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If you scroll down a few inches on www.washingtoncaps.com, the official Web site of the Washington Capitals, you can find a link to a nifty “Where Are They Now?” page that gives hockey fans updates on their favorite retired players. Only 12 players are listed now, but fans are invited to e-mail inquiries about any player whose current whereabouts pique interest—such as, for instance, the entire 2004–2005 Caps roster.
Although the National Hockey League’s Feb. 16 cancellation of the season has forced the Caps players to practice their craft someplace other than the MCI Center, it’s still pretty easy to find other prominent members of the organization out on the town. Slapshot, D.C.’s favorite ice-skating bald-eagle mascot, is still working a full schedule of community-service and PR events (“Out of Puck,” 12/10/04). Despite facing, at best, another seven months without hockey, the Capitals PR machine is marching on.
“We’re still averaging three to four appearances per week for Slapshot,” says Mark Tamar, the Capitals’ director of game operations. “Kids love mascots, I guess. And that’s popular whether we’re playing or not.”
The only time that Tamar has pulled Slapshot from an appearance was before a gig at a George Mason University basketball game the night the season was canceled. Slapshot was booked to entertain the fans with Gunston, the giant green creature who is GMU’s mascot. Tamar pulled the plug on the appearance because of poor timing.
“It wasn’t really fair to him [the day after the cancellation], because it’s not like he can talk or respond to questions,” Tamar explains. “He’s a mascot. He doesn’t talk.”
Otherwise, Tamar and Slapshot have been at it full tilt, promoting literacy programs such as Reading Is Cool, raising money for tsunami victims at the Reston Town Center, battling substance abuse with the Rangers Against Drugs, and even appearing at high-school hockey games—and this has all happened despite the fact that the primary Slapshot performer, Chris Monihan, is working with a broken foot.
“The boots I wear in the costume are actually pretty similar to what my orthopedist told me to wear,” says Monihan. “I could walk around all day on the bird feet if I wanted to.”
With the season in the toilet, the Capitals’ hobbled mascot has time to go almost anywhere—from sports expos to rink openings. For $250, Slapshot will even come to your door with Capitals goody bags for all and entertain your birthday party for about an hour. But there are still some things that Slapshot won’t do.
“A few years ago, we had a group call us who wanted Slapshot to go scuba diving with them,” Tamar says. “We couldn’t let him do that….If he got his suit wet he would have sunk like a rock.”
Tamar and Slapshot aren’t the only members of the organization taking any job available. Mike Vogel, the Caps’ chief online writer, has teamed up with play-by-play man Steve Kolbe to announce radio broadcasts of area high-school hockey games. The Ashburn Ice House, where they announced the Northern Virginia Scholastic Hockey League Championships on Feb. 18, was far removed from the MCI Center’s media-friendly facilities.
“We actually had to hook them up to a phone line on a fax machine at the rink’s fitness center,” said Kurt Kehl, Capitals director of communications. “We didn’t get hooked up and ready to go until about two minutes before air time.”
Vogel is also quick to admit that the one broadcast so far—another is scheduled for Friday, March 4—was an exercise in improvisation.
“I went in cold,” Vogel admits. “We had some stat sheets and pronunciation guides. It was also big that both teams had names on the backs of their jerseys, too.”
For now, the Capitals PR machine is planning on keeping up the breakneck pace until the players come back to the ice. But Tamar admits it’s not easy to keep strapping on the happy face.
“The games are definitely the big show,” Tamar says. “I’m lucky the guys we work with for Slapshot enjoy what they do as performers. Otherwise I’d be worried about some of them quitting. I’m sure some are disappointed. We’d all rather be doing the games.”
At least the mascots don’t have to worry about masking their disappointment.
“I wear a giant eagle head,” Monihan says. “People can’t see what’s going on in there, even when I do get frustrated.”CP