Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Caps Hockey n Heels - 1/23/12

Last night my friend Janet and I attended our first Scarlet Caps Hockey n Heels event at Verizon Center. The Caps have been conducting these events for 5 or 6 years now, and I've always wanted to go. The tickets (usually for about 250 women) are notoriously difficult to come by, but I was lucky enough to snag two. It was such a fun, exciting evening. I really can't say enough good things about the Capitals organization. I couldn't believe how many members of the Capitals staff took time out of their busy schedules to accommodate us.

It was a jam packed night - we spent just under 4 hours at Verizon Center - so I'm going to try to share as much as I can. I took almost 150 photos and can't post them all here - to see the rest, visit my album on Google.

Welcome & Introductions
When we arrived at Verizon Center, we were divided into groups of about 30-40 women. 

We sat in an empty, relatively dark Verizon Center, and let me tell you, that was very weird. 

Chilli Amar from Mix 107.3 introduced the event and went over the schedule and rules - mainly that we were not allowed to approach the players for autographs or personal photos. Then our groups split up to go to the various stations.

Station #1 - Personal Photo with Alexander Semin

The Caps staff took a professional photo of each attendee with Alexander Semin.

I only got to meet him briefly, but he was really, really nice. Like most professional athletes, he is tall and imposing, but surprisingly, he speaks very quietly and shyly. I know he doesn't speak English very well, but he was able to exchange pleasantries with everyone. He seemed to be enjoying himself and winked at quite a few of us - there were certainly a few school-girl type swoons in the crowd. :)

After we had our photo taken, we were able to go to one of the visitor locker rooms to have something to eat. They had a nice catered spread of sandwiches, salads, and the like, along with sodas and water, but I was too excited and nervous to eat much of anything.

Station #2 - Catching the Puck with Tomas Vokoun

This was the first of two on-ice activities, which were the most intimidating to me. There were rugs on the ice for us to walk on, and everyone was in their sneakers, so at least we didn't have to worry about skating at the same time! Vokoun was so friendly and helpful. He took the time to talk to each one of us and helped us put on the catching glove. He really seemed to be having fun with everyone.

Then we went in front of the net, where none other than Alan May, who played for the Caps from 1989-94, was shooting the puck at us. Now, he may not have played professionally for more than 10 years, but let me tell you, he still knows how to shoot the puck accurately. 

Luckily, he was shooting these lightweight red pucks, since no one was wearing protective gear! Sadly, I didn't catch any of the pucks, but I did get my glove on one of them, so I "blocked" it from going into the net. Yay me. :) 

Even with the lighter pucks, I was amazed at how fast they move. And as we were standing and watching, Vokoun just snagged one out of the air with his bare hands, like it was no big deal! 

Here we are watching from behind the glass. In between shooting at the participants in the net, Alan May kept shooting at us. He was very accurate. It was hilarious. We resisted the urge to bang on the glass like those people you see on TV.

Station #3 - Training Session with Mark Nemish
Next, they took us underneath the seats, in the area where they store the basketball flooring, game nets, and everything else they need for events at Verizon Center. The Caps strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish took us through a 20 minute off-ice workout. 

We used floor ladders for running and stretching drills. Sadly, I didn't get any photos, since I was being put through the paces with everyone. By the end, we were all hot and sweaty. Most of the drills focused on the muscles that hockey players have particular trouble with, like their groins and hip flexors. Needless to say, those are not muscles I use much in my day-to-day life, so I am a little bit sore today. :)

Station #4 - Shooting the Puck with Dennis Wideman & Dmitry Orlov
This time, we were at the opposite end of the ice. We got to choose who we wanted to teach us. I chose Orlov, since I got to see him play at Hershey this year before he was called up. He is only 20 years old! He was having the best time of any of the players there, joking and laughing with everyone. His English was excellent - I was very impressed. 

Embarrassingly for me, he had to spend a lot of time helping me, because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I've never held a hockey stick before. I mistakenly thought it would be like a golf club, but boy, was I wrong! It is super lightweight and very long. Orlov was so patient with me - he showed me how to hold the stick properly and I was able to get one puck into the net. But I mostly couldn't get enough muscle on it. 

Janet, on the other hand, was a pro!

I have so much respect for the skill that these players have. I couldn't even shoot the puck in my sneakers - the pros are also skating super fast and trying not to be hit by the opposing team!

Here are a few shots of Dennis Wideman.

After we took our turns shooting the puck, we walked around the ice (it was surprisingly not slippery, even in sneakers) and took photos of ourselves at center ice and in the penalty box.

That last photo is our attempt to look upset at being in the penalty box, like the players do, but we were just too excited to be there. :)

Station #5 - Behind the Scenes Tour of the Verizon Center
We got to see the press area, the Caps family lounge, the locker rooms for the Hoyas, Mystics, and Wizards, the Wizards practice court, the officials' locker rooms, the storage areas, loading areas, and more. We learned about the process for switching from the basketball floor to the ice and also about the prep work involved for concerts and other events.

During this time, Janet and I got interviewed on camera by the Caps PR staff. We pretty much felt like idiots - since we were so excited to be there, we had trouble finding the words we wanted to say. We'll see if any of our comments make it into a team promotional video. :)

Station #6 - Tour of the Caps Locker Room
Other than meeting the players, this was what I was most looking forward to. The Equipment Manager Brock Myles was so incredibly nice. He basically let us wander around in there and look at whatever we wanted. 

We got to see the laundry area, the skate sharpening/repair area, each player's sticks, and of course, the main locker room. 

All of the players' equipment (except the goalies) was already laid out for tonight's game against the Bruins. 

We all had fun posing at our favorite players' lockers - I, of course, had to pose for a photo at the locker of my "other husband" - Joel Ward. I felt weird touching any of the players' stuff, but plenty of the other women had no qualms about that. 

If you look closely, you can see that someone left a Valentine for Ovechkin.

Then we got to have a Q&A with Brock Myles. 

He told us all about how they care for the equipment, the differences in what the players need, the practice vs. game equipment, how they handle malfunctions in-game, what happens during the intermissions, and how they keep everything smelling so nice. I was shocked at how good it smelled in the locker room, even with the players' equipment having just been used the day before in Pittsburgh.

Station #7 - Learning About the Ice

One of the Caps staff who works on the ice talked to us about how they create the ice before the start of the season and how the ice mainly stays in place for most of the year (it's underneath two layers of flooring for basketball). He explained how they make repairs, why it's so difficult to maintain the ice with DC's crazy weather, and how the Zamboni works, and then we got to have our photos taken on the Zamboni.

Station #8 - Q&A with Alan May
If you were a fan of the Caps in the 90s or if you watch Comcast SportsNet broadcasts, you know who Alan May is. In addition to shooting the puck at us during our session with Vokoun, he also took time to sit down and answer questions. He certainly does not shy away from sharing his opinion (you'd know that if you follow his amusing twitter feed), and this session ended up being one of the most entertaining. He shared his opinions on the state of rule changes in the NHL, his predictions for the rest of the Caps season, his opinions about what has been going right/wrong for the Caps the past few years, and stories about his time as a player, including his thoughts on various coaches. 

It was also so fun to hear the questions posed from other women like us, who know a lot about hockey and really love the sport. One of the things I love about the Caps organization is that they don't patronize their female fans. Instead of offering us pink, glittery jerseys, they let us experience hockey and encourage us to learn more about it. I think that's great. I can't wait to attend my next Hockey n Heels event!

Other Blogs about Hockey n Heels

If you've seen other blogs or photos from yesterday's event, please let me know and I'll link them here!

All of the photos on this post are copyrighted by me and may be used only with my permission. Thanks!