- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It wasn’t easy for Craig Laughlin to wind up in the television booth analyzing Washington Capitals games for 25 seasons.

“I had some rough spots when I started,” the former Capitals forward said, recalling his start with Home Team Sports. “I remember being covered in sweat when the cameras would come on. I was thinking, ‘This is a nightmare.’

“I kept thinking there is no way I’m going to wear makeup,” he said, laughing, as always. “I’m a hockey player, come on.”

Then there were the speech lessons. “They said I sounded a little too Canadian,” Laughlin said. “I told them hockey is Canadian. But I did take speech lessons for two summers. I used to say I ‘cot’ a pass, instead of ‘caught’ a pass. I remember doing the exercises — ‘cauuught, cauuught.’”

Then there was the adjustment going from the locker room to the media — a tough one for many.

“I remember [former Capitals general manager] David Poile and [former Capitals coach] Bryan Murray telling me, ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing, but I don’t ever want to see you out with [former teammate Rod] Langway.’

“So the first time we went out, we were coming out of a bar in New York, and who sees us but David Poile and Bryan Murray,” Laughlin said, laughing. “That was sort of it for that. I understood there were boundaries, and you have to walk a tight line. Be honest, but if there is a benefit of the doubt, give it to the home team. I just want to have fun and be as candid as I can.”

It was all just fine-tuning, though, for guy who would be a natural for local sports — someone with hockey smarts who connected personally with the guy sitting at home in his living room watching, someone who could grow with a growing fan base.

“My wife, Linda, would tell me just do it as if you were talking to your buddies at the bar,” Laughlin said. “That is when you are at your best, talking to people, explaining the game.”

When Laughlin is at his best, he usually has a smile on his face with a laugh to follow, and that, as much as anything, is why 25 seasons after Bill Brown at Home Team Sports suggested that Laughlin might consider making the move from the locker room to the booth, he has remained there.

It’s a special connection, sports broadcasters and fans, and sometimes a complicated one. The good ones, like Laughlin, keep it simple, and fun.

“Hockey’s a fun game, and I want to bring energy to the broadcast,” Laughlin said. “I’ve always had on my mind, ‘Make sure you have fun.’ I want to have fun on the broadcast, with the crew, with the fans. Probably all those things contributed to my longevity.”

They’ll celebrate that longevity Friday night on the CSN Mid-Atlantic broadcast of the game between the Capitals and Nashville Predators at Verizon Center, along with the Capitals honoring the broadcaster in the arena.

It’s not just the 25 seasons in the booth, though. Save for team president Dick Patrick, Laughlin has been with the Capitals longer than anyone in the organization.

“It’s been a great run, a lot of fun,” he said. “I’ve worked with a lot of great people, and get to work with one now in Joe [Beninati, the Capitals‘ play-by-play announcer whose been with Laughlin for 19 of those 25 seasons]. Joe is such a professional, and we have a lot of fun.”

The fun began when Laughlin was traded by the Montreal Canadiens to the Capitals along with Langway in September 1982. He spent six seasons in a Washington uniform, but was playing hockey in Germany when he talked to Brown about making the change to the booth.

“Brownie called me to come to Washington for a tryout,” Laughlin said. “He said, ‘We think you would be a perfect fit for this.’ He said these jobs don’t come along very often. I look back and think that somebody else could have been in my position celebrating their 25th year.”

The 58-year-old Laughlin has watched the history of the Capitals unfold, and has a group of players who were his favorite to watch — starting with the guy who leads the team on the ice now, Alex Ovechkin.

“I call myself the luckiest guy in the world to call his games,” Laughlin said. “I know what he has to endure as a captain and as one of the best in the game. Every night, I expect something exciting. Very few players are like that.

“If I could play for a goaltender, I would want to play for Olie Kolzig,” Laughlin said. “Braden Holtby is very much like that. He was very smart. I always was a fan of Calle Johansson because of how smart and talented he was and how he flew under the radar as a defenseman. And Nicklas Backstrom. I’d love to play one shift with the guy. The way he moves the puck is incredible.”

None of those good times and great players, though, have added up to a Stanley Cup championship on Laughlin’s watch. He believe this season is the best chance to fix that omission.

“I think it would be unbelievable to win the Stanley Cup, even in the booth,” he said. “I’ve been part of this team for so long, I’ve been here for 32 years, almost all of it. Come on, now is the time. I’m hearing the right things. I got a feeling this is it.”

It would be one hell of a 25th anniversary present.

⦁ Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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