Professional ice hockey is returning to Baltimore for the first time since 1997.
The Washington Capitals, 1st Mariner Arena and Baltimore city officials announced Monday that the Capitals will host the Nashville Predators in the Baltimore Hockey Classic, an NHL preseason game on Sept. 20.
Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, Capitals general manager George McPhee and 1st Mariner Arena general manager Frank Remescht made the announcement in the lobby of the arena, which was decked out in the Capitals' signature scarlet. The team's mascot and spirit squad gave out red T-shirts, "Rock the Red" towels and red foam hockey pucks at the news conference.
The Baltimore Hockey Classic will be the first professional hockey game played in the city since the Bandits of the American Hockey League bolted Baltimore for Cincinnati after two seasons.
"On behalf of the city, I'm thrilled to welcome hockey and the Caps back to Baltimore," said Young, who wore a Capitals home jersey. "The Baltimore Hockey Classic will pay tribute to the sport's rich history here. From the Bandits to the Skipjacks and from the Blades to the Clippers, Baltimore has so many ties to the Washington Capitals. ... I'm thrilled to continue our great relationship."
The first event held at 1st Mariner Arena, then the Baltimore Civic Center, was a Clippers game in October 1962. The Clippers were members of the American Hockey League from 1962 to 1976. The Blades of the World Hockey Association skated here for half of a season in 1970s.
The Skipjacks, who were at one time a minor-league affiliate for the Capitals, had a 12-year stay from 1981 to 1993. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau played for the Skipjacks in the 1984-85 season and Predators coach Barry Trotz was the Skipjacks' coach when the team left for Portland, Maine, in 1993.
The Bandits were the last of the six professional teams since 1933 to come and go from Baltimore.
"Baltimore has been a great hockey market for many years, a great professional market, and we look forward to playing here and bringing our product to here," McPhee said.
The first-place Capitals, who host the New York Rangers on Wednesday in the first round of the NHL playoffs, are one of the NHL's marquee teams. Led by two-time Most Valuable Player Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals have won four straight Southeast Division titles. They played in this year's Winter Classic, the NHL's showcase game, and were the subject of an HBO documentary leading up to the event.
The Capitals — who held a street hockey clinic in Baltimore last summer and donated equipment to the youth hockey program at Patterson Park in February — have also increased their following in Baltimore, which historically hasn't supported D.C. area sports teams. According to a recent Washington Post story, television ratings for Capitals games in Baltimore have increased by 125 percent over two years and the team estimates that at least 10 percent of its full-plan season ticket holders are from the Baltimore area.
"We've sold out over 100 consecutive dates in Washington, and we look forward to returning here Sept. 20 and selling out Baltimore," McPhee said. "We know Baltimore has a long history of professional hockey. We look forward to extending and enriching that history."
Capitals full-season ticket holders can purchase tickets for the Baltimore Hockey Classic beginning Wednesday at 10 a.m. Tickets go on sale to the public Saturday at 10 a.m. For ticket information, visit http://www.WashingtonCaps.com or http://www.1stMarinerArena.com.
"It's almost like asking me about the Rolling Stones or Bruce Springsteen," Remescht said about the Capitals playing at 1st Mariner Arena. "Their product is proven. It's great. To bring hockey back to this building, it's phenomenal."
Young said he believes the game will showcase Baltimore as a "No. 1 class city" and help attract a professional basketball or hockey team to the city in the future. McPhee said he hopes the game will be the first of many in Baltimore. "I hope we sell out and people really like it and we do more of it," he said.
Zach Bauhaus, a 29-year-old Capitals fan from Catonsville who reminisced about going to Skipjacks games with his parents, said he hopes he can score tickets for the preseason game.
"I could care less about baseball, and I will watch a Ravens gave if I am home and it's on TV," Bauhaus said. "But when it comes to hockey, I just love it. It's more real, in your face."
Zab Brotzman Kreafle, 26, of Middle River plans on getting a large group of friends together who wouldn't travel to Washington for a game.
"I'm so excited for the Caps to play a game here," she said. "Baltimore wants hockey."
And after 14 years of waiting, Baltimore is getting it.