The NHL season is still months away but there was still hockey to be played in the D.C. area on Thursday, as former Washington Capitals forward and longtime TV color commentator Craig Laughlin hosted his Network Hockey coaches vs. elite players game at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel. Though the annual event is a favorite part of Laughlin’s camp for both coaches and students alike, it’s extra special for Laughlin and his linemates, Courtney and Kyle, coaches who also happen to be his children.
“It’s a blast!” Kyle Laughlin said after the coaches’ 1-0 victory. “I don’t know how many people get to play with their dad, and their sister, too. I look forward to it every year. It’s awesome.”
For the second consecutive year, the coaches defeated the students. The win came with an asterisk, however, as the 15-9 score in favor of the students was abruptly wiped off the scoreboard with five minutes remaining.
“They got the big lead, so then we proposed a deal at the end,” Craig explained. “Five minutes, winner takes all. Because we had won last year, and they were winning this year, and we said, you know what? We can play hard for five minutes. We get the big goal, and all of a sudden, the Laughlins are victorious again.”
Despite the losing effort in the first 40 minutes of the running-clock game, sans refs, or rules in general for that matter, Laughlin still took some of the credit. He was the students’ lead instructor, after all. “They’re fast and good, in great shape, and we [the coaches] were old, slow, sluggish, and out of shape.”
As for the Laughlin line?
“We were first, second and third star,” Craig declared before the three discussed the finer details. After a few moments, Courtney and Craig agreed that Kyle deserved the first star, since he scored the game winner, while father and daughter split the second star.
About a decade into his broadcasting career, Laughlin started the Network Hockey Development Program in 2001 as a way to provide better hockey instruction for his children. The camp grew. In 2011, it moved from Piney Orchard to Laurel. But hockey is only a part of Laughlin’s camp, as he prepares his students not just to be better players, but better people.
“They’re really dedicated to the game,” Laughlin said of his students. “They have a great passion. The Caps I think have a lot to do with it, because the Caps rockin’ the red and all that have increased the growth of youth hockey players, and the excitement of Caps hockey has boiled over to the local ice rinks. So it’s been a big bonus to all the programs, all the rinks in the area, and it’s great to see young men and women playing.”
This year also marked only the second time the Laughlins have played together, last year’s game being the first. Though he has continuously run the camp from the ice, Craig Laughlin needed two hip replacement surgeries that prevented him from playing in such a competitive game prior to last year.
“My new hips are titanium. They make me faster, they make me more mobile, more agile. If I had had better wingers today I probably would’ve had a hat trick,” Laughlin joked. “Now I’m back to better than when I actually played for the Caps.”
When camp isn’t in session, Kyle Laughlin is a full-time student and graduate assistant at SUNY-Oswego, where he’s getting his MBA. Courtney Laughlin was the coach of Dematha’s varsity 2 team. She recently got her Masters Degree in Sports Management from Georgetown. She had also helped run drills in last year’s Caps Development Camp.
As for Craig Laughlin, he’s about to enter what he says is his ’24th or 25th year’ of broadcasting Caps games. He’s been affiliated with the Capitals organization for about 33 years, longer than everyone except for Vice Chairman and Chief Operating Officer Dick Patrick.
After reminiscing about Craig’s history with the Capitals, the Laughlin family got back to discussing their triumph over the Network Hockey students.
“If you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin,” Courtney said, repeating a life lesson passed on from dad.
Craig agreed. “No matter how you do it, it’s always fun to win.”