Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hockey Day At Kettler

I've been meaning to post this since Monday but, the Hangar being the Hangar, I'm just now getting to it as Wednesday turns to Thursday.

Anyway, this past Saturday I had the pleasure of skating at the Capitals practice facility, Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va. I decided to be a true weekend warrior and skate both the morning pick-up session at 10:45 am and the night session at 9:10 pm. Oh, and all on maybe 4 hours of sleep (don't ask).

Before I get to the hockey stuff, allow me to vent for a sec. First things first. Traffic in the District sucks. Entering the District on Route 50/New York Avenue is like driving the Sunset Strip without the glam metal history, bars, gaudy advertising and bizarre looking hipsters. Only it goes on for miles. Alas, going through the District was the easiest way to do this, barring taking the Beltway halfway into Virginia only to u-turn back into DC. On a bad day it might take half a decade to navigate the Beltway, so going through the District I would have to do.

Once you get past the Pentagon (at least on this particular route) things are rather smooth. Your road eventually leads you into a neighborhood called Ballston, which like many a place in suburban Virginia, is full of fast food joints, strip malls and roads with no signs. The Iceplex, oddly enough, is located on the 8th floor of a parking garage (seriously). In fact, you wouldn't even know where it was if not for the huge banners with pics of Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Rod Langway.

Once you wind your way through the parking garage, the rink beckons at the top. Its an impressive place with the huge Capitals logo on the front. I headed inside, paid for my session and headed to the locker room, which had huge pictures of different NHl legends on it. This room had Stan Mikita, Wayne Gretzky and some others on it (just remember that the locker rooms had this feature for later.)

I got suited up and headed through the doors to the Caps practice rink. Everything you see on TV is there, including the staging area for TV interviews and the large pictures of Dale Hunter, Mike Gartner, Yvon Labre and Rod Langway (all of whom have their numbers retired at Verizon Center.) Upstairs from the ice are what look like offices for members of the Caps front office.

Now for my favorite part of this place: the ice. It's unbelievably smooth. I've played at the Caps two previous practice rinks (Mt. Vernon and Piney Orchard) as well as the old Capital Centre and none of them felt like the had ice like this. The rink was well air-conditioned so the ice froze easily and when the ice is smooth, you feel very fast out there. It might not be as great to others as it was to me, but then again, I'd just played at a rink in Harrington, De. that was absolute shit. In Harrington, the ice was absurdly heavy because it was a) too warm in the rink b) meaning the ice didn't dry c) meaning by the third period of a hockey game it was like skating in quicksand.

The morning session was a good skate. Skill level was a little lacking but we did have two (and eventually three) goalies and each side had two subs to keep guys fresh. Like I said, the crowd seemed to be geared more towards beginner to intermediate skill level, with a couple of advanced level guys mixed in. Still, it was a tough skate and it certainly gave me a workout.

So after the first session, I had about, oh I don't know, 8 hours to kill in Arlington because I didn't want to drive across the Bay Bridge again. So I did what comes naturally to me, I found the nearest Borders bookstore and wasted a couple hours in there before leaving without buying anything. I'm glad those Borders stores are so big that they don't notice me doing this. Oh, and I also discovered that Virginia might have the worst drivers in the US. Slow like Delaware, crazy like Maryland. People there just dart all the fuck over the place and then drive really slow once they get in front of you.

So flashing forward another few hours (and another DC traffic jam) I prepared for session 2. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Kettler's pro shop, which has every piece of Caps merchandise known to man, as well as the fact that Kettler is not the name of a man or a town but of a property development company. Much hunch is that Ted Leonsis owns it.

Now, for session 2 we had a different locker room. Same theme, NHL stars on the wall, except in this locker room we had a blown up portrait of this...

You won't find a bigger Alex Ovechkin fan than yours truly but this might have been a little too much. I really don't need a demonic looking Ovie watching me suit up.

Session 2 was the opposite of session 1. This time, the skill level was really high but we had no extra bodies. There was one kid on my team who would not shut the fuck up the whole time. To make it worse, his buddies on the other team were skating circles around him while he was talking. In the kid's defense, he did eventually shut up and play and exhibited some skill. As for me, I was exhausted, not just from the hard morning skate but the four hours sleep was catching up to me. It took me some time to get used to the speed the other guys were playing at but once I adjusted to that, I thought I held my own with them.

All told, it was a fun day of hockey that I will surely do again sometime. I just need to remind myself to actually get some sleep next time.

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