- - Sunday, May 27, 2018

Skating rinks from northern Virginia to southern Maryland have always been hotbeds for youth hockey, but the Washington Capitals‘ run to the Stanley Cup Final is taking the sport to a new level, especially for young players enthralled with Alex Ovechkin and his teammates.

“There are certainly more Caps fans among our players and their families than there have been in the past and the youngest age groups are growing significantly,” said Russell Smith, the chief operating officer and hockey director for the Laurel, Maryland-based Tri-City Eagles. “There is definitely a buzz around the rink about the Caps’ success and on any night they play, you can see people glued to the TVs in the rink. I think we’ll notice the real growth from this playoff run in the next 3-5 years, as those families with young children decide to get them into hockey due to the Caps success this season.”

Most area youth hockey leagues have finished their season, so the full effect of the Capitals‘ success on registration numbers probably won’t be felt until next season.

But John Rader, president of the Northern Virginia Ice Dogs, expects to see sign-ups for local clubs significantly increase in the coming months.

“The success of the Capitals each year definitely drives our roster sizes,” Rader said. “If the Caps are doing well, we see our registrations rise … impacts of the Caps going to the finals will be seen in June when we open registration for next fall. We are expecting to fill our teams quickly. I also would not be surprised to see another season of over 100 new skaters coming to our LTP [Learn to Play] program.”

Kevin Burch, the president of the Reston Raiders who has been coaching hockey in the area for almost two decades, said the itch for hockey the Capitals have created could soon cause scheduling issues for local leagues due to the limited number of rinks.

“My guess is when we open registration for the fall season, there’s going to be hugely increased interest in playing the game, which is really gonna be kind of a dilemma,” Burch said. “We go on waitlists very quickly when we open up our registration for our house and travel leagues … most of the rinks as I said we go on a waitlist, the ice time is completely maxed out, there’s huge interest in middle school and high school hockey, that’s really growing in the area, and a Stanley Cup is just gonna multiply that tenfold. And I think that’s where having those additional rinks, newer rinks and new resources popping up to support that, are gonna be critical because the interest will explode.”

Hockey instructors say kids strapping on skates and picking up sticks are following the Capitals‘ exploits this year.

“There’s definitely a piqued interest,” Burch said. “The kids in our club, we see a lot more Caps jerseys, Caps t-shirts, and especially since they’ve beaten Pittsburgh, as opposed to kids in our organization that were wearing Crosby shirts and jerseys, so they’re definitely having an impact that way.”

Rader and Smith echoed those sentiments.

“Our new kids are given jerseys each year; many of them wear Caps jerseys instead, most of them with the number 8 on the sweater,” Rader said, Smith noting that “the amount of red jerseys, t-shirts, and Caps hats is noticeable now more than ever.”

“If they win the Stanley Cup, it’s gonna be huge for the area as a whole,” Burch said. “First championship in over twenty years, and hockey in general is just gonna explode. We’ve seen that in some of the other areas: when Tampa won their Cup, interest was high, when Pittsburgh won their first Cup with Lemieux, rinks were popping up all over the place, and new hockey clubs were starting.”

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