Beninati, Laughlin Put the 'Biscuit in the Basket'

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By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, October 21, 2008; 3:44 PM

As a teenager growing up in the Long Island suburbs, Washington Capitals broadcaster Joe Beninati was always The Voice of any sport he ever played, often offering an impromptu running play-by-play commentary for his friends even as he also was participating in a street hockey game here, a lacrosse game there.

Back then, he said he frequently fell asleep with a radio not far from his pillow listening to the great Marv Albert doing games of the N.Y. Rangers and N.Y. Knicks. Still, as a biology major at Bowdoin College a few years later, Beninati hardly expected to take a career path that eventually would lead him toward the same profession as his childhood broadcasting hero.

It began when a couple of college friends talked him into working at the school's radio station while he was recovering from a hockey injury his freshman season. By his sophomore year, a Brunswick, Maine cable station asked him to start doing play-by-play on local high school events, and eventually he became Bowdoin's sports information director.

Beninati also was hired to broadcast games of the local American Hockey league team and spent five years riding team busses up and down the east coast, also serving as the club's public relations director and traveling secretary. Washington's Channel 20, then handling the Capitals broadcasts, hired him in 1994 and he's been covering the team ever since.

Beninati is now in his 14th season as the Capitals television play-by-play man, and also handles a busy schedule of national NHL telecasts for the Versus network, interspersed with a number of college football games he covers every fall. At 42, he's become one of the most respected play-by-play men in hockey, while also developing a reputation as a voice for all seasons and any sport.

At the moment though, Beninati said he can't remember having the same sense of anticipation for a Capitals hockey season as the feeling he's had ever since the team's stirring run to get into the playoffs last year, also accompanied by a surge in the number of fans who helped boost the team's television ratings exponentially.

"This is the kind of team you dream about," Beninati said in a recent interview. "They have such a nice blend of offensive talent and defense and the best player in the league, in my opinion (Alex Ovechkin). We know they have a great deal of expectations on them, but it should be a great ride."

As well as a great listen.

Beninati and his analyst partner, former Capital Craig Laughlin, also have been together since 1994 and have developed into one of the game's premier broadcasting teams. For casual fans who now seem to be paying more attention, they have the ability to both educate and entertain, particularly with Laughlin's seemingly helium-fueled voice, his occasional mangling of the language and his signature "biscuit in the basket" expression.

These guys clearly love what they're doing, particularly now that the Capitals have transformed into a hockey team with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations.

"This team has gone from having some very lean years where you really earn your keep doing the games," Beninati said. "You do your best to keep viewers interested, and all those tough years have helped make us better television producers and announcers. We had to work even harder to keep the public interested, and that's certainly going to carry over in our coverage of a very exciting team."

Over the years, hockey always has had the reputation of a sport that is far more fan-friendly up close and personal in the arena. Trying to follow a speeding puck while watching at home can be frazzling at times, despite all the super slo-mo replays of shots on goal. But with the advent of high-definition TV, the game has become much more visually palatable for viewers investing in the technology.


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