- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2011

When the Washington Capitals stepped onto the ice at Verizon Center on Monday night, the rink still was 200 feet by 85 feet. But there was one major difference around the playing surface, as the black protective netting in place since 2002 had been replaced by white netting.

Many fans, from the lower bowl to the upper level, complained about how the new netting affected their viewing experience.

“The white netting is worse than the old black one, which I wasn’t a fan of,” said Weber Grandish, 36, of Arlington, who has season tickets in Section 115. “The view of the players on the ice is seriously like looking through a snow storm, which is quaint for the Winter Classic, but not for 41 home games. You can’t read players’ names on their jerseys.”

As some fans complained of headaches and other problems while watching the game from the seats, others trying to catch the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on an Internet video stream also called the netting “horrid.”

But the Caps are looking into the problem.

The netting was put up to be a permanent change, but Monumental Sports & Entertainment spokesman Kurt Kehl said owner Ted Leonsis is aware of the problem, adding that the team is evaluating the situation.

“If it doesn’t solve one of those or both of those, it’s not worth moving forward with it,” he said. “If it’s something that’s distracting and disruptive of our fans viewing the game, we’re not going to continue with it.”

According to Kehl, the netting was being looked at further Tuesday. If it is deemed to be a problem, the team can change it back to black “whenever we want,” he said. That could be as soon as Friday’s preseason game against the Buffalo Sabres.

Leonsis responded to a fan’s email at 5:58 a.m. Tuesday regarding the netting with the simple message of “On it.” Later in the day, he wrote on his blog about the issue.

“We will take a closer look at it ASAP. The plan was to improve the fan and TV experience,” he wrote. “If we aren’t able to accomplish that goal, then we will return to the netting we used previously. Stay tuned.”

Protective netting was made mandatory in 2002 after a puck left the playing surface and struck and killed 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil in Columbus. There initially was some backlash about the netting disrupting views in NHL arenas, but safety was considered the top priority.

Fans who had gotten used to the black netting voiced displeasure Tuesday night with the change, with many forming a long line at guest services, according to David Masterman, 52, of Burke. Staff members took a “long list” of names of season-ticket holders, Grandish said.

“When looking through the net on the Section 117 side across the ice the new white netting on the other side of the arena distracts,” said Stephanie Stockman, 51, of Lanham, who was in Section 117. “By the end of the second period both of my eyes hurt.”

Several fans noticed the netting as soon as they entered the seating area, while others already were aware of it because of Mike Vogel’s blog post about it on the Caps’ website, which stated that the white netting was supposed to make the black puck easier to see.

“I was trying to keep an open mind, but the white netting was really distracting,” said Drew Bray, 41, of Annapolis, who also was in the 100 level. “Our row is below the netting, however, it felt like a solid wall hanging over our head. For me, the view of the scoreboard was absolutely terrible. [I] had a bit of a headache.”

Masterman said from Section 116 - behind one of the goals - he couldn’t see the scoreboard very well and couldn’t make out how many shots the Caps had.

For fans in the 400 level, the reviews were mixed.

“I actually think the fact that the netting was the same color as the ice made the edges of the netting less noticeable as play transitioned out of the corner and up the half boards,” said Shawn Brown, 28, of Fredericksburg, watching from 430. “I can, however, understand that the experience could be completely different for someone seated behind the goal who has to view more of the game through the netting.”

That was the case for some in Section 412.

“I have pretty good eyesight, and even from the upper deck, can usually read the names on the backs of the sweaters, at least those down on our end of the ice,” said Thomas Mowbray, 34, of Alexandria. “But I found the netting made even reading the numbers on the backs of jerseys difficult as players battled around the goal on our end.”

Several season-ticket holders praised arena employees for listening to their concerns and taking note. As a result, a return to the black netting could be in order.

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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