Hockey’s ‘Classic’ Return to Baltimore

(Photo: Andrew Hallman)

After fourteen years, hockey has returned to Charm City thanks to the Baltimore Hockey Classic; a preseason game between the Nashville Predators and Baltimore’s neighbor, the Washington Capitals. Unfortunately however, the outcome of the game was anything but charming. Still though, it can be assumed that it was a fun night had by all.

Announced back in early April, the Baltimore Hockey Classic has created a lot of buzz in the area. With the announcement in the days leading up to the game that it looked to be a sellout, excitement and anticipation only grew more. Finally, the day had come.

An hour and a half before game time, red Caps jerseys were visible through the windows of every local bar and restaurant in the area surrounding Baltimore’s 49-year old 1st Mariner Arena, an exciting welcoming for all those attending the game. Once inside the initial doors of the arena, fans were packed like sardines as they waited to be let through the gates. The game was set to start at 7PM, but that didn’t matter to the hundreds of people already there at 5PM or earlier.

Fans waiting to be let through the gates at the 2011 Baltimore Hockey Classic (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

While the pre-game sights of fans flocking to local bars and restaurants and long lines at the arena doors were similar sights to see, once inside of the arena, fans were reminded that they were inside one of the oldest barns in the country and not the Verizon Center. A stage took up an idea side of the arena, making it feel a bit like the game was being played in a high school gym of sorts. Also, even though there was a scoreboard hanging at center ice, there were two additional projector screens on either side of the stage, providing the same video that could be seen from the scoreboard. While the screens were probably put up with good intentions, they were barely visible due to the light and just added to the high school feel of the arena. The seats and over all look of the arena were also reminders that fans were definitely not in DC’s Verizon Center, but were in the old, worn out, 1st Mariner Arena. Classic? Yes. Charming? Lets be honest, no.

With the puck drop nearing, it was time for the pre-game skate. As the Caps players skated out of the corner entrance onto the ice, they were greeted with just about as much cheering as they would receive at a normal home game in the Verizon Center. Fans yelled to their favorite players on the ice while others chose to bang on the glass as the players skated past. While usually players will throw a puck or two into the stands, this night, the only player I noticed to throw a puck into the stands was not-so-fan-favorite, Alex Semin. Most of the warm-ups went smoothly, but as time went on it became apparent that the ice was going to be a factor in the game.

Caps taking the warm-ups in the Baltimore Hockey Classic (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

Skating towards the blue line, Mike Knuble went to take a routine quick turn, but it was anything but routine; an insight to the ice conditions for the night. Knuble appeared to lose his balance when he almost fell to the ground while attempting the turn. Luckily for Knuble, he was able to regain his balance again before it proved to be costly. This would be a preview of what was to come.

Throughout the game, players took nasty falls, both on open ice as well as into the boards. Luckily for both teams, no players sustained any serious injuries as a result of the slipping and sliding thanks to the ice. Puck handling was also almost non-existant in the game due to the wet, melting ice.

When asked about the ice conditions, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin compared it to the ice they played on this past season during the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. Ovi also went on to say that there were “lots of holes,” between the ice and the boards, making it so that he had to be more careful when playing along the boards and in the corners.

A look at the scoreboard with 43 seconds to go in the Baltimore Hockey Classic (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

As far as the game goes, play was slow to start the game and scoring chances were few, both probably thanks to the ice conditions. This would be a theme that would last late until the second period when Nashville’s Chris Mueller gave the Predators the lead off of a well set up goal that Neuvy had to chance at stopping. Despite the poor ice conditions, the Caps still seemed to try and play too technical instead of gritty like they should’ve. This would ultimately cost Washington the game. Nashville scored again with ten minutes left to go in the third. The Caps never lit the red lamp, leaving fans with a empty dissatisfied feeling inside…well maybe Ovi’s huge hit on Ryan Ellis made them feel a little bit better.

Despite the fact that the ice conditions were a bit less than desirable, the players agreed that it was not the reason the Caps failed to get the W in Baltimore. “It was [the] same for both teams,” said Backstrom, “it’s not an excuse for losing.” Backstrom also went on to say that he felt the Caps failed to play to the standards they’re used to playing at, resulting in the loss. “Over all we can be way better than this,” stated Backstrom.

While the Caps failed to win, the event as a whole should still be seen as a success.

Thanks to the Baltimore Hockey Classic, the city was able to celebrate its’ history of hockey. Though they were scarcely numbered, a few die-hard Baltimore hockey fans donned sweaters of teams past; including everything from the Skipjacks to the most recent Bandits. In addition to these jerseys seen on a select few in the arena, in the area outside by the concession stands, an exhibit was set up displaying authentic game worn sweaters from every different hockey team that had once played in Baltimore. Further, throughout the game, during intermissions as well as timeouts for ice maintenance, former hockey players who had played in Baltimore were featured on the big screen, telling stories of times past and remembering the great times hockey has had in Baltimore.

The citizens of Baltimore weren’t just the only ones able to remember the history of hockey in the 1st Mariner Arena; Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau was able to remember his time here in the arena too. Still in his playing days, Boudreau was a member of the Baltimore Skipjacks for 32 games during the 1984-1985 season. When discussing his return to the arena, Boudreau recalled “Oh yeah the showers are upstairs,” and stated that he remembered “this is exactly where the training table was,” when he saw it again in the dressing room. Boudreau also talked fondly about how walking out into the arena and seeing the ice and the setup really “brings it back.”

The Baltimore Hockey Classic also had a very strong positive effect on the local economy, a side effect that will hopefully help another Baltimore Hockey Classic happen again or even possibly one day bring another hockey team back to Baltimore to be a full-time resident. In the week leading up to the event, it was announced by city officials that the game was expected to bring in about $1 Million. Based off the sold out arena, the long lines at the concession stands, sold out merchandise, and packed bars and restaurants around the arena, I’d say the predictions were right. In fact, it might have even been a bit of an under prediction based on the fact that basically all of the event specific merchandise was sold out before the start of the second period and also the fact that the concession stands seemed underprepared for the large numbers of people they served.

After attending the Baltimore Hockey Classic, I can definitely say I’d go back again. Words can’t describe how thankful I am to the entire Washington Capitals organization, as well as those at the 1st Mariner Arena, who turned this dream into a reality. Even though the Caps didn’t win in Baltimore, I’ll take a L from this one with the expectation that they’ll give me W when it matters most, in the Stanley Cup finals; as I’m sure is the case with everyone else.

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Additional Pictures:

Outside the 1st Mariner Arena before the start of the Baltimore Hockey Classic (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

A good look at the stage and the two projector screens on either side (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

A view of the Caps' sticks for the night (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

A view of the goal during warmups (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

Mike green eyes up the net during warmups (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

Neuvy looks to make a save during warmups. (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

Ovechkin and Backstrom stand back as other players shoot on goal during the warmups (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

Ovechkin rips a shot on Neuvy during the warmups (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

Backstrom sporting a shorter cut than usual? (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

Ovechkin and Semin stretch during the warmups (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

The captain's view during warmups (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

The ceremonial puck drop (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

The Caps' starters during the National Anthem. (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

Neuvy stands proudly in front of his net during the game (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

A look at the tight benches for each teams. Both backup goalies had to spend the night away from the team by the exit in the corner of the rink. (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

The ending scene of the Baltimore Hockey Classic (Photo: Andrew Hallman)

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Posted on September 21, 2011, in Nosebleeder's Breakdown and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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