The Washington Times - September 13, 2012, 11:11AM

Spoke to Washington Capitals president Dick Patrick on the phone Tuesday after the NHL announced he won the Lester Patrick Award for service to hockey in the United States.

On what it means to get Lester Patrick Award, named after your grandfather

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Dick Patrick: “Gary Bettman called me a little while ago to say I was going to be getting it. You know I never even thought of it. I wasn’t expecting anything like that. But it is special with the family connection going back to my grandfather, who I knew well, remember well growing up. The Patrick family involvement that people talk about, being around my dad and my uncle, my cousin, everybody who has been involved with hockey in the league and hockey in the U.S. for so long. It makes it, I guess, a little bit more special for me than for someone else that might win it. It’s very gratifying.”

Did they explain to you why you won the award?

“It’s always given for contribution to hockey in the United States, and that certainly covers a lot of ground and people get it for different reasons. It wasn’t explained specifically to me other than everybody says, ‘With all you’ve done, of course it’s so well-deserved.’ So I’m not sure. But I’ve been involved with hockey in the United States, whether it’s with the Caps or I played in college, then with the Caps and coaching youth hockey around here and things like that. I fell within the category, and I’m not sure how the decision-making’s done because it’s done, I think, through the league and the Rangers. I just was notified of it. It’s a special honor.”

How proud are you of the development of hockey in the D.C. area and how it’s grown?

“I’m just really happy about it. It’s not so much being proud because I don’t think we should take undue credit. But hockey’s such a great game; I’ve loved it my whole life. I played it, I’ve been around it. I’ve always felt that hockey players are a special breed, no matter what level they play at. Once they start playing hockey, they have a connection to it for the rest of their lives. When I first started coaching youth hockey around here when my son was playing, it was pretty lean as far as number of teams and levels and not much in the way of travel teams. It’s grown tremendous until we got to the point where we’ve started having players from here that get drafted and players from here that play in the league like Jeff Halpern and others. I’m just really happy. It just shows that, it used to be hockey was only in the really cold places: Minnesota, parts of New England, Canada. And then in places that weren’t so cold like Connecticut, Long Island, New York were more for the better-off kids because you had to get private rinks; it wasn’t a high school sport. They’d go to boarding schools or private schools to play. It’s become much more inclusive and a lot more people enjoy it, not just your typical hockey players that I think of like when I grew up playing hockey with the guys. Now you have really accomplished women’s teams and we have some really accomplished women players from our area here. It’s just great to see.”

How much did Kettler Capitals Iceplex help in even a small portion of the area?

“I think Kettler’s helped a lot, but I think another rink in another place would also help a lot. It all comes down to the ability to get on the ice and the availability and the opportunity. Again, you go back to the cold-weather places and in Canada people just freeze their backyard and put up some boards so everybody can skate. It’s hard down here, and it’s expensive. Honestly, the hockey equipment itself is expensive and that’s a barrier for some people and some parents and then to get on the ice it’s expensive too. The more you can make the opportunity available, whether it’s through more rinks or more programs that allow kids to get a chance at it, people will like the sport if they get an opportunity to do it.”

What more can happen to grow hockey in the D.C. area? More organizations in city? What can Capitals and others do?

“I think there’s a lot of machinery already in place for helping it grow, starting with USA Hockey. … There are programs there, there are subsidies that the Capitals and Kettler participate in to try to expose people to it. And the rinks themselves, they do it for their own business, for profit. They have a lot of learn-to-skate and learn-to-play programs. That’s what you have to do. Like I said, there are some barriers. Little kids will want to play a sport and they say hockey and their parents see, well see it costs a lot for skates and a lot for this, and they say, ‘How about soccer?’ They’re like, ‘OK.’ They just want to play something. We have to do whatever we can to try to make it easy for people to be exposed to it. Generally the Washington area, as you know, is very well off and that’s another huge barrier for a lot of people, but people who aren’t playing yet, it is an issue. There’s lots of great athletes out there growing up that haven’t been exposed to hockey, they haven’t tried it. It would be great if we could get them all to give it a shot.”

Asking about two extremes and the impact on hockey in D.C. If there’s a lockout, does it have an impact on kids not playing?

“I would hope not. First of all I don’t even want to think about a lockout, and I’m hopeful that everything can come together and get the season started on time. I think going back to the last lockout there was a general dissatisfaction, the existing fans were sort of bad at everybody, mad at management, mad at players. It wasn’t a good situation. Right now, we’ve seen such growth in hockey, I don’t sense that building up. I’m just hopeful that we can avoid any sort of delay in starting the season. But if something that does come about, I think in the short term it shouldn’t have any impact on kids. Programs are already being established and under way and will be supported. Kids love to play, and this is a great sport to play.

Other extreme is Capitals winning a Stanley Cup. Can you imagine what growth of hockey would be?

“I think it would be huge. I think it’s grown tremendously, but I look at other cities that have won championships that it creates such larger interest and it lasts for decades. Look at Philadelphia, they won in ‘74, ‘75, something like that, and it just established Philadelphia as a huge hockey town, both professional, youth. It just resonates. There are other examples you could look at where it maybe wasn’t that impactful. I always like to look at [Philadelphia], and I think if the Washington Capitals ever won a Stanley Cup, it would be a great thing for the Capitals franchise for decades to come but for the whole area as far as the development of hockey and youth hockey.”

Do you think Adam Oates is the coach to take the Caps to a title?

“I think he’s the best coach out there right now. He’s really smart, was a smart player, a smart coach. He has a passion for it, it’s all he thinks about. His time’s here and I think he’s ready. Yeah I hope he can take us to a championship.”