- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Those eyes, that height, the muscular promise of neck and arms.

Oh, my.

Women - hundreds of them - stare in wonder at a man who is part Greek god, Genghis Khan and the boy next door.

The ladies are agog. Adoring. Rapt.

But they are also hockey fans who know much about slap shots and hooking and breakaways. And here, within aftershave-sniffing distance, stands the player of their dreams at an official meet-and-greet.

The Washington Capitals have discovered women. They are the first team in the National Hockey League to delicately tap into their feminine fan base through a marvel of deft marketing, good cheer and a certain amount of swashbuckling romanticism.

Welcome to “Club Scarlet” - an untrammeled girlie-girl celebration of hockey and the he-men who play it.

“It’s an effort to grow the game, to bring hockey to the other gender. But women absolutely bring along a new enthusiasm, a nice passion,” said center Brooks Laich, recently acknowledged as the biggest “lady’s man” by his teammates in a publicity video.

“We’ve got a big tent, so to speak,” team owner Ted Leonsis said. “And we want to reach out to the most diverse, engaged fans - male, female, young, old. This is part of that.”

And the female fan.

Maybe she’s out there in her red jersey and red lipstick and Maybe Baby perfume, screaming in the stands as the Caps do epic battle on the ice and the Jumbotron is lighted up with the noble images of warriors, heroes and puck masters.

Oh-h-h-h my.

Which leads to the million-dollar question: Do the players notice the lady fans?

“Sure we do. We see them out there,” defenseman Mike Green said. “And we appreciate their support. This is a good thing.”

Said fan Sarah Bizer: “Oh, I’m a hard-core fan all right. Hard core. Been to the last nine games and I sure ‘rock the red.’ But I see the community here with other women and it’s uplifting. It’s fun; it’s sweet.”

She was one of 250 mostly 20-somethings who recently crammed into an upscale Arlington bar where a half-dozen Caps players - on display and in full plumage - did battle with a sold-out event for female fans. They did it with gracious good humor.

There was no familiar lineament smells or man talk or guffaws for them. No touch of locker-room home. There were, however, red balloons, cosmopolitan cocktails, many camera phones and glitter on the tables. Plus the unmistakable scent of floral colognes and the charming din of some very happy girlie-girls.

And some stark reality.

“This is cool. But hello. All these guys are just so, so, so gorgeous,” Miss Bizer said, and she pointed to her upper arm, where center Nicklas Backstrom had left the dazzling hieroglyphic of his autograph in Sharpie pen, framed beautifully by the edges of her red satin dress.

Lines of women snaked around the bar as they waited for a few precious moments with the player of their choice. They giggled and chitchatted.

“He’s so tall. And he was so nice,” said Marissa Young, who had just posed for a photo with 6-foot-5-inch forward David Steckel - echoing a common sentiment among the “hockey and heels” crowd - as they are now identified by the Capitals business side.

There is a “nice” factor.

“We are here for sports reasons. And we’re here for personal reasons. You can’t hide it. This team is gorgeous, but they are real nice guys too,” said Marie-Pier Theoret, who drove all the way from Montreal with her friend Marie-Eve Couturier to attend a Caps session at the team’s practice rink in Arlington.

The pair’s focus is left wing Alex Ovechkin. They stare through a shield at him, their big camera clicking madly as Ovechkin races by in signature power mode down the ice - the moment punctuated by the percussive crack of puck on boards.

The young women exchange glances. They are happy. It was worth the trip.

The Capitals have successfully homed in on the perilous and collective complexities of women, plus the potential enormity of their loyalty. Indeed, female fans may think the players are gorgeous, skilled, courageous and sexy. But there also seems to be a certain amount of old-fashioned chivalry involved.

“There’s a wholesome dimension in this experience, and that’s refreshing. You don’t hear much about NHL guys in trouble,” said Liz Spoone, a woman of a certain age who has followed the Caps for more than a decade.

The Capitals are certainly not a nest of solo playboys, either. Of the 22 players, only half are single, and of those, some have long-term girlfriends.

But who cares?

All of them are handsomely showcased at the Club Scarlet Web site, www.ScarletCaps.com, profiled with portraits boasting intense gazes, a hint of a beard, the edge of a fine leather jacket or the weaponlike threat of a hockey stick. There are impressive vital statistics and biographies that emphasize each player’s charitable work, sportsmanship and humanity.

There is very little beefcake.

Green is seen in a skinny black undershirt, right bicep curled in alarming proportions. But the sinuous tattoo on the aforementioned muscle reads, “family.” The players look strong but sensitive - truly the impossible dream. It is all right out of matinee idol Hollywood - and works like a charm.

Some players also have been featured in video shorts about their home life, complete with interviews with their interior designer before-and-after shots.

“These images are designed to highlight the player’s personality and portray them in their everyday life,” said Kim Frank, who was instrumental in developing the Club Scarlet concept.

“As an organization we realized that the number of our female fans has been growing each year. Last summer we completed a variety of focus groups, which eventually led to the creation of Club Scarlet and ScarletCaps.com,” she added.

Merchandise is strictly G-rated. There is no Capitals-themed intimate apparel, for example.

Meanwhile, Club Scarlet already boasts close to 2,000 members who offer enthusiastic blogs at the Web site and appreciation for “Hockey Mom,” an online hostess who could match stats and strategy with even the most astute male hockey aficionado.

“Thanks so much for a Web site that is feminine but doesn’t ‘talk down’ to women. I see great things to come,” one enthusiastic visitor wrote.

“We need to have a Club Scarlet Night. Get a whole section of women only,” another suggested. “When the big screen says ‘make some noise,’ we’ll show them our noise.”

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