Last June, I spotted an interesting line in Greg Wyshynski's Puck Daddy blog about the Inaugural Awards given out by HockeyBarn.com which named Wysh as "Hockey Writer of the Year" among new media hockey journalists. Wysh also highlighted another blog, Musings of a Hockey Mom that took home the top prize for 2009 in the category "Hockey Mom/Dad Writer of the Year". Here's the announcement of the award by former Edmonton Oilers great Glenn Anderson from New York last June:
That evening I emailed my congratulations to this fellow hockeymom and blogging enthusiast, Leslie Silvey, who writes about both the Washington Capitals and of her adventures as the mother of 12-year-old twins who play youth hockey in the Washington area. She was recognized for her knack of writing with great hockey savvy, aplomb, and always providing her readers with funny (and okay, occasionally snarky) commentary. Needless to say, she was my instant hero!
I don't need to remind you that the Capitals sit at the top of the NHL points standings, and off-ice, their success marketing the team and warmly embracing hockey fans new and old, has made them one of the most successful rags-to-riches NHL business stories in recent years. As our Carolina Hurricanes head up the coast to take on the Capitals tonight, this very same Caps hockeymom blogger, Leslie, and I exchanged some questions and shared our personal insights regarding our respective teams, looking past the more traditional headlines and statistics, and also to learn how the players of our much loved teams are regarded by and connect with their fans.
After the jump check out Leslie's observations on the Capitals. To see what I've been telling Leslie about the Canes and us Caniacs, you can read the bookend piece at her blog by clicking here.
I made some notes of topics about which I think the Canes Country readers would enjoy hearing your thoughts regarding the Capitals, and their mutually-enthusiastic relationship with their fans. Here ya go:
Regarding the Capitals on the Ice
Hockeymomof2: What is the role of Alex Ovechkin vs role of the Captain Chris Clark? Who provides the leadership? And how about Mike Knuble, at the age 37, getting the A his first season in DC? Whose (after Ovechkin) is the interview everyone stops to listen to and quotes later?
Leslie Silvey: Ovie is definitely a leader in the room and on the ice and I wouldn't be surprised to see him wearing the "C" in years to come. That said, he is still very young so I think that Clark provides the veteran leadership the young team needs. Sergei Fedorov played a big part in the leadership department last year, especially with so many young Russians. And Mike Knuble (a Hockey Mom fave) just naturally stepped right in as a very seasoned vet, gritty player and overall great guy. One of the other Caps that is very highly respected and that fans think would be a fabulous captain is Brooks Laich. He is one of the ones the media seeks for insightful comments.
Missing Donald Brashear the Enforcer?
HMo2: I saw a few weeks ago some discussions about the Caps needing a tough guy to serve as a deterrent for some of the big hits the Caps were feeling. Mike Green I think was a big target. Is there someone who has stepped up or do you think that was a valid point?
LS: There's been a lot of discussion about whether or not we need an enforcer. Donald Brashear was one of the first Caps I ever interviewed so personally, I miss him. The Mike Green hit was bogus and I think warranted a suspension. There are a few guys who will answer the call when needed such as Matt Bradley and John Erskine so not sure that we really need a dedicated enforcer but we'll see as the season progresses.
HMo2: What is the team's, and moreso, the fan's relationship with the Capitals AHL affiliate Hershey Bears - the minor league teams for the Caps were dominant in their respective leagues (AHL and ECHL) last season. How closely do the Caps fans follow the Bears?
LS: Serious Caps fans follow the Bears very closely. I think that's a huge reason that Bruce Boudreau was able to step in and have instant results with this team as he'd had longstanding relationships as a coach with so many of the current Caps when they were in Hershey. Former Bears such as Mike Green really respond well to Gabby. And the fact that you have this whole group of talented, hungry guys on the farm that have proved they can come up and play well with the big boys at the drop of a hat is awesome!
HMo2: This was the big weak spot at the beginning of the season from most previews. How is this going? Has Semyon Varlamov managed to work through his issue from when he was quoted stating that American girls are fat cows ;) ?
LS: With last night's win over the dangerous Devils, Michal Neuvirth just added another name to the goalie mix. Varly is injured now but has definitely proven himself and in my opinion, he is the number one. As far as the fat cow comments, Hockey Mom is hoping that one got lost in translation!
Best new guy this year?
HMo2: Have there been any big surprises - those who have underwhelmed or beaten wildest expectations? And is there a "hottest" player (as in: sex appeal)?
LS: Matt Bradley has really come into his own this year and is becoming a hot fan favorite for his grit (and his uncanny ability to bleed like a horror movie victim on cue after dropping the gloves).
Not really surprising, but Nicklas Backstrom is absolutely on fire in the scoring department. As far as the ladies' men go, Brooks Laich has quite the following and of course Ovie says he is the "ladies man" on the team.
Brooks Laich (via i305.photobucket.com)
HMo2: Coach Boudreau seems to be loved (understandably given his unqualified success since taking over 2 years ago) - have you read his book? Who among the off-ice personnel is most revered and credited with the success? (Owner Ted Leonsis, GM George McPhee, etc)
LS: I am so ashamed to say that I have not read Gabby's book yet (don't get much reading done during the season)! I have met him on several occasions and he is as real as they get, which adds to his appeal. Mismatched ties and all - he is a very funny guy! George McPhee has done an amazing job of building this organization and is very stealthy with his trade picks, etc. I think that Ted Leonsis (known to Caps fans as "Uncle Ted") is the most revered - not only in this area but among all sports team owners. He is incredibly open to his fans and believes very strongly in two-way communication between the fans and the organization. Hockey Mom thinks he must only sleep about two hours a night - he literally answers every e-mail that comes in (even the crazy ones - which he writes about on his blog, Ted's Take)!
Regarding the Capitals and how they connect with their fans
Growing popularity and celebrity
HMo2: The Capitals' hockey games are selling out regularly (always?) now. How long have you been a Caps fan and when did you sense the broader population was getting hooked? As for celebrity, Ovechkin was given a key to the city, wasn't he? Is he the biggest sports star in DC? He is featured in popular press as a huge local celebrity. Has his mother (and/or his father) been to many games?
LS: I became a Caps fan about five years ago (games were not selling out then). I am from Florida and had never seen hockey until the Caps were practicing at the rink where my twin boys were learning to play. After last year's playoff run, Caps tickets became the hottest commodity in town, especially since all the other D.C. sports teams are doing so poorly in the win columns! I'd say that Ovie is definitely the biggest sports star in D.C. When he was given the key to the city, he also proclaimed there'd be no speed limits that day! His dad and mom do go to lots of games and both were notable sports figures in their own rights back in Russia. I would absolutely love to interview Mama Ovechkin!
White house blessings?
HMo2: Any word from on high indicating Presidential awareness or even support for the team? Any chance he and Michelle might show up at a game?
LS: The President is a basketball guy but I do know that Ted Leonsis has personally invited him to attend Caps games so we'll have to see if he takes him up on the offer!
HMo2: Will Caps fans be rooting for Team Russia? Are there any other Caps who will be in Vancouver?
LS: I think fans will be rooting for Team Russia but there will be several other guys on various country's rosters. Nicklas Backstrom will be playing for Team Sweden and hopefully Mike Green will represent Team Canada. Tomas Fleischmann will most likely see action on the Czech Republic team and Milan Jurcina may get a shot to play for the Slovakians.
HMo2: Describe Hockey in Heels and other women-friendly marketing (ie ladies-only official blog)...what's your opinion (excellent or a little patronizing?)
LS: The Caps have done an amazing job with Scarlet Caps, which was the first fan club specifically for the female fan in the NHL. Since its inception, Scarlet Caps boasts more than 7,000 members. Scarlet Caps has its own blog (Hockey Mom is a regular contributor) along with its own female-friendly merchandise. Hockey N'Heels has become one of the most popular events the team hosts. Ladies get a chance to get on the ice with players and learn how to perfect their wrist shot or slap shot. During the event, they also get an insider's view on hockey equipment and its uses, a very informative film session conducted by Coach Boudreau (which is always hysterically entertaining), along with several other sessions on the inner workings of the Capitals. This year the events sold out in less than 30 minutes!
Caps' Fan Festival in September
HMo2: Please describe that remarkable event.
LS: The Caps staged their first Caps Convention back in September, which also sold out and drew more than 5,000 fans. The team did an amazing job and I'm sure that fans will want this to become an annual event. There were countless displays on Caps and NHL history as well as a very cool simulated locker room. There were several areas where kids and adults could test their skills on "fake" ice and Ovie and Mike Green even got into the action. Fans heard from Caps ownership along with the commish, Gary Bettman. Along with the incredible exhibit floor, there were simultaneous sessions taking place covering everything from salary cap, to media covering the Caps, to "dropping the gloves" and more! Definitely a smashing success!
Relationship of the Capitals organization with bloggers
HMo2: How did you come to do what you do and what is your blogging routine as it pertains to the Caps? You have a press pass - have you had interviews or other unusual/privileged contact with the players or Caps organization?
LS: I started my blog after we lost the heartbreaking playoff game to the Flyers two seasons ago. I think that my blog took off because of a few different factors: 1) being a woman (with an added dose of humor) and 2) the perspective of being a "hockey mom" and how I can view the pro game and even mix in some valuable lessons for the kiddies. Ted Leonsis and the entire Caps organization support the blogosphere wholeheartedly and those with press credentials get the same exceptional treatment from the team as any other media outlet would. I typically write about games but I especially love to focus on the community outreach efforts by the team. Of course I am always able to tie in all of the above with some sort of wacky experience gleaned from my experience as the mom of twin travel hockey players. The Caps PR staff goes above and beyond in arranging interviews and notifying us of media opportunities. When I was writing a piece on fighting last season, I was unable to connect with Donald Brashear as he was injured but the PR staff conducted the interview for me during a road game and promptly sent me the Donald's responses!
HMo2: What are the most visible charity causes and events the Caps support in the community?
LS: Washington Capitals Charities does so many things for the D.C. community. As the D.C. region has so many folks involved in the military, many of their efforts focus on helping military service members and their families. The profits from sales of the popular "Caps Courage" merchandise goes to this worthy cause. Of course they also focus on kids. In addition to helping less fortunate children in this area through various charitable programs, they make countless hospital visits to kids and various players and coaches spread the joy of hockey to kids of all ages through the Hockey at School program!
Finally, name the Caps' most hated rival
HMo2:Which team is considered the most hated rival? Rangers, Pens, Flyers?
LS: I am going to have to say that the Penguins are still "the" most hated rivals. For one, you've got the whole Ovie-Crosby duel going on. But the Flyers are definitely a close second.
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Many thanks to Hockeymom Leslie for taking the time over the holiday weekend to share her insights with us here in the Caniac Nation, and maintaining the spirit of détente between our division rival teams. Leslie gets my vote as the perfect one to interview Mama Ovechkin, hockeymom to hockeymom. I can only imagine the precocious moments of young Alex's hockey career she alone might be abIe coax her Russian counterpart into sharing. I also hope you readers enjoyed hearing this one-of-a-kind perspective from my friend and colleague to our immediate north.
Okay, that said, and for the record, never doubt I'll be on my feet with a big WOOO-OOO! if Timmy just once puts Alex the Gr8 on his a** tonight. Just karma, baby!