By Matt Vensel
7:45 AM PDT, September 21, 2011
On Tuesday night, professional ice hockey was back in Baltimore for the first time since 1997. However, the ice -- which is kind of a key ingredient in ice hockey -- didn't hold up well inside of a steamy 1st Mariner Arena as the Nashville Predators shut out the Washington Capitals, 2-0, in the inaugural Baltimore Hockey Classic.
Outside of Baltimore, which sold out the event, the story line was the slushy ice conditions. It affected the quality of play on the ice, and after the game, several players admitted that they were worried about safety.
“The ice was soft but it’s over,” Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin said. “So thank God nobody got hurt.”
Added Predators defenseman Tyler Sloan, formerly of the Capitals: “Guys were ticked off a little bit because it was dangerous.”
After the first few shifts in the second period, it didn’t take a keen eye to see that the ice was starting to melt. Any time a player made the slightest cut, water sprayed in the air as if someone was riding a bicycle through a puddle.
As I wrote in a scene piece for Wednesday’s paper, most of people on hand didn’t seem to mind that the game featured sloppy play and a lot of dump-and-chase hockey. They were simply happy that pro ice hockey was back in Baltimore after a decade and a half. The majority of the fans I spoke with -- and former Capitals defenseman Rod Langway, too -- were optimistic that hockey could thrive in Baltimore.
Flaws as awkward sight lines, an outdated scoreboard that didn’t show replays of Nashville’s two goals or Ovechkin’s big hit on Ryan Ellis, or even something as subtle as the fact that the arena wasn’t keeping track of shots on the scoreboard can be overcome. But you have to get the ice right and make sure players are safe.
“They just didn’t get the building cold enough,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz told reporters afterward.
The poor playing conditions and player safety will have to be addressed if the city hopes to secure a minor-league hockey team in the immediate future. Making a Capitals exhibition game in Baltimore an annual event would help that effort. But will the Capitals be willing to come back? “Talks will begin in the coming days and a decision should be made in the coming months” about an exhibition game involving the Capitals returning to Baltimore, according to a source who was close to the negotiations for the first exhibition game.
Outside the Plexiglas, the event was a success. An announced 11,082 fans were inside the arena -- the majority of them in red jerseys, but a few in stuffy business suits -- and the crowd was knowledgeable and into the action from the first drop of the puck to the final horn. Baltimore hockey fans did their part.
But the city will likely need to build a new, modern arena for pro hockey to return to Baltimore full-time.
“There are hockey people everywhere. And they're out here. It's going to be a full house tonight,” Langway said during pre-game warm-ups. “If you build another rink -- a smaller one -- who knows?"
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