Capitals team capping off a hockey era

Washington franchise says goodbye to the Piney Orchard facility in Odenton

April 21, 2006|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Linda Taylor became a Washington Capitals fan at the Piney Orchard Ice Rink.

The former softball coach at Archbishop Spalding High School occasionally brought her son and daughter to team practices there, and they met Peter Bondra, who played with the Capitals for 14 years.

Now with the Atlanta Thrashers, Bondra is a down-to-earth guy who, after Capitals practice, taught Taylor's children how to shoot a puck and hold a stick. He also answered the children's questions.

"He was just like a regular Joe coming off the ice," Taylor said. "That helped hook me."

A longtime Anne Arundel County resident who recently moved to Frederick, Taylor came back to Piney Orchard on Wednesday when the Capitals were packing their equipment after the season ended.

It was also the end of an era. After using Piney Orchard since 1991, the Capitals hope to move to a new $42.8 million practice facility in Arlington, Va., in mid-September.

Team spokesman Kurt Kehl said it doesn't have a name yet, as the Capitals are searching for a title sponsor, but its location should be a huge help.

Piney Orchard in Odenton is about a 40-minute drive from the Verizon Center, where the team plays games and occasionally has workouts. The new facility, being built on a new eighth level atop the parking garage adjacent to the Ballston Common Mall, will be about six miles from the Verizon Center.

Its 137,000 square feet will include two indoor National Hockey League-size rinks with seating for about 1,200 fans, a 20,000-square- foot, state-of-the-art training and fitness center, and room for the entire front-office staff.

"I'm sure it's going to be hard for some of the guys that lived in this area and are used to coming" to Piney Orchard," Kehl said. "It's the only place they've really known ... in the NHL. From that standpoint, it may be difficult. But I think a lot of people are looking forward to new things and new challenges."

Local hockey fans may not share that excitement. Scores of them came to watch the team on the ice for an hour or two late in the morning when it was in town during the season.

The Capitals routinely signed autographs, posed for pictures and talked to fans moments after coming off the ice. Other fans waited outside to catch the players after games.

"I just like it here," said Richard Moller, who came to Piney Orchard a few times each season from Montgomery County. "The new one's going to be nice, but the accessibility is better here. It's going to be tougher fighting the traffic into Virginia. ... It's going to be different - much different."

It also will be different for coach Glen Hanlon, who lives within walking distance of Piney Orchard in Odenton and is thinking of keeping his family there.

"I've got the best situation of any coach in the league," Hanlon said. "We like it here. My son's got all school [things] going on. But it's progress, and it's time for [the team] to move."

Team captain Jeff Halpern, of Potomac, agreed that the new facility will be a step up.

"I think it will be a good change," Halpern said. Piney Orchard "was a great rink. It was a good facility, but I think it's a good move for everyone."

The question remains whether fans who are used to seeing the Capitals at Piney Orchard will drive to Northern Virginia to see them practice.

Piney Orchard has children's ice hockey leagues and skating programs, but many of the memorable moments come from the Capitals.

Washington has made the Stanley Cup finals once, in the spring of 1998, and held a Sunday-morning practice in front of a full house that made it seem like a game.

Afterward, the fans surrounded the players at different parts of the rink trying to get autographs before the team left for Detroit. The Capitals stayed and signed sticks, shirts and hats as long as possible before leaving.

That's what happened on a smaller scale Wednesday afternoon. Except this time, a small "Thanks Caps" sign was pasted on the outside wall by the door, where the players came out.

"I'm very sad they're leaving here," Taylor said. "It's very convenient for a lot of people. I would think it would affect this area greatly. I may not be able to go to Ballston where they're going to practice, but we're still going to follow the Capitals even though they can't watch them practice any more."

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