Ice rink is finding life after the NHL

AT PLAY

Void left by Capitals is being filled by local activities

September 13, 2006|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special to The Sun

The Washington Capitals are gone, but the Piney Orchard Ice Arena just might end up scoring points in the community.

After 15 years of calling Odenton its practice home, the local National Hockey League franchise will begin training camp this week Arlington, Va., where its $42.8 million facility is under construction.

As the end of the team's lease approached, Piney Orchard general manager Gary Cremen said it was no secret that the Capitals wanted to build their own site.

"It's understandable," he said. "This building is 15 years old, it's a [one-rink] facility, which involves time restraints as far as ice contracts."

Every year, as soon as the National Hockey League released its schedule - around the end of June - Cremen and the Capitals set up the team's needed ice time. When they were in town, the Capitals usually took the ice from 10 a.m. until noon on practice days, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on game days and from noon to 2 p.m. on the day after games.

The fact that they didn't have the exact same times every week or month occasionally made scheduling other groups difficult for Piney Orchard officials.

"It's actually relieved some of the pressure for [days like] Saturday and Sunday," Cremen said. "Now we can start programs during the week that we couldn't before."

Cremen said rink officials are working on starting a "mom and tots" skating classes and a seniors fitness program and expanding its repertoire of lessons.

In addition, Cremen is considering whether to launch programs during the day for home-schooled children that would count toward the physical education requirements for high school graduation.

Piney Orchard is leasing the area where the Capitals used dressing and training rooms plus coaches' offices out to Frank Costello, a well-known track and conditioning coach who is running a training program.

The UMBC ice hockey club also is leasing locker room facilities there, and Cremen said Piney Orchard is looking at possible expansion.

The Capitals didn't attract large crowds to their practices, held mostly on weekday mornings. The handful of fans that did show up, though, could walk right up to a rope where the players entered the locker room.

This week, the team is starting practices at a rink in Ashburn, Va. The new two-rink facility atop the Ballston Common Mall, the Capitals Ice Center, is about six miles from their home rink, the Verizon Center in Washington.

Piney Orchard is, on a good day, about 30 to 40 minutes from the Verizon Center.

"It's probably been a six-year or [longer] process since [owner] Ted Leonsis bought the team to find a location and build a state-of-the-art facility closer to the Verizon Center," said Nate Ewell, the team's director of media relations.

"When we had an American Hockey League team in Baltimore and were flying out of BWI and playing in Landover, Piney was perfect. But to connect with fans closer to the Verizon Center and to let our players live in the community where they play, the Ballston location makes a lot of sense," Ewell said.

Capitals team officials met with Piney Orchard representatives and ended their relationship by moving out at the end of May. The sign on the front of Piney Orchard that showed it was the site of the Capitals' training center has since been taken down.

"Obviously, we'd have loved to had them stay here," Cremen said. "But from our end of it, there's no hard feelings. They wanted to do their place, and we [understood]."

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