Saturday afternoon, the Capitals return to Verizon Center. Up, 3-1, in their best-of-seven playoff series with the Rangers after Wednesday night’s thrilling double-overtime victory, the Capitals can close out the Rangers with another win. One area Capitals fan, Bruce Anderson, will be there leading the charge. Literally.
Anderson, a former member of the Baltimore Colts marching band who grew up in Towson and now lives in Lutherville, has been the Verizon Center organist for Capitals home games for 12 straight seasons -- “minus the lockout,” he said. His day job is Director of Education at Jordan Kitts Music in Lutherville.
“We’ll see if they can seal the deal,” he said. “They had me worried [Wednesday] night, that’s for sure.”
The Capitals have had Anderson on the edge of his organist’s seat many times over the years.
A year after the Capitals moved to Verizon Center -- which was then the MCI Center -- they decided to enhance the arena’s atmosphere with a pipe organ, a staple at old-school hockey arenas. They met with Jordan Kitts to explore the possibility. “I’ve always been a big sports fan and a hockey fan, so they asked me to give the demonstration,” he said. The Capitals bought the organ, and asked Anderson to come down and play it at the team’s first exhibition game in 1999. He has been the team’s organist since.
Anderson estimated that two-thirds of the NHL’s 30 teams have pipe organs at their arena, including the Chicago Blackhawks, the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins. “At some of those places, it’s been such a tradition,” he said. “Some of the newer arenas, they have been doing away with it.”
That’s because of those bass-booming sound systems and high-definition Jumbotron screens at NHL arenas. At Verizon Center, Anderson works with a DJ who plays rock songs and pop music and another person who handles video content. “With the production nowadays, it’s not usually all organ music anymore because you have a DJ and a lot of video clips and things like that,” he said. “So you find that it’s kind of a mix.”
Anderson’s catalog of music includes standards such as “Here We Go, Capitals,” “The Chicken Dance,” “C-A-P-S. Caps. Caps. Caps!” and “Charge!” But between periods and during breaks in the action, he’ll blast modern songs such as “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes, “Like a G6” by Far East Movement and “So What” by Pink through the organ’s pipes to energize the team’s younger fan base.
The Capitals have sold out more than 100 straight home dates, and Anderson said it’s a thrill to play at a packed house every night, something that rarely happened before Alex Ovechkin came to Washington.
“Ever since [Capitals coach] Bruce Boudreau took over four years ago and they got into the playoffs on the last day of the season, it’s just been so much fun,” Anderson said. “The place is rocking all the time. So to play for that crowd, it’s a great feeling to have 17,000 people chanting in tandem.”
The Capitals organization has expanded its reach to Baltimore with a fun-to-watch on-ice product and savvy marketing. And on September 20, the Capitals will play the Predators in a preseason game at 1st Mariner Arena. Anderson believes the inaugural Baltimore Hockey Classic will be a sell-out, and he hopes professional hockey -- whether it’s the NHL or the minor leagues -- will return to Baltimore soon.
“I used to go down and watch the Skipjacks and the Bandits,” Anderson said. “So for them to do an exhibition game in Baltimore, it’s really exciting. Baltimore is not known as a hockey town, but there are a lot of hockey fans here. If Baltimore were to get a franchise, I think it would be great. I think they’ll do an excellent job of selling out 1st Mariner Arena for the game, I’m sure.”
First things first, though, the Capitals have unfinished business to resolve in this year’s playoffs.
“I’m excited for Saturday,” Anderson said. “Hopefully we will wrap this up.”