For most Washington Capitals fans, Al Koken has been an integral part of the team’s coverage since they first got into hockey. Now, after 38 seasons covering the Caps, Koken is getting a major honor from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
Koken is one of nine broadcasters who are being inducted into the prestigious Silver Circle (25-plus years of service) while three others, including retired NBC 4 Washington reporter Pat Collins, are being inducted into the Gold Circle (50-plus years).
Hockey's most dedicated rink side reporter makes one more line change as he is inducted into The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences prestigious Silver Circle, honoring his 25+ years of contribution to the industry.
— Monumental Sports Network (@MonSportsNet) August 30, 2023
“This is a tremendous honor that is often compared to a ‘Hall of Fame’ within our Chapter and the entire Academy”, said Adam Longo, the president of the NATAS National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter, in a release. “Each inductee will join the ranks of other past inductees, including Sam Donaldson, Gordon Peterson, Judy Woodruff, Ted Koppel, Bob Schieffer, Maureen Bunyan, and Jim Vance.”
To be included in these ranks, one must be dedicated, have a longstanding tenure in the community, and be in possession of loads of talent. Per the NATAS, the 2023 honorees are considered to be media members “who have helped shape the broadcasting industry and continue to influence its future. [They] have inspired excellence and innovation in every communications discipline… and have made significant contributions to the National Capital Chesapeake Bay community.”
Koken’s honor is well-earned. A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Koken first fell in love with hockey with the expansion Blues in 1967. Koken’s uncle was a season ticket holder.
Per the Washington Post, Koken first ended up in DC during the early 70s to study politics at American University and prepare for law school. It was there, he stumbled into sports journalism.
Via the Our Town podcast, Koken became a member of the golf team and befriended its best player Andy Horowitz, the sports editor of the The Eagle – AU’s student newspaper. Horowitz asked Koken to write stories about the team and he obliged his junior year. Koken stayed on as a senior and was challenged to cover the college’s parachuting club, jumping out of an airplane himself and describing the harrowing adventure. After a journalism professor negatively critiqued the newspaper’s issue but individually liked Koken’s story, he got more serious about the gig and eventually became a freelance sports writer.
“I was stunned,” Koken said of the kind words for his parachute story in an interview with Dan Steinberg. “I don’t think he was praising my journalistic acumen as much as saying you can tell a good story. That was something that resonated with me. That, to me, was the flipping point — that maybe I should explore this.”
Koken put off law school and began writing in 1974 for a multitude of different outlets including the Washington Star, Montgomery County Sentinel, United Press International wire service, and SportsScene Magazine. During that time, Koken ended up covering the Capitals’ first ever preseason game as a franchise.
Koken first joined NBC Sports Washington in 1984 and has gone on to serve in practically every possible role there since — play-by-play announcer, analyst, sideline reporter, and host — rubbing elbows with the likes of Larry King and Mike Fornes.
Koken also moonlighted as a sports anchor in the late 80s with WUSA 9, where he earned the nickname Smokin’ Al from the late, great Glenn Brenner. One of the most versatile sports journalists in the area, Koken has covered every college and professional team in the region. Per NBC Sports Washington, Koken’s been a play-by-play announcer and reporter for the then-Washington Bullets and a Baltimore Orioles reporter. He hosted a locally syndicated Redskins show, Ball Hogs, and a nationally syndicated show, The Sports Edge. He spent more than a decade as co-host of The John Thompson Show on ESPN 980.
But it’s Al’s sideline reporting with the Capitals over the last two decades that has made him a household name amongst Caps fans. First forming a team with Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin in 1996, Koken has provided important insight and produced consistently memorable interviews with players throughout the years, earning vast respect from his co-workers throughout the years.
“I was thrilled to learn that Al was welcomed into the Silver Circle. It’s fantastic news and a richly deserved honor,” Joe Beninati, NBC Sports Washington’s decorated play-by-play man, said to RMNB. “In connection with Washington Capitals Hockey, I have worked on the air with Al for almost 30 years in DC, and over that time he has proven time and again to be an invaluable part of our coverage on Home Team Sports, Comcast SportsNet, NBC Sports Washington, and the soon to be Monumental Sports Network. He’s excelled in all facets of our show—play-by-play, color analysis, sideline reporter, and host.
“I’ve always found him to be a tremendously gifted storyteller and interviewer,” Beninati continued. “He has a special knack for interacting smoothly with athletes, coaches, managers, and ownership and there are few who can match him as a historian of the franchise.
“After all these years, he still has so much passion for the team and the hockey community. I can’t wait to join him and all of the Caps broadcast crew in a couple of weeks when preseason play gets rolling.”
Craig Laughlin, a former 30-goal scorer for the Capitals, praised Koken’s versatility, describing him as a “jack-of-all-trades” broadcaster.
“He sincerely can do it all and is a true pro,” Laughlin, the Capitals’ color commentator, said. “His longevity in the DMV is a testament to his all-star ability. This honor is so deserved and I count myself lucky to have worked with him — and maybe even more importantly, learned from him.”
Tarik El-Bashir is one of the top sports journalists in the NHL, having contributed the Washington Post and The Athletic. He’s also contributed TV coverage on NBC Sports Washington and is now a sideline reporter for TNT.
“I grew up watching Smokin’ Al on HTS, so I’ve been a big fan for a long time,” El-Bashir said. “These days I consider him a friend and a role model. I’ve never told him this, but as I got into sideline reporting, I studied how he went about his business. I’d listen to his questions during the morning skate press conference, then I’d watch his rinkside pops on the Caps broadcast to see how he presented the info. What still amazes me: It’s my job to know just about everything about the team and yet I still find myself learning something from his reports. Al is a pro’s pro and deserves all the accolades that come his way.”
As for me, Koken has consistently delivered. He has provided a nuance on television that I enjoy as a passionate hockey fan and an insight that I can dig deeper on as a reporter myself. One of the biggest and most prestigious stories in RMNB history is actually borne out of something Koken first mentioned during a telecast.
Former Capital Mike Green was spotted by Koken in 2015 playing with a bright blue stick — an Easton Stealth CNT — that had been discontinued a half dozen years earlier. After we asked Green about it at practice later, he asked for donations. Countless fans began reaching out to us with CNT sticks that Green had previously given to them years earlier. The Capitals defenseman ended up being reunited with dozens of his prized twigs — enough where he could finish the season and start the next year with them in Detroit. He even scored a goal with one.
Joe B and Locker get much of fans’ appreciation. I’d even go as far as saying Al gets overshadowed. But I think that’s out of his own design. Koken’s a glue guy; he’s content on letting others have the spotlight. A Backstrom to Joe B and Locker’s Ovechkin.
On October 7, that unselfishness, consistency, and excellence will be rewarded. He’ll get his due as one of the best sports journalists in our area.
Congratulations, Al. We’re grateful for your service to the team. Thank you always for your kindness.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
RMNB is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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