When the puck drops at about 8:25 p.m. Saturday in Capital One Arena, the cheers from almost 18,000 Washington Capitals fans will be deafening — and spurred on by an organist from Lutherville.
With his 19 years of delivering classic riffs and modern twists from his perch above the ice, Bruce Anderson has been a member of the Capitals’ organization for two years longer than superstar Alex Ovechkin and 15 more than coach Barry Trotz. His tenure falls just short of that of owner Ted Leonsis, who purchased the team in the spring of 1999, just months before Anderson’s first game at the keys.
But Anderson, like everyone else rocking the red, is wading into “uncharted territory” for Saturday night’s Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights.
“I’ve been waiting for this for 20 years,” Anderson said. “I’m super excited. I can’t imagine what the Final will be like [at home], because the conference finals were crazy. The crowd was through the roof.”
A social media friend to a number of NHL organists, Anderson has heard from fellow musicians with more Stanley Cup seasoning all week.
“Sit back and enjoy it,” Anderson said of their advice, “because you never know if it’ll happen again.”
The Los Angeles Kings’ Dieter Ruehle, a two-time Stanley Cup Final organist, offered his encouragement to Anderson, as did as the Bruins’ Ron Poster, who told the former Baltimore Colts marching band member: “Give the people what they want.”
“Which I think means, they want to cheer and clap,” Anderson said, “through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.”
The Capitals plucked Anderson out of Lutherville almost two decades ago when they were looking to buy a new organ. They came to music retailer Jordan Kitt’s Music, where Anderson was working at the time.
“They didn’t have anybody to play it and said, ‘Will you come down and do a couple games?’ And I’ve never stopped,” said Anderson, who also now owns Lutherville Music School.
During a 1999 preseason game against the Philadelphia Flyers at what was then MCI Center, he rambled off traditional hockey hits like “Here We Go, Capitals,” impressed Washington officials and scored a new side career.
Anderson has maintained a similar set list over the decades, including the conventional “Charge!” riff, but has cycled in rock staples and Top 40 hits. This season, his rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” delighted fans, and his “Dangerous” cover caught the attention of indie rock band Joywave, the featured artist on the track by electronic act Big Data.
“I appreciate his versatility,” said Josh Gold-Smith, a Toronto-based hockey editor for theScore who runs the Twitter account Organist Alert.
Capitals game entertainment director Tyler Hines said that versatility is part of what enhances the home game experience at Capital One Arena.
“Bruce provides a an added creative dynamic to our show by consistently mixing in new content while staying true to hockey tradition,” Hines said in a statement. “He continually challenges himself to stay current by implementing popular music into his arsenal of tricks, and he has an uncanny feel for the arena to choose the right time to debut them. As a producer, I can count on him to always bring his A-game to the Caps’ show night in and night out.”
Along with his Capitals duties, Anderson provides the soundtrack for Washington Wizards games, making him part of an exclusive group of multisport organists that includes Reuhle, who also performs for the Dodgers.
“The thing about organists is that it’s part of the fabric of the sport,” Gold-Smith said. “Hockey has a deep connection with organ music. When you’re in the arena, it jolts you. It gives you that feeling.”
Though Anderson’s now been a part of 13 Capitals postseasons, he still says none of those musical experiences compare to his favorite concert of all time: the 2015 Winter Classic.
“Highlight of my career so far,” he said of the Capitals’ 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. “Forty thousand people at Nationals Park. That was a blast.”
But with Washington’s championship series tied at a game apiece, Game 3 and Monday’s Game 4 could topple that memory, he said. And if the Capitals make it back for Game 6 and win their first NHL title at home?
“I don’t even want to think about it,” Anderson said. “It would just be great.”