I’ll admit, I am writing on this topic from a highly biased perspective, but I am really excited for the Baltimore Hockey Classic. Sure, it’s just a pre-season game. And yes, there is no guarantee that many of the top players for both the Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators will even suit up for the game, but I am pretty darn excited for the opportunity to watch a professional ice hockey game in Baltimore, even if it is being played in the (how do I put this nicely?) less than state of the art facility that is First Mariner Arena. Why am I this excited about a pre-season game? Simply put, I’m a hockey nut, and a Washington Capitals fanatic. And before I get too far off topic, tickets are still available.
Ever since I first started watching the Washington Capitals back in the late 80′s and early 90′s, I became obsessed. Dale Hunter and Dino Ciccarelli were my favorite players in my formative hockey years. As a result of emulating their feisty style of play, I spent a little too much time in the penalty box when I started playing youth hockey.
I continued to follow the Caps through high school, catching a few live games a year, and suffering through more spring playoff heartbreaks than I like to remember. In college, I would routinely round up a group of friends to grab some $10 “Eagle’s Nest” tickets, and we’d hop the metro down to a game a couple times a month.
During the 2007-2008 season, you could tell something special was happening with the Washington Capitals organization. I had caught about 20 games that season, taking advantage of as many discount ticket promotions as I could get my hands on. Expecting Capitals tickets to be pretty hard to come by for the foreseeable future, a friend (who actually introduced me and Elisa at a pre-Capitals game happy hour several years ago) and I became season ticket holders in time for the playoff series versus the Philadelphia Flyers.
For the past 3 seasons, of the 41 home games, I’ve attended 30-38, with Elisa accompanying me to 10-15 , driving back and forth from my Baltimore row home to the Verizon Center. The traffic can be crazy, and it can be stressful at times, but every time I walk into the Verizon Center and sense the buzz and electricity in the atmosphere, the hassles of the 2-2.5 hour round trip commute disappear.
It’s no secret that the popularity of the Washington Capitals in Baltimore has grown exponentially over the past several years. For years, I thought I was more likely to see a unicorn roaming the streets than someone wearing Capitals gear in Baltimore, but now Caps t-shirts, hats, license plates, stickers are prevalent throughout the city. In 2010-2011, Capitals games on CSN saw a 45% ratings increase in the Baltimore DMA. The great Dan Steinberg wrote an article about the rise of Baltimore Washington Capitals fans last March, and a similar feature article will appear in the upcoming issue of Baltimore Magazine. There are clearly plenty of Capitals fans in Baltimore, and while expanding the fan base may have been a motivating factor, I think its great that the Capitals organization is giving Baltimore hockey fans a chance to see a game in Charm City.
What do I hope for from the Baltimore Hockey Classic? I hope it will be a good time. I hope it will give people who aren’t crazy enough to drive to the Verizon Center from Baltimore on a week-day a chance to catch a game. I hope it attracts some new fans, and old fans who haven’t been to a game in a few years. I hope it becomes a yearly tradition, that will eventually be held in the new Baltimore arena (if/when it gets built). I hope the Baltimore Hockey Classic sells out, and leads to Baltimore getting an AHL team, In part because I’d love to watch the AHL’s Hershey Bears (the Washington Capitals AHL affiliate) without having to take a 2 hour trek up I-83, but mostly because it would be great to have an AHL team close by.
Do I have high hopes for the inaugural Baltimore Hockey Classic? Absolutely. Unrealistic hopes? That remains to be seen. However the actual game turns out, I’m just excited to see ice hockey back in Baltimore…and the 10 minute commute to a Capitals game is going to be pretty sweet as well.
UPDATE: For out of town Capitals fans heading to the game, if you want a place to grab some quick food and/or a beer or three, here are two options, each within 2 blocks of the arena.
Alewife: If you want Baltimore’s Best Burger, this “gastropub” is the place for you. Order a side of herbed duck fat fries to go with the burger, and wash it down with one of their 38 beers on draught.
Pratt Street Ale House: With an extensive menu featuring sandwiches, quesadillas, sliders, burgers and entrees, Pratt Street Ale House has something for everyone, but is better known for its cellar-brewed Oliver Ales. Nine regular draughts, three smooth poured ales, three hand pumped cask ales, and several “guest draughts” (which is a nice way to say Bud Light, Yuengling, Stella Artois, etc) and 21 bottled beers will give you plenty to think about when ordering a pre-game beer.