Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Caps Hockey n Heels 2/18/13

With the lockout and abbreviated season, I wasn't sure that the Caps would be able to hold a Hockey n Heels event this year. I had such a great time last year and was thrilled to be able to attend again. This time, my friends Janet, Kristin, and Catherine attended with me.

If you aren't familiar with Hockey n Heels, it's put on by the Scarlet Caps, the female fan club of the Capitals. To be honest, I kind of hate the name of the event, because every time I start to tell someone about it, they think it's some sort of cocktail party or benefit. And nothing could be further from the truth!

Hockey n Heels is billed as a way for female fans to learn more about the game of hockey, although, honestly, most of the women in attendance already know A LOT about hockey. Most of us grew up watching the game but never had the opportunity to play ourselves. It gives us a great opportunity to actually learn some on-ice skills and get a behind the scenes look at our favorite team.

This year's event was held at Kettler Capitals Iceplex (last year, we were at Verizon Center), which I preferred because we got to do more on-ice (since Kettler has two sheets of ice).

When we arrived, we checked in and divided into groups. I think more than 200 women were in attendance - we were in groups of about 30-40.

After being welcomed by Chilli Amar of Mix 107.3, we headed off to our first station, which was face-offs with Calle Johannson. As I'm sure I've mentioned before, I've been a Caps fan my whole life, and Calle Johannson is one of my favorite players ever - he was a defenseman with the Caps from 1988-2003, and I saw him play many times in person. He's now the defensive coach for the Caps.

It's obvious that coaching comes naturally to him. After a quick demonstration of face-off technique, we paired up and got to try it for ourselves. Calle served as the referee, dropping the puck and getting whacked by lots of sticks in the process. (Don't worry, he was wearing shin guards under his pants.)

He really took his time with everyone, showing us how to grip the stick properly (it's different than when shooting) and calling people out for cheating (not that I would do such a thing, ahem).

The group organizers actually had to tell him to speed things up because he was taking so long with everyone. When Janet and Kristin took their turn, he had a great time joking around with them when Kristin won the face-off but sent it to Janet's side.

Our next stop was one of two shooting stations. Current Cap Wojtek Wolski and former Cap Paul Mulvey explained how to shoot the puck into the net.

If you read my entry about last year's event, you'll know that poor Dmitry Orlov had to spend quite a while helping me with this last year. I'm pleased to tell you that Wolski did an excellent job coaching me and I shot the puck into the net on the first try!

Every time I've interacted with a player or coach from the Caps, I've been so impressed with how interested they are in helping us learn. It would be easy for them to pat us on the back and say oh, good try, but every single time, they gave us real feedback and pointers, and I have actually learned quite a bit (although I don't know if I'll be signing up for the women's league any time soon).

Next, we headed over to the Caps sheet of ice for passing with Tomas Kundratek and Craig Loughlin. I think Locker was probably the most popular guy at the event, and he did not disappoint. If you don't know who he is, shame on you. (I kid, I kid.) He played for the Caps in the 80s, but he's now known as half of the Caps CSN broadcast team (along with Joe Beninati).

I didn't have the chance to pass with Locker, since his line was super long, so we opted for Kundratek instead. If you've read my post about my experience with my younger son at the Caps Dreams For Kids event, you'll know I have a lot of affection for Kundy, as his teammates call him.

We were all super nervous for this part, because we were actually passing the puck with him. After we got the hang of it, he started passing it faster and faster, and I think we all acquitted ourselves well.

Janet got filmed for Caps Red Line, no pressure, Janet!

During that time, I talked with Guerin Austin, the host of Caps Red Line and also the in-game entertainment at Verizon Center. My boys and I watch Caps Red Line on Saturday mornings (I think this season's first episode is coming up soon), and they just love her. She was super nice, and I wish I had taken photos of the killer heeled boots she was wearing on the ice. Crazy.

After we were finished with the passing station, we got our photos taken with Jay Beagle. He was super friendly. Here are our photos, courtesy of the Caps.

Our final on-ice station was another shooting station, this time with current Caps player Joey Crabb and current assistant coach Tim Hunter (no relation to Dale Hunter, right Joe B?)

We chose to work with Coach Hunter and I'm so glad we did. He really coached us. I must have shot at least 15 pucks because I wasn't doing it exactly as he wanted. After each try, he gave us feedback and pointers. Even though he was tough on us, it was nice to see that he had high expectations and wanted us to improve.

We were happy to be finished with the on-ice portion of the evening since our feet were freezing (next year, I must remember to wear thick boots) so we headed upstairs for a light dinner. We had about 10 minutes to eat and I made the mistake of having a beer along with my sandwich, not realizing that our next session was going to be strength and conditioning with Mark Nemish. Oops.

Luckily for us, our session with him was cut short and we only had the opportunity to do the warm-up exercises. Last year, I was sore the next day after all the exercises he put us through, but this year we got off easy.

Next, we made our way into the Caps locker room at Kettler. Nothing will top our visit to the locker room at Verizon Center last year, but it was neat to see the differences in the practice locker room. We got to see the players' practice gear and skates all set out and ready to go for the next day's practice.

Equipment manager Brock Myles showed us two different demonstrations of what his job entails. First, he demonstrated how to change a skate blade on the fly, which he occasionally has to do in-game; you can imagine the time pressure for that.

Then he showed us how adept he is with a sewing machine, repairing a tear in a game sock in about two seconds flat. He mentioned that the players occasionally bring him their dress clothes for him to repair, which I thought was so funny.

He then answered some questions from the group. I learned that he is responsible for everything in the locker room, which includes such minutiae as having 4 different types of chewing gum available for the players. He also talked about the different brands of equipment and how everything must be approved by the NHL. And if you are wondering why the color of the Caps games socks is reversed this year (red-white-blue), that was General Manager George McPhee's decision. (I'll admit I thought it looked weird at first, but now I'm used to it). My favorite tidbit was when he was talking about having to pack (and unpack) the players' bags, he mentioned that former Cap Jason Arnott had some sort of voodoo doll that had to be with him at every game and how afraid he was that they would somehow lose it.

Before we left the locker room, we got the chance to snap a few pictures and of course I couldn't pass up the chance to get a photo at my "hockey husband's" stall. (If you are new to me, my husband's name is also Joel Ward - again, no relation, Joe B.)

Our final stop was a video analysis presentation with current video coach Brett Leonhardt. If you are a die-hard fan like me, you might remember Brett as a former website guy for the Caps, who was also a college hockey goalie. In 2008, he actually suited up for a game due to a last minute goalie injury (you can read the story on Wikipedia). You might have also seen him at informal Caps practices, serving as a goalie. He is nicknamed Stretch because he is incredibly tall.

Anyway, now that you know that I am a crazy person who knows way too much about the Caps, let me tell you about the session, which I was very excited about, since we didn't see anything like that last year. Brett showed us the software program he uses to "tag" the game video to help the coaches find particular things later. He has at least 20-30 different keystrokes where he can mark things like zone face-offs, scoring chances, goalie touches, forechecking, power plays, etc. There was even one for when Ovi touches the puck.

So, what he does is watch the game in real-time, usually using the CSN feed, and marking the video. I think he said that the typical game could have hundreds of markings. After the game (or even between periods), he can call up certain clips, like defensive zone face-offs or goalie saves or penalty killing. He can even download the footage onto the coaches' laptops or player's iPads. He asked us not to take any photos of the video portion, just in case one of us was a secret spy for the opposition (as if).

Brett was so incredibly enthusiastic and passionate about hockey; I could have listened to him talk a lot longer. And for all my fancy stats Twitter friends, I think you'd be pleased to know that the Caps coaching staff really seems to value those metrics.

Well, I think I've gone on long enough. We really had an incredible time again this year. I am so thankful that the Caps value their fans and take the time to set up events like this. We'll definitely be back next year.

If you'd like to see the rest of my photos, I put them all in a Google album.

Here's some other links to recaps of the day and photos/videos of the event. Both Janet and Kristin were filmed for Caps Red Line, so I'll post a link to that when it airs.

All photos are copyrighted by me and may be used only with permission. Thanks for reading!