Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Best Time of the Year

Let me start out the first blog on my hockey-only site by being perfectly clear about one thing: make no mistake, I am a Washington Capitals fan. Have been for 35 years or so and always will be. Definitely a die-hard who has died hard many, many times. Hopefully there are more good times ahead for this tortured franchise and its fan base; it certainly looks like the future is bright in D.C.

But wait, before all you Rangers, Penguins and Flyerss fan click on the "back" button and move on to another potentially more friendly blog, let me say that I also am a huge fan of the game in general. I coach my son's squirt travel team in Baltimore and have been coaching youth hockey for about six years now. I fell in love with the game as a kid and still get as excited to play, coach and watch it now as I did 30-plus years ago.

For nine years I worked for Cal Ripken, Jr. and Ripken Baseball, helping develop the youth and amateur baseball business for him and his brother Bill, before starting my own sports management and marketing firm about 15 months ago. One of the main reasons that I left the Ripken group was to take what I had learned from Cal and Bill and apply it to other athletes in other sports. My company, API, currently represents an up-and-coming world-class softball pitcher, Angela Tincher, and Kyle Harrison, one of the world's top lacrosse players. They are two incredible athletes who compete in lesser-known sports, so if we can help grow their sports and position their brands and identities properly within those sports, hopefully we can provide them with an opportunity to make a living doing what they love and give more kids an opportunity to have meaningful sports-related experiences.

Another of my dreams is to grow the sport of hockey in this country. I have been skating since I was four and playing since I was six. My son was on skates when he was two. I was at a public skating session with future Hall of Famer Mike Gartner when I was maybe 8-years-old, and he challenged me to a race. Said he'd buy me a Coke if I could beat him around the rink. Well, he let me lead until the very end and then blew past me (remember, he has the NHL record time in the fastest skater competition). Then he slowed down and put his arm around me and told me what a great skater I was (I won't hold that lie against him). Later he signed a photo and personalized it: "To Scott, A Future Cap." He set the hook, reeled me in and a lifelong hockey fan was born. See, it doesn't take much, and that's the lesson I try to convey to my clients.

So, as a hockey fan and a sports professional who is trained as a journalist, I will attempt for the most part to provide both sides to most issues you will read about here. However, I can't promise that there won't be a Caps slant at times. And you can't convince me that the NHL will let Ovechkin win a Cup before Crosby, but I won't bore you with the conspiracy theories.

The truth of the matter is that while I may occasionally slip up and mention my distate for the likes of the aforementioned Mr. Crosby, his pal Geno, Sean Avery, Scott Hartnell, Mike Richards, and so on, at the end of the day it's those guys, the way they approach the game and their personalities that create passion for the sport and help make hockey the great game that it is. Without them, the game just wouldn't be the same, so it's definitely a hate-love relationship.

Even though April has been a less-than-stellar month for the Caps, this is still my favorite time of the year. Nothing beats wearing shorts to a hockey game, because that means that it's Cup time and my team is still around. I've been to Final Fours, World Series, NFL championhip games, all-star games and more sporting events than I could ever count. In fact, Bill Ripken once said that I had attended more sporting events that anyone else on the planet. But, when all is said and done, nothing - and I mean nothing - comes close to the atmosphere and excitement generated by a Stanely Cup playoff game.

Let the fun begin, and here's hoping that your team plays well into the spring - unless you are a Rangers, Flyers or Pens fan. A brief preview of the playoffs to follow shortly. But I have to hurry and leave for Verizon Center soon...enjoy the playoffs!

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