The 16 former Washington Capitals, members of the Capitals Alumni Association, may be a little heavier, a little slower and a little older than they were before they retired from the National Hockey League. But in the games they play to benefit charity, they can still skate around defensemen, shoot the puck into the net and embarrass goalies half their age.
Some of the ex-Caps wiped the rust off their skates and broke a good sweat when they conducted a practice session at Benfield Pines Ice Rink in Millersville last Sunday. During the summer, the former Capitals get together once a week to stay in shape, practice and prepare for the charity contests they will play this fall.
"We still have the game in our blood," said Bowie resident Yvon Labre, 42, the community relations director for the Capitals and treasurer of the Capitals Alumni Association. Labre played defenseman for the Washington Capitals for eight years (1974-1981), and for the Pittsburgh Penguins for two years (1970-1971 and 1973-1974).
"We still want to play," Labre said. "Those are the skills we have, and no one here is going to come out of retirement. But we want to raise funds for charity.
"We do it more for fun now, but we are looking to stay in relatively good shape. No one likes to sit around and get fat."
The sport will always be important to these former pros.
"Hockey has been our whole life until recently," said Nelson Burton of Waldorf, who played for the Capitals from 1977-1979 and is co-coordinator of the games. "We can't just drop what's been our life.
"Basically, we just get some exercise and get ready for the games when we play. We want to stay in shape and have fun."
Craig Laughlin of Gambrills and Errol Rausse of Arnold, both former Caps and members of the alumni association, also will play this fall.
"I want to raise money for charity and give back to the community," Laughlin said. "We are just having a lot of fun and we want to rekindle the spirit of playing hockey."
The Sunday practice session attracted four ex-Caps, including Labre, Burton, Paul MacKinnon (1979-1984) and Blair Stewart (1974-1979) -- the other coordinator of the charity games. More are expected Sunday.
The alumni Capitals played a contest May 9 against the Maryland Firefighters Hockey Club of Bowie at the Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton. Burton said the game was a success, with a sellout crowd of about 300 people.
The organization raised nearly $1,000 for the Washington Hospital Burn Unit. Other charities, to be chosen in the fall, will benefit from future games.
While the association is pleased with the first game, it wants to do more. Additional games, to be played at Benfield except when ticket demands exceed 300, are in the works.
The alumni association wants to play games against similar and more established NHL alumni teams like the Philadelphia Flyers, the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders. When the organization plays NHL alumni teams, it will have to use a larger facility than Benfield.
"More money can be made for charity playing the NHL [alumni] teams," Labre said.
Bernie Wolfe, president of the alumni association, agrees.
"There is a bunch of money that can be made," he said. "Our goal is to play six NHL alumni games this year [hockey season]. Other alumni organizations get 18,000 people to see them play at $6 to $10 per ticket. I would like to see 5,000 people if we play the Rangers, Islanders or Flyers."
Two radio personalities from Washington, Don Bolger of WPGC DTC and Mike O'Meara of WJFK, also practiced last Sunday. They assist with the games, but only off the ice.
"When we played that game against the firefighters, they [Mike and Don] gave us some free on-the-air advertising," Labre said. "They are going to help us with getting more sponsors. They joined the alumni association as associate members."