Hundreds of hockey fans have converged this week at the U.S. Naval Academy to watch 18 National Hockey League hopefuls make their case to play for the Washington Capitals.
Among them was avowed hockey fan Nicole Deprey, a May graduate of the academy.
Deprey was scrolling through her social media feeds when she saw the Caps’ announcement stating they would host Rookie Camp at an arena with a vaguely familiar name — the John McMullen Hockey Arena.
Deprey repeated the name to herself, and a few seconds later her brain made the connection. “That’s the Naval Academy!” Deprey recalled thinking. “That’s amazing.”
Deprey, a Rockville native, said despite spending most Friday nights at the Brigade Sports Center cheering on the academy’s club hockey team, she did not know the formal name of the arena.
“It’s the BSC,” she said, using the common shorthand for Navy sports facilities east of the Severn in Annapolis.
Whatever you call the ice rink, that’s where hockey fans are watching the aspiring NHL players make their case to play for the Capitals. Two or three of them will likely get the call. Others may be asked to play for the Caps’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Hershey Bears in Pennsylvania, or another lower-tier team. Or, they may be sent home.
It’s the first time the Caps have held training events in Annapolis since 2014, though the team has a long history in Anne Arundel County. Before the Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Virginia, opened in 2006, the pros practiced at Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton.
Zach Arden, director of the Navy Youth Hockey program, said the Caps’ decision to hold Rookie Camp in Annapolis grew out of the team’s “Learn to Play” partnership with the ice rink. Each year, roughly 100 kids participate in the program subsidized by the NHL. For less than $300, participants get eight lessons and a set of gear. About 65% of kids matriculate into youth hockey, Arden said, and more than 400 kids total are now in the league.
“Finances are the main barrier to hockey,” he noted.
But watching the Capitals three-day Rookie Camp in Annapolis? That’s free.
More than 80 “Mites on Ice” from Navy Youth Hockey’s youngest division were at the BSC Sunday morning before goalie practice kicked off at 9 a.m., and the stands were nearly full by the time full practice commenced at 9:30. Monday’s session drew a smaller crowd, mostly without the school kids. Jessica Marinello of Annapolis brought her son, Max, a sophomore at Broadneck High School, to the rink, and said she had no qualms about letting him skip morning classes.
“It is always way faster when you see them in real life,” Max said.
Although he showed up at the rink wearing an Alexander Ovechkin jersey, Max said his favorite Capital is right-winger T.J. Oshie. And of the Rookie Camp participants, his top pick is Hendrix Lapierre, a 2020 first-round draft pick from Gatineau, Quebec.
In hockey, rookies are defined as players who haven’t yet spent a full season in the NHL. LaPierre was called up from the Bears to play six games with the Caps last year, but he’ll have stiff competition from some of his fellow rookies. Craig Laughlin, a Gambrills resident who serves as an analyst for NBC Sports Washington, was impressed with what he saw.
“There’s a lot a good ones,” Laughlin said, over the din of slapping sticks. He watched most of practice with the coaches but came over to public viewing when he spotted his friend, Marsha Gratz Perry, a former Caps power-skating skills coach who also lives Crofton.
“They like the Russian, [Ivan] Miroshnichenko. They like [Vincent] Iorio and [Lapierre],” Laughlin said.
Perry was exclusively a figure skating coach until the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. At a practice session leading up to the famous “Miracle on Ice” loss to the U.S., she was shocked to see the Russians practice what looked to her like pairs figure skating lifts. The point, Perry said, was to practice getting as much power as possible from a single stroke of a blade against the ice. That’s when she realized she could branch out and start coaching hockey players, too. In the early 1990s, she juggled dual careers representing District 31 in the Maryland House of Delegates and working for the Caps as a skills coach.
Perry joked she could only manage to get her voice heard in Annapolis and at the ice rink because she has “the loudest mouth in Crofton.”
“And when we women have big mouths, look out,” Perry said.
These days, she works part-time at local development camps led by Laughlin, a former Capital, Montreal Canadien and Toronto Maple Leaf. And she remains a Caps fan. In a tiny black notebook, she jotted down her best guess at who would make the team. Leaning against the boards beside her was another ardent Caps supporter, retired Prince George’s County planner Warren Kahle.
Kahle came to practice wearing a hat signed by Oshie and a jacket commemorating Adm. Matthew Perry’s Arctic expeditions. He moved to Maryland after serving in the U.S. during the Korean War, and has been a Caps fan since the team moved to Landover in 1973.
“We were just 15 minutes away from the rink that was built,” Kahle said. He stuck with the sport because he was drawn to the speed and power. “It’s an exciting game,” he said.
The Morning Sun
Kahle and Perry recognized practice was over when the players circled up at center ice, kneeling with their legs turned out. “They are stretching, not praying,” Perry pointed out. As the players filed off the ice, Kahle marveled at the rookies’ size. Listed heights range from 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-4, amplified by massive padding and 4-inch skate blades.
“They’re massive,” Kahle said. The Ginger Cove retirement community resident turns 90 next week, but was determined to meet the rookies if he could. Sure enough, Iorio lingered by the fan barriers to sign autographs and snap selfies. “Don’t call me ‘Sir’,” Iorio quipped to one young fan. “I’m not a sir yet; I’m still a kid.”
The 6-foot-4 native of Coquitlam, British Columbia, took his final photo with Kahle, leaning down next to the much shorter Kahle.
“Thank you for your service, sir!” the player said, after learning Kahle was a Navy veteran. “Wait — I need to give you a proper handshake.”
Even though, “There is nothing more gross than a hockey player’s hand once the gloves come off,” as another fan later quipped, Kahle fondly grasped Iorio’s right hand. The rookie then headed to the locker room to get ready for lunch at Bancroft Hall with the Brigade of Midshipmen.
There wasn’t time for full showers, but presumably, all the players washed their hands.
Washington Capitals Rookie Camp continues Tuesday from 9 to 10:45 a.m. at the John McMullen Hockey Arena in the Brigade Sports Center. It is free and open to the public.