housley.
Olie Kolzig would stop 26 of 28 shots to earn the win.
Before the game, HTS analysts Al Koken and Craig Laughlin interviewed the players and asked them what they thought about their new home.
Joe Reekie: I think it’s probably the nicest building in the league. We’ve got everything here. It’s fun to come to this building. Our rooms great, the atmosphere is great, I think it’s the best building you could ever come play in.
Mark Tinordi: It’s outstanding. For us, just being in the dressing room, it’s so much nicer than the one we had before. You get kind of spoiled. Hopefully, we can play some good hockey here and get the people in. Make it a good atmosphere to come watch a game. Make it loud and bring a lot of excitement here. It starts with us. If we put a good product on the ice and make it exciting and win some games, we can make this a great building.
Calle Johansson: It’s nice. It’s going to be fun tonight, a little exciting you know? Hope we can put on a good show for the people in here and hopefully win the game.
Phil Housley: First of all it’s going to be exciting to play in one of the premier sports arenas in the world. The game’s hopefully going to be an uptempo game for us. We have to come out and play hard and do the things we’ve been doing. Getting back to the arena, it’s a great complex. You have to find your way around the locker room compared to USAir Arena. It certainly makes you feel very comfortable.
Adam Oates: We’re excited because it’s a new building. Any time you come into a new facility, it’s nice. The old Boston Garden was a great big building but the Fleet Center was welcomed. It was a lot of fun but this place is absolutely spectacular. It’s beautiful. It really is.
Craig Berube: The best. New building’s nice. Better boards. Better ice. I’ll use my skills a little more out there. [smiles]
In the USAir Arena, the boards were dead and the ice wasn’t that great. Both teams’ passes are going to be better and you’re going to see a little better hockey in the new building. Plus, it’s a better atmosphere. People will be more excited.
Dale Hunter: It’s exciting. Cap Centre was a good building for its time and now we’re going to move on to the nicest arena in the league. It’s going to be a whole new era for us I think. We’re going to take it that way. We had good years, but now we’re going to take it a step further.
The MCI Center, which is now known as Capital One Arena, was built by Abe Polin solely with private financing ($260 million). The building is located in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington DC, and sits atop the Gallery Place metro station. The total capacity is 20,656.
“I would just like to say again welcome to all of you,” Polin said during an elaborate pregame ceremony. “This is a building that’s a culmination of five years of hard work, planning, hoping, praying that we would build the best building in the world for the most important city and the most beautiful city in the world – the nation’s capital.
“And I hope all of you will be here when we carry that Stanley Cup around because we’re going to do it.”
That first season in DC, the Capitals made it to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time, but were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in four games.
21 years later, the Capitals won their first championship. Unfortunately, Abe wasn’t around to see it.
The Capitals brought back 42 former players for the game who were individually announced and honored during the first intermission. The players then skated around the ice.
“New building, sold out, it was an unbelievable atmosphere,” Olie Kolzig said.
This Date #Caps History (Dec.5, 1997):
Jeff Toms scored the game-winning goal as the Capitals beat Florida 3-2 in overtime in the first game at MCI Center
After playing 23+ years in Landover, MD, this marked the Caps first game in D.C. pic.twitter.com/okTcKYwk0O
— Ben Raby (@BenRaby31) December 5, 2020
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