Even Before His Prediction, Koken Was Known for Good Calls

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, May 4, 2009; 12:23 PM

With less than 10 minutes remaining in the Washington Capitals' dramatic Game 7 victory over the New York Rangers last Tuesday, Comcast SportsNet hockey broadcaster Al Koken went on camera from his usual front-row position at Verizon Center and offered the following prediction.

"I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the 39-year-old Sergei Fedorov have something to say about this one before we're done," Koken said.

About four minutes later, his prescient hunch became rousing reality when Fedorov broke a 1-1 tie and scored the game-winning goal with 4 minutes 59 seconds remaining in the third period. The series-clinching shot vaulted the Capitals into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1998 and further elevated Koken's well-deserved reputation as an astute analyst of Washington's hottest sports franchise.

Koken has been accepting slaps on the back and congratulatory e-mails and telephone calls from fans and friends ever since, and he admitted a few days later: "I've been amazed and really amused by it. I'm getting a lot of people asking me, 'How are you on picking lottery numbers?' I'm having some fun with it. Now, if I had predicted Matt Bradley would score two goals in Game 5, that really would have been a headline."

Still, the Fedorov prediction was more than just a good guess. A few minutes before he went on camera, Koken had seen the Capitals' oldest player whoosh down the ice and make a stunning move and pass that nearly resulted in another breathtaking goal.

"I was watching the period unfold," Koken said. "I sit at ice level, and he's a guy I keep my eye on a lot. There was just something in the way he and the rest of the team seemed to be coming alive. A few minutes before he scored, he'd made a great play, and I'm thinking to myself, 'That doesn't look like a 39-year-old guy.' There was something about the way he was playing, so why not him?

"A lot of it is he's Sergei Fedorov. Been there, done that. I keep telling people, it was Sergei. He's won 12 games in the playoffs like that. Why should anyone be surprised?"

And why would anyone be surprised that Koken could see it coming? After all, the St. Louis native has been a dedicated follower of a game he's never actually played ever since he scored a couple of free tickets from his uncle's company to watch the St. Louis Blues back in the 1960s. When those seats were unavailable, Koken said he often sneaked into Blues games any way he could and "just loved the sport from the start."

Koken also loved listening to the games on the radio. In a town that produced Hall of Fame baseball broadcasters such as Jack Buck and Harry Caray, Koken also grew up listening to the late, great Dan Kelly. The play-by-play voice of the Blues, Kelly also handled national network telecasts in the United States and Canada during the playoffs, calling 16 Stanley Cup finals between 1969 and 1988, a year before his death.

"To this day, one of my greatest thrills as a broadcaster was being treated like a true peer by Dan Kelly when I met him," Koken said. "He'd come to the old Capital Centre when I was doing games there and he'd actually ask me questions about the Capitals. I was being called into the company of greatness. It was really a cool thing to idolize a guy, and then to have that kind of relationship."

Koken came to Washington to attend American University and is a longtime veteran of local television and radio, handling weekend sportscasts at Channel 5 and Channel 9 and, this year, celebrating his 25th year doing hockey analysis and occasional play-by-play on local cable and over-the-air television. This year, he was a highly capable fill-in for seven games on Comcast SportsNet when regular play-by-play broadcaster Joe Beninati had a scheduling conflict calling national games on the Versus cable network.

Koken credits former Capitals general manager David Poile for giving him his big break as a hockey broadcaster. He had just left Channel 5 and knew the Capitals were looking for a color commentator, a job that almost always goes to a former player. Koken applied anyway, perhaps his first great hockey hunch.

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