The Washington Capitals have talked about building the hockey community in the Baltimore-Washington corridor for more than three years.
Signing an agreement to work with the Skipjacks as their AHL affiliate in May 1988 was the first major step.
The second one begins with the commencement of training camp on Sept. 6, when the Capitals and Jacks begin practicing at the new Piney Orchard Ice Arena, located halfway between the Capital Centre and the Baltimore Arena in Anne Arundel County.
"This is just another step in building the hockey community between Baltimore and Washington," said Caps coach Terry Murray, who will welcome more than 60 players to camp next month. "If there's a finer hockey facility in the NHL, or a better situation between an NHL club and a minor-league affiliate, I haven't seen it."
The building is a state-of-the-art facility, featuring permanent locker rooms for both teams, a training room, a player lounge and game room with satellite TV, a kitchen, and offices for Murray and general manager David Poile.
Perhaps best for the Capitals is that all of the features of the rink were built to their specifications.
And if the ice at Piney Orchard looks familiar, it's because it has the exact same dimensions of the Capital Centre -- penalty box and all.
"We're making a comfortable situation for our players with the hopes that it will help their performance," Murray said. "This will encourage the players to stay around after practice and relax, lift some weights, get whatever treatment they might need. Long term, it also makes it easier for them to stay here in the offseason and become a part of the community."
The impetus for the plan began two years, after the team returned from having training camp in the Soviet Union.
"We were wondering why in the world the team would have a training camp there," said Bob Hauck, an accountant from Annapolis who is part of the management group at Piney Orchard. "We figured there must be some problems at Mount Vernon [the Caps' former practice facility in Northern Virginia]."
Indeed, Poile along with owner Abe Pollin and president Dick Patrick were searching for new ice for the Caps' practices and training camp. Last year, instead of going to Mount Vernon, the team opted to go to Lake Placid, N.Y.
"There's no question something needed to be done and we've not only found a better place but an ideal place," said Poile.
Once Hauck and partner Stan Klos approached the Caps, negotiations took more than six months and ground finally was broken on the facility in November.
"We have a 15-year lease with Piney Orchard to rent the space," Poile said. "We don't own the facility, but it is the next best thing. We want to make it clear that we want this to be a permanent place."
Everyone associated with the project at Piney Orchard, which is in the first steps of becoming one of the area's largest planned communities, said the ice rink is not only for the Caps and Jacks but for the community.
"One of the shortcomings with the growth of hockey in the area has been the lack of ice time for people who want to play the game," Poile said. "I know being a parent here it has been hard to get my son involved in hockey. Everybody is sold out of time."
Piney Orchard has been holding youth hockey clinics since opening in June and has public skating sessions on weekends and a special family deal on Saturday afternoons with skating for $4 with a $1.50 skate rental fee.
Poile said all Caps and Jacks practices will be open to the public once the season begins.
Murray said one of the inherent advantages of the location is its proximity to BWI.
"We used to lose practice time just trying to get through traffic to the airport at Washington National," Murray said. "Now 20 minutes and we're at the airport and ready to go.
"All we need now is our own airplane."