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The Caps and Bad Ice: A History

(TWP file photo by Lucian Perkins.)

I'm no Caps history savant, but it's clear that this week's flurry of complaints about the sloppy ice at Verizon are part of a long, proud, antacid-producing history of "bad ice!" swipes 'round these parts. Fans and ex-players have not forgotten. Last weekend, one fan asked legend Rod Langway about ice conditions in the '80s, during a Q&A session with the Capitals Fan Club.

"The Cap Centre was the worst," Langway said, to pained laughter. "Because of the humidity in the area, and we didn't have the technology and air-conditioning units that they have now. And also how many millions of dollars did Abe lose before he started making money? I mean, he wasn't gonna put a new air-conditioning unit in just for the ice."

The next fan asked about the fog in the Cap Centre.

"Oh, we were used to it," Langway said. "It was definitely the hottest rink in the League."

A third fan asked about playing without air conditioning in Boston.

"It was different," he said. "But again, the humidity was completely different. It could be 80 degrees out and the ice would still be ok in Boston. But you get the heat down here and the humidity, it heats up the ice and it just turns to slush."

And "turned to slush" it has, repeatedly, in four decades of D.C. pro hockey. You can read more about the latest complaints in The Post, The Times, Ted's Take and On Frozen Blog, but here's your brief history of bad D.C. ice.

Jan. 1979: After a tie with the Leafs, The Post provides "skating on thin ice" puns and serious complaints.

"The game started 15 minutes late, then lasted three hours, largely because of repairs required to make the ice playable. An inch think in some spots, it was almost gone in others....As for the thin ice, [Toronto Coach Roger] Neilson said, "It was really rough. It looked like it might go right down to the cement and we'd have to call the game off, but it got a little better as the game went on."

Washington Coach Danny Belisle felt the poor ice helped the Leafs, because "they just came in here to play Katy-bar-the-door and the slow tempo hurt us more than it hurt them."

March 1980: The Caps rout the Whalers in Gordie Howe's last D.C. appearance. And the ice stinks.

"Hartford scored some strange goals, although it never came close to catching up. There was suspicion that some of the crazy bounces were the result of poor ice, since a compressor broke down and icemaking proved difficult. 'They got some weird bloody goals,' [Caps Coach Gary] Green said. 'I'm not concerned with the way we played with the lead, but I was concerned about those crazy bounces out there.' "

April 1984: The Caps go down, 3-1, to the Islanders, after a contentious game marked by an equipment challenge and the old hole-in-the-glove penalty.

"[Caps Coach Bryan] Murray was furious about that decision and many, many others during a long, long game that was hampered by heat and bad ice as well as reluctance to call a halt to what eventually became a wrestling match."

Oct. 1985: And now the ice is again in the lede, after a disastrous tie against the Sabres.

"The puck stopped bouncing for the Washington Capitals last night. The ice was so bad at Capital Centre that it was fortunate when it bounced at all. Accordingly, a 2-2 tie with the Buffalo Sabres was a most equitable result. With a five-minute overtime period, the NHL game dragged well past three hours. The start of the third period was delayed while the resurfaced ice was given a chance to set. Then, with 3:16 remaining in regulation time, many of the 12,765 fans headed home while officials used ice shavings and carbon dioxide to fill a big hole in front of the Capitals' bench."

The ice was very wet and it was breaking away,' said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. 'There wasn't very much ice there. It sort of surprised us. And when two players came together near our bench, it dug a trench to the concrete.'...

"It seems hotter in here than last year and the ice was terrible," said defenseman Scott Stevens. "It's hot compared to other rinks, you sweat more and you lose more fluid. It's cooler in other rinks and it makes it easier to play."

Jan. 1987: The Flyers win on the road. And the ice is no good.

"The second period, which included three fights, a lot of bumping and numerous delays to repair the poor ice, was slogging toward a close more than an hour after it began when Zezel struck suddenly to double the Flyers' advantage."

Feb. 1987: Bob Carpenter is asked about the ice at MSG.

"Washington's ice is the worst in the league," he responded.

Nov. 1991: The Caps beat the Bruins, while wearing road red sweaters at home. And the ice sucks.

"It was very humid and very hot out there and the ice conditions were awful," goalie Mike Liut said. "It's hard for a goaltender to move across the crease, much less other guys to go up and down the ice."

Oct. 1992: Home opener at the Cap Centre. A new season, bringing better ice? Nah.

"This was only the second time the Capitals have played at Capital Centre this season. There was only one exhibition game here and they even have their pregame morning skate at their Piney Orchard practice facility. The ice there is better than at Capital Centre, but then most any is. The Rangers worked out at Capital Centre this morning and knew it to be that way. Bad ice makes the puck bounce instead of slide, though obviously both teams have to play on it.

'The NHL should have no tolerance for bad ice, not no holding in the corners,' Rangers Coach Roger Neilson said, referring to the NHL's stiffer rules this season. 'It was a tough night for defensemen to run up and join the play.' "

Dec. 1992: The Caps beat the Rangers in overtime. And the ice still merits mention.

"The Rangers were in command for the first 50 minutes. They were helped by the bad ice and an inept Washington power play, but it doesn't matter how it's done."

Jan. 1993: The new year has not improved matters, as the Caps beat the Oilers in an injury-plagued game.

"In the first period, Shaun Van Allen fell as he was chasing Hatcher behind the Capitals goal and hit the back of his head on the boards. He was taken off the ice on a stretcher and transported to Georgetown University Hospital, apparently with a concussion.Though it wasn't clear if bad ice caused Van Allen to fall, the ice was thin enough in places to see the grey cement. Two basketball games -- the Bullets' Friday night and Georgetown's yesterday afternoon -- didn't allow workers time to build up the ice, which isn't the best to begin with.

Nov. 1998: The NBA lockout does what decades of complains cannot.

"With no Wizards games to prepare for, the arena staff has had to cover the ice with the basketball floor less frequently this fall, although the building still hosts Georgetown games and occasional concerts. A few players said they have even noticed a small improvement in the ice as a result."

Oct. 2007: A new generation of stars picks up the old mantle of mess.

"I didn't want to shoot high because there were a lot of people over there," said Ovechkin, who complained about the ice conditions after a loss to the Canucks.

Dec. 2007: See above. This time, Chris Clark is left with a pulled groin.

"Clark stopped short of blaming the consistently poor ice conditions at Verizon Center for causing him to pull a muscle, but he said it might have been a contributing factor.

'There's a lot of ruts in the ice,' Clark said. 'It's soft. It's wet half the time. I could see a lot of injuries coming from the ice there. It could cost [players] their jobs.

'I've been trying to tell them" that the ice is a problem,' he continued. 'But it's been three years since I've been here, and it's the worst in the league. It's tough to play on. Even guys on other teams say the same thing. When we're facing off, they say, "How do you guys play on this?" ' "

Feb. 2008: Jeez, there's some passion here. A loss to the Thrashers prompts more unhappiness.

"Kolzig also pointed out the poor ice conditions, caused, in part, by the Georgetown men's basketball team's game earlier in the day. 'The ice was absolute garbage tonight," he said. "We couldn't settle the puck down or make flat passes. But they were playing on the same ice so we can't make any excuses.' "

April 2008: The Flyers say they were helped on the road by bad VC ice.

"Another thing that favored us was the condition of the ice," Daniel Briere said, according to the Times. "It was so bad that it was tough for guys like Semin, Backstrom and Ovechkin to get anything going, the ice was so bad. That was another thing that went our way."

Jan. 2009: The ice in Long Island might be bad, but it's not D.C. bad. From The Red Skate.

"It's the worst," Chris Clark said. "Today, [again, talking about Nassau] it just stayed wet for a little while. You could tell with the referees coming out and moving the water around a little bit. But I still say Verizon, playing on it all of the time, is the worst."

By Dan Steinberg  |  February 10, 2009; 10:56 AM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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As a relatively new Caps fan (since the 03-04 season), I'm glad to know there is a history of issues with the ice and no one has really endeavored to solve the problem, despite repeated complaints.

Posted by: ShariLeigh131 | February 10, 2009 12:13 PM | Report abuse

This story is summed up in four words:

Abe Pollin's Ugly Stepchildren

Until he gives up WS&E, I'm afraid nothing Ted does or says will make a difference.

Posted by: kateterp | February 10, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

1.) giant revolving doors at VC entrances. keeps cold air in and hot air out
2.) giant expensive de-humidifier. cost <<<< $$ paid to players replacing injured guys
3.) zamboni the ice BEFORE the intermission promos
4.) hire me to execute this genius 3-part plan

Posted by: ThisGuy | February 10, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

you're really getting you money's worth out of that research intern.

Posted by: dimesmakedollars | February 10, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Although I've been a Caps fan since I was a kid in the 1970s, I didn't recall all this history with bad ice. But it does actually give an explanation for all of the Caps' collapses in the playoffs in the 1980s and 1990s. Like the explanation that one of the reasons the Cubs faded every year was because of all their day games, the Caps were worn down by having to play half their games in a much hotter building than other teams played in--where they lost more fluids (as Scott Stevens said).

*For the record, I'm not serious that it explains those collapses, but it's still kind of interesting.

Posted by: TheFingerman | February 10, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Is it coincidental that they go to the finals the one year they had halfway-decent ice because of the NBA lockout?

Posted by: dc_homer | February 10, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

I take that back. They were awful 98-99. It was the season before that they went to the finals.

Posted by: dc_homer | February 10, 2009 1:55 PM | Report abuse

This is really upsetting to think that our play may be hampered by unsatisfactory playing surface. Not to mention someone could get seriously hurt because of it.

Dan, what do you think needs to be done to solve this?

Posted by: CapsGurl | February 10, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, 1998 stanley cup finals was in the June 1998, so prior to the NBA lockout.

Maybe we should get Dan to ask Feds if he recalls the ice being awful for that final?

Posted by: RedBirdie | February 10, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Abe Pollin has allegedly refused to buy the dehumidifiers that are needed for the ice to be acceptable. And he's the landlord. That is the problem in a nutshell. If true, it is just another example of that old fart doing his best to screw the Caps over.

Posted by: poguesmahone | February 10, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

My kids play youth hockey and both have played on the VC ice (either a full game at 3 PM before a 7 PM start or the mini game between periods) and both of them have complained about the ice being soft and slow. Now imagine how it is for adults three and four times their size.

Posted by: dingogumby | February 11, 2009 9:52 AM | Report abuse

There's a great story that goes with the Van Allen concussion. After the game, Glen Sather (then the Edmonton GM, now the Rangers GM) goes to check on him at Georgetown hospital. According to the story, the doctor's tell Sather that Van Allen will be fine, and that he's still a little disoriented and doesn't know who he is right now. Sather, without missing a beat, says, "Tell him he's Wayne Gretzky."

Dunno if it's true, but it would be in line with Slats' sense of humor... :)

Posted by: MikeL-Caps91 | February 11, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

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