A) Commissioner Gary Bettman
B) The Prime Minister of the Czech Republic
D) Trick question: WE. WERE. ALL. THERE.
If you’ll recall, we decided to start this fine hockey blog in the dead of summer. Some would say that’s a ridiculous time to concern Deadspin Nation with the news and satire of the NHL. Hockey isn’t like football or baseball, whose combines and hot stove leagues are covered with ridiculous fervor, thus remaining part of the news cycle. No, once the NHL champs are anointed, everyone in the hockey world goes on vacation and the only press releases you see involve wacky Euros letting their family’s oldest goat drink water out of Lord Stanley’s Cup.
A few weeks into our joint venture in hockey hilarity, I heard on DC101 about Ted Leonsis’ feud with SportsTalk 980’s Steve Czaban, and decided to research and recap. Somehow I had gotten to this story before most of the DC-centric blogosphere. Somehow it got picked up on Deadspin. Somehow it caught Ted Leonsis’ attention.
Somehow, I was in Ted Leonsis’ owner’s suite last night.
Really, there’s no better way to watch a hockey game than from a suite that you have because you own the professional hockey franchise hosting said game. Uncle Ted’s box is strategically placed in the lower bowl on the end where the Capitals shoot twice (and scored 3 goals last night.) It can accommodate a large crowd of 40 or so, and comes fully furnished with the finest meats and cheeses for all his subjects. And because of its immaculate care and personal service, Mr. Leonsis is more than comfortable in hosting the most important of VIPs on a nightly basis. Such as:
- The Prime Minister of the Czech Republic. For those of you who care about D.C. Politic, Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek was in town to meet with the President and Vice-President. So what better way to experience D.C. night life than a hockey game? Now the Caps’ lone Czech right now is Tomas Fleischmann, so with a suite full of thirty of his countrymen, I silently was rooting for #43. Fortunately, that line was THE line in the 4-1 win, and Fleischmann had a pair of assists. If I had known the Czech national anthem, I would have sung it. And then convinced them all that Jaromir Jagr is a bad, bad man who misses Communism.
- The Czech Secret Service Guys Protecting the Prime Minister: At one point, the Prime Minister moved quickly towards the exit of the suite, and three serious-looking gentlemen who had been holding up the walls for the evening mobilized. Turns out he was going to the restroom through the door within the suite. Silly armed Europeans! (I also assume that if the Wild had taken the lead and someone in the box cheered, they would have “taken care of the situation.”
- Commissioner Gary Bettman – Who would have thought that when I selected this date to accept Leonsis’ invitation it would be the Trade Deadline? And furthermore, of all the boxes in all the arenas, that Gary Bettman would be there? I withheld our URL, guys, for fear of being struck by lightning thanks to my association with LeNoceur, but I did shake his hand and tell him he sounded good on the radio earlier that day (he did an interview with Elliot on DC101.) As he spoke with others in the room throughout the evening, it hit me: Gary Bettman has to live hockey 24/7. If someone chooses to approach him, they will ask him something hockey-related. It’s never about what books he has read recently or how his family is; it’s always about the TV contract, how long your favorite player’s suspension was, or when are we going to get a team back in Winnipeg. At some point, that’s got to wear thin, and yet, the Commissioner weathers on. When not in conversation he overlooks the game rather than fidgeting with a Blackberry or checking his messages. He’s proud to be in charge of this league, and it shows.
- People with Money – I was able to spend much of the third period talking with two members of Lincoln Holdings, the LLC that has owned the Caps with Leonsis since 1999. One of them is Mark Lerner, who you might also know as one of the principal owners of your Washington Nationals. He’s the man behind the scenes these days, while Stan Kasten does the press work. With a new stadium in place, they are indeed excited. Secondly was Jack Davies, a former AOL International founder and board member. In his discussion with another gentleman, Davies really explained well what the Capitals have accomplished over the last three years. As the shifts changed, he pointed out who was a first round pick and who played with Hershey last year. It should be noted that 3 of the goals last night came from trades that were designed to build the franchise for the future. Brooks Laich came here in the Bondra deal to Ottawa, and Shaone Morrisonn came in exchange for Sergei Gonchar. Throw in 1st rounders in Ovechkin, Green, Schultz, Fehr, Bourque, Semin, and others, this is now a homegrown hockey club. Hey Redskins! PAY ATTENTION.
- Ray Bourque??? – Last night, Chris Bourque got an AHL call-up to play some 4th line and skate hard for Coach Boudreau. As I sat in my seat during the first period, I saw an unmistakable 5’11” defenseman with perfectly-coiffed hair walking up from his lower level seat to the concourse. I tipped my beer towards him when he saw me staring and he smiled and waved. I don’t think anyone else sitting around him knew who he was. I mentioned his presence to Davies, who in turn, pointed him out to Leonsis and Bettman. You’re welcome, Ray.
- TED LEONSIS!!! Leonsis has been well-documented as a true class act in the circle of NHL Owners, so much of what I could write here would be repetitive. However, I will add that the man is a true Rinkside Diplomat. Upon entering a suite full of Czech dignitaries and 6’4″ hockey bloggers, he went around the room and personally introduced himself. At one point between periods, I was able to congratulate them on their big day of deals (Fedorov, Huet, Cooke, Giroux), and you could tell that he was excited. The Caps resigned themselves before the work stoppage to rebuild, and while Leonsis realizes that that was the best way to attain a Stanley Cup, it’s long and arduous. This man has a competitive fire, and he wants to win. So when they go out and get a Top Ten goalie and veteran leadership at the trade deadline, you can tell that the Caps have finally said, “We’re ready.” Leonsis’ demeanor exudes this excitement.
- And aside from being a classy host, he owns a hockey team for one reason: because he’s a fan. Whenever possible, he sat in the front row and studied the game. When the Brooks Laich show commenced with an early first-period goal, he was on his feet high-fiving those around him, including the towering Prime Minister from the Czech Republic. With a minute-eighteen remaining and a 4-1 lead, someone in my row said, “Ted, I think you can light the cigar now.” Leonsis’ response? “I just don’t want to see anyone get hurt.” It wasn’t until the final buzzer that the man in charge exhaled and smiled. Caps win.
To Mr. Leonsis, thanks again for allowing me to join you last night. You remain the Official Preferred Owner of Melt Your Face-Off. Let’s go Caps.
Answer Key: 1.) D