Capitals lose to Blackhawks in shootout
Back when Ted Leonsis agreed to play in the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh, he asked what it would take to get the iconic outdoor event in the nation’s capital.
On Saturday, Leonsis made official what has been reported for days, that the Capitals will host the 2015 Winter Classic. A venue and an opponent has yet to be determined.
“The league believes we can support it,” Leonsis said. "So let’s make it official: We’ll be hosting the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2015.”
Leonsis said the opponent and venue will be announced at a later date, adding he wants to see “a sea of red” on Jan. 1, 2015.
Although there has been no official announcement on the site for the Classic, Nationals Park is considered the leading candidate.
The excitement of the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic continues to grow, and bringing the 2015 event to the D.C. area will write another chapter in the game's great history of entertainment," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "We are looking forward to being in Washington with the Capitals' great fans."
The 2015 game will mark the seventh Winter Classic, an annual game that Forbes magazine called the best new sporting event of the last decade. It will mark the second time in history the Capitals will play an outdoor game. Washington defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in front of 68,111 fans at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Jan. 1, 2011.
“We are extremely excited to host the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and bring this great event to the D.C. area,” Leonsis said. “Our great fan base deserves to experience the magnificence of an outdoor game. We are thrilled to once again be part of this great event.”
The 2011 Winter Classic between the Capitals and Penguins aired in primetime on NBC and was the most-watched NHL regular season game ever in the U.S. with an average of 4.5 million viewers. The event also drew the largest audience on CBC for any of the U.S.-based outdoor NHL games.
Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said he’s anxious to see the build-up leading into the Winter Classic.
“It’s a lot of excitement,” he said. “It’s a huge draw for this city. The Winter Classic is great for hockey and the whole city will be electric.”
Alzner has seen baseball games at Nationals Park and his only concern is the distance between the rink and the seating. Nationals Park, which opened in 2008, holds 41,888 fans for baseball.
“I’ve been to games there and you don’t really think hockey in that place,” Alzner said. “Hockey is a sport where the closer you are the better it is. In a baseball stadium you’re far away from the rink, but once you get into a great setting like that, and to have it sold out, that’s a pretty awesome feeling for a hockey player.”
Alzner played in the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, a game that was delayed because of freezing rain, creating a slick ice surface.
“It wasn’t ideal and it was hard to play in those conditions, but it was just amazing,” Alzner said. “You step out there and it’s freezing cold. It’s just a really, really cool feeling for us.”
Alzner and a handful of other Caps like to play catch with a baseball before games. Alzner said he might change up his pre-game routine for the 2015 Classic.
“Maybe we’ll grab a couple bats,” he said, “and hit a few balls before the game.”
Beth Auerbach, a 64-year-old native of Hollywood, Calif., now living in Falls Church, Va., has been a Caps season ticket holder since the team moved into Verizon Center in 1997.
She arrived at Saturday’s Capitals Convention wearing a Dale Hunter jersey autographed by every player imaginable.
“I think getting an event like this helps underscore that we really do have a wonderful ownership team and management team and a really enthusiastic fan base even if we get overshadowed by the Redskins,” she said.
“We have had so many disappointments as Caps fans but even with the horrible things that happen in different ways every spring, we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and keep coming back.”