The "voice of the Washington Capitals," Steve Kolbe, was back at the microphone, blue-and-white confetti swirled and hundreds of fans shouted, "Let's Go, Caps!"
For a moment yesterday in the courtyard of Arlington County's Ballston Common Mall, die-hard fans could pretend that they were rinkside again as they watched an "ice-breaking" ceremony for the team's new practice center, planned for an addition to the top level of the mall's parking garage.
After a bleak winter without professional ice hockey because of the ongoing player lockout, local fans reconnected yesterday.
"I've been very depressed," said Debbie Hove, a season ticket holder from Alexandria, who wore a Capitals Authentic Training Gear T-shirt for the event. "At least I was able to put my shirt on and know I'm going somewhere."
The celebration for the $42 million facility was tempered somewhat by uncertainty about next season. The National Hockey League and the players union are still in contract talks. Absent from the audience yesterday were any of the team's current members.
Ted Leonsis, majority owner and chairman of the Capitals, sought to reassure the crowd.
"My vibe is we will be playing," he said, standing beneath an enormous white banner that read, "Future Home of the Washington Capitals."
Scheduled to open in August 2006, the training center would be the first full-size indoor rink inside the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia and would bring the Capitals closer to home ice at MCI Center. The Capitals now practice at Piney Orchard Ice Rink near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
The two NHL-regulation rinks planned for Ballston would provide lots of ice time to the area's youth and adult hockey players and figure skaters.
Amir Tahami, an amateur hockey player from Arlington who drives to Fairfax to compete, called the concept and Metro-accessible location "brilliant."
"It's ridiculous not to have an ice rink where the people are," said Tahami, a yoga teacher and computer consultant.
Outside the mall, young hockey players took rapid-fire shots on goal nets set up along Wilson Boulevard, which was partially closed for the afternoon. Families collected autographs from former stars, such as Rod Langway, the Hall of Fame defenseman. Langway, who joined the Capitals in 1982, said he remembered practicing at a Mount Vernon ice rink where players changed and lifted weights in portable trailers.
Arlington is a co-investor in the project, contributing $6 million to add an eighth level to the county-owned parking garage. The Capitals will lease the space from the county.
County officials hope that hockey fans will shop at the mall and stay in local hotels for weekend skating events. The Capitals hope that the central location and up-to-date facility will attract talented players and inspire new fans.