The Caps, DJ Stretch and Verizon Center's warmup music
It's not that hard to do something that no one in the history of the world has even done before. Right now, for example, I'll become the first person in world history to ask whether Rod Langway should more properly be compared to Gruyere or to Comte.
But to do something that's actually cool, that no one in the history of the world has ever done? That's more of a challenge. And I'm guessing that Brett Leonhardt is the first man in the history of the world to both suit up as an NHL player and work the turntables before an NHL game.
"How many guys do you know, Bloggy, that have played in the NHL and now DJ in the NHL?" Brooks Laich asked me this week. "He's a weapon."
Indeed, Stretch -- as Leonhardt is known in Ballston -- has put together one of the more interesting resumes you'll find. Hired as a Web site producer, the former collegiate goalie famously suited up for a game two years ago, which made him an enduring fan favorite, and he still occasionally fills in between the pipes as needed.
But editing video and blocking pucks aren't his only marketable skills. When he was in 8th grade, Leonhardt went to a hip-hop show featuring Biz Markie, the Beastie Boys, Tribe Called Quest and other luminaries. The DJ's got his attention.
"I saw how the crowd reacted to a good hip hop DJ, and I was addicted," he told me, when I interviewed him for like the 17th time in the past year.
His mom had always encouraged him to pursue music so he wouldn't be seen as just a jock, and after a childhood of playing bass and drums, his instrument of choice became the turntable. He began playing with a friend's equipment, and then got his own. He spun at house parties and for friends. He amassed a massive amount of vinyl, and he continued this pursuit when he got his Caps gig. And so when the team was preparing for its party cruise up the Potomac this past summer, Community Relations Director Elizabeth Wodatch suggested he provide the entertainment.
Now, this cruise involved people like Dick Patrick and George McPhee, so Leonhardt didn't do a straight hip-hop set, instead including some oldies and soul and classic rock. He was such a hit that Director of Game Entertainment Mike Wurman suggested he provide the team's warm-up accompaniment during the home opener, and after Stretch provided a 16-minute playlist, it was on. The original deal was just for one game, but players and fans liked it so much that Leonhardt is now set to continue his run indefinitely.
"We love it," said Mike Green, who said the Caps might now have the best warmup music in the NHL. "I mean, I think it's important for us to get excited for the game and pumped up, and warmups is where you get ready. The music's great now. It used to be terrible, just old rock songs, kind of slow, that couldn't really get you going."
"I love it," Alex Ovechkin told me. "I think all guys love it, how it works. And it's good stuff before the game; we just listen to good songs and get into the game right away."
"I've been skating around singing to this stuff," Karl Alzner added. "I think it's pretty unique to have somebody actually there, live, spinning. Pretty neat."
"He's fantastic," Laich said.
"His size is pretty big," Ovechkin pointed out, "but he looks good over there as DJ."
Leonhardt's mixes are expansive, sprawling things: his setlists (which are posted online) range from Neil Young to Jay-Z, from Foo Fighters to Lil' Wayne, from Pearl Jam and Nirvana to Wu-Tang Clan and the Chemical Brothers. One night, he relied heavily on Canadian bands, earning post-game props from several players. Another night, he mixed in some Bodyrox house music taken from Ovechkin's iPod, which also includes Tupac, Akon, DJ Smash, and a lot of Russian dance music. Some players have already given suggestions, and others are lying in wait.
"We would love to have a country music warmup, a few of us," Alzner confessed.
"Wheeeewww,' Leonhardt whistled at that idea. "That will not happen. I'll say this, if Alzner has a game where he gets multiple goals, then I'll play an All-Country Night, you can print that."
He also promised an All-Ovi-iPod Night if Ovechkin registers any five-goal performances, but there are already plenty of hockey touches. He'll loop the "O-V" from Jay-Z's "H to the O-V" refrain, mix in Steve Kolbe and Ron Weber goal calls over instrumental beats, and highlight Wale's occasional Ovechkin name-drops.
"The one thing I want to see us get is our own signature song," Laich suggested. "If you go to certain towns, you know, stepping on the ice, what they're gonna play. So I want teams to know coming into Washington, you step on the ice, and oh God, we're back in Washington, we have bad
bed memories here. We have to find something that fits our identity. That'll come along."
In the meantime, Leonhardt will continue performing his third major job for the Caps.
"Anything I can do to help," he said.
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