As it finally became clear that the NHL would have a season in 2013, starting sometime in mid-January, the hockey world began preparing. Caps players began flying into D.C., even before the new CBA was ratified. Fans reacquainted themselves with NBC Sports Network. And Alan May started ramping up his workouts.
May, of course, has been retired from hockey for nearly two decades. He’s now an analyst for Comcast SportsNet and an insider for ESPN 980, living in Bethesda nearly full-time during the hockey season to be close to the team he’s covering.
But hey, the start of a new season is the start of a new season, and the former Caps winger needed to prepare.
“I wanted to come back looking like Rambo,” May joked last week. “I spent two to three hours a day in the gym, and I’d go as hard as I can. You know what, there are some habits you never change. To me, you always get ready for the season. I don’t want to be the 300-pound former hockey player on television or in management. I’ve seen enough of those guys.”
That May would still prepare physically for a new season is perhaps less surprising when you learn how he wound up in his media role. After retiring from his playing career in the mid’-90s and then spending years in the front offices of minor-league hockey teams, May wound up working as a financial adviser in Texas. He had a fine office with a nice window, but said that every time he looked out that window he saw prison bars.
“It just wasn’t me,” he said. “There was always hockey on my [computer] monitors. The day I walked out of my office and left everything there, I had four screens filled with hockey. I just grabbed my car keys and my wallet and my phone and said that was it. Enough is enough. Hockey is what I’ve strived to be in my whole life.”
He already had coaching experience. Now, through an NHL alumni group, May enrolled in a broadcasting training program, landing a job as a radio analyst for the Dallas Stars before coming back to Washington – where he spent five of his eight NHL seasons — in 2009.
This Washington was different than the one he left, with a downtown arena and a vibrant new fan base, and May – who isn’t shy about hoping the Caps succeed – embraced his new role.
“I always considered myself a Washington Capital, even though I lived in Dallas forever,” he said. “I just love this area. I love the team. I love the arena. I love the energy. Getting off the metro, walking down the street to the arena, there’s a buzz about it. That never used to happen here. I don’t see that in Dallas. I don’t see that in a lot of markets. It’s incredible.”
May’s final NHL season as a player was the lockout-shortened 1994 campaign, but he had never lived through one as a broadcaster. During the extended break, he stayed in the Dallas area, serving as “the wingman for an 8-year old,” his youngest son, Brendan. He went to football practices and basketball games and “the most important thing: every hockey practice and game.”
He spent Christmas with his parents for the first time since 1988, rehabbed a knee injury, and – like every fan – immersed himself in the rumors and misinformation and false starts of lockout reporting. Unlike a great many fans, May thought the issues on the table were serious enough to merit a substantial discussion.
“The biggest thing I saw was they needed a market correction,” he told me. “I think the NHL really needed this.”
But now there’s a season, and May – who turned 48 last week — can resume his winter routine. He has six DVRs, and records every single NHL game. And while he won’t be on the ice during Tuesday’s home opener, at least he’s in the game.
“I’ve always been totally consumed with the National Hockey League,” he said. “It’s what I’ve done my whole life. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, was be involved with the National Hockey League. So I’ve had a very, very, very good life.”