Capitals' New Ice Nearly Ready

Officials and members of the media check out one of the ice rinks at the new headquarters of the Washington Capitals at Ballston Common Mall.
Officials and members of the media check out one of the ice rinks at the new headquarters of the Washington Capitals at Ballston Common Mall. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Washington Capitals and Arlington County provided a sneak peek yesterday of the new Caps headquarters and ice rinks built atop Ballston Common Mall, a complex that they hope will bring the team closer to its fans -- and provide valuable ice time for youth hockey leagues and recreational skaters.

The ice center, which sits eight stories above North Glebe Road and North Randolph Street, will have two NHL-size ice rinks, offices and a training facility for players.

Next week, the center will get its name after officials announce the company that has bought naming rights.

During the season, the team will hold two-hour practice sessions at the center's main rink, which has 1,200 seats and a high-tech scoreboard. The practices, likely to start in December, will be open to the public.

Starting next month, the ice center will be available for the community to use when the Capitals aren't practicing, which will be more than 90 percent of the time, officials said. The center will be home to the hockey teams from Georgetown and George Washington universities, six high schools and several youth programs.

Arlington officials were on hand yesterday to tout the $42 million facility as a cool amenity for the Ballston area. They say it's a spot where parents can take their kids to watch hockey practice and meet the pros.

The main rink also has just enough seats for a U.S. Figure Skating Association regional competition.

County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman (D) said Arlington now has the cache of having a professional sports team based there as well as "a great new facility that will serve the public, who can use it even more than the Caps will be using it for their practices."

The center will be a boon for long-suffering hockey parents who have had to ferry their children long distances at odd hours for ice time, said Tom Newman, a hockey dad and the director of the real estate development group for Arlington's economic development office.

"There's a saying in the hockey community that cows can't skate, but that's where the rinks are," said Newman, coach of the hockey club at nearby Yorktown High School.

At some packed suburban rinks, games can start as early as 6 a.m., and college and older youth teams often play from midnight until 2 a.m., Newman said.

The public-private effort to build the center, on four acres of concrete on top of a municipal parking garage, was a creative use of space in dense Arlington, where open land is at a premium, Zimmerman said. The ice weighs no more than an office would, county officials said.

The county financed the project through bonds to be repaid by the Capitals during a nearly 30-year lease.

For the Capitals, the move means that the team will no longer be spread around the region. Players have been practicing since 1991 at Piney Orchard Ice Arena, a no-frills rink in Anne Arundel County, and playing games at Verizon Center, in Northwest Washington.

Nate Ewell, the Capitals' director of media relations, said that about 100 fans attend weekday practices and as many as 1,000 show up for weekend sessions. But the team expects more observers at the new facility, which is on Metro's Orange Line.

"We've moving closer to our fans, and our players are all moving in [to Arlington] as well," Ewell said.

That includes star left wing Alexander Ovechkin, who will be able to Rollerblade to practice.

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