With the NHL lockout in full effect and the prospect of games growing more slim with each passing week, local ice hockey fans are finding other outlets to satisfy their hockey cravings.
Alex Greenspan was one of hundreds of people to come to the high school ice hockey game between Winston Churchill and Walt Whitman last Friday, which was selected in an online fan vote to be hosted by the Washington Capitals. The Churchill junior stood in line to get into the game that went through the Rockville Ice Arena’s front doors and wrapped around the building.
“It was crazy. People were pushing and shoving trying to get to the front,” Greenspan said. “It was great. There wasn’t much room [in the stands] but it was definitely worth it.”
This is the first high school game the Capitals have hosted this season; the team has plans to host one or two each month. The event featured the Capitals’ mascot Slapshot, the Red Rockers and a ceremonial puck drop by Washington assistant coach and former Capitals defenseman Calle Johansson in front of a standing-room-only crowd.
Johansson said he hopes the Caps’ presence at the game will help the sport’s popularity grow. Johansson stopped playing in D.C. in 2003, and said he’s ready for the lockout to end, like all fans. The NHL’s owners locked players out on Sept. 15 because the two sides can’t reach a consensus on a new labor agreement.
“I think I feel like everybody else: We really want to get back to playing,” said Johansson, who was on the last Capitals team to reach the Stanley Cup finals in 1998. “We do this because we love the game and when we can’t do it, we can’t play, we can’t coach, we can’t be involved, we obviously feel really bad about it. So now all we can do is hope.”
Brendan Radzely, 12, of Potomac, is an avid Capitals fan and has been going to Churchill games and watching college games on TV as the lockout continues. The cancellation of games is taking away a tradition he’s had over the last few years.
“I like to go to a lot of Caps games on my birthday and this year it isn’t going to work,” said Radzely, whose Dec. 9 birthday is among games already lost to the lockout.
Dennis Liu, 53, of Potomac, wore a Capitals cap to the game. While he misses the NHL, with his son Connor on the Churchill team he still sees his fair share of games.
“We’re getting to the point where we’ve kind of given up on the season. It’s a huge disappointment,” he said. “But luckily we have great high school hockey.
“I think we’ve got some pretty hard-core hockey fans in this area now and high school hockey’s great. There’s some good college hockey. So you have to find hockey where you can.”
Greenspan was in the stands to watch Churchill beat Whitman, 7-3, with the Bulldogs’ student section taking up the entirety of the home stands.
His family was considering buying a partial-season ticket package from the Capitals, but that idea was dropped once the league started canceling games.
“It’s too bad,” he said. “I just come to the Churchill games. It’s fun, but it’s not quite the same.”