As a teenager, Jeff Halpern watched his heroes, legendary Washington Capitals captains Rod Langway and Dale Hunter, from the seats at Capital Centre.
They apparently taught him well.
Yesterday, Halpern, a native of Potomac and the only Maryland-born player to play in the NHL, was given the team's highest honor for an active player when he was named captain for the 2005-06 season.
Halpern's appointment was announced during a ceremony at Capitals' Fan Fest at Ballston Common Mall in Arlington, where the Capitals are having their new practice facility built. About 1,000 fans attended the event.
"I always looked up to those guys," Halpern said. "I was able to have Dale Hunter to talk to my first year when he had a job in the organization. Just being able to talk to him after games and after practices, it was an invaluable experience. And to play with Adam Oates and Steve Konowalchuk, there was a lot to learn. Hopefully, I took advantage of that."
"It's a pretty humbling experience," he added. "There are still a lot of guys here I can lean on here like Olie Kolzig and Brendan Witt. Those are guys who were veterans when I came into the league. I'm going to look up to them and talk to them about things."
Although the Capitals have many veteran leaders, Halpern, who was named the 12th captain in franchise history, has a connection to the organization and area that no other player can claim.
He played youth hockey for the Little Capitals in rinks across the Washington area, including Piney Orchard, the team's current practice arena. The 29-year-old attended countless Capitals games as a youngster with his father, Mel, who has been a season ticket holder since 1974.
When Halpern signed with the Capitals as a free agent in 1999, he took less money than what was being offered by other teams so that he could play in his home town.
"Jeff is worthy of this for a lot of reasons," General Manager George McPhee said. "He has the maturity, the talent, the experience, the leadership. But he has a neat perspective of this club that not many people with this club, or any club would have about their team."
"He's played with a couple of the captains here, and he's watched the captains from the seats and watched this organization over the years," McPhee added. "He's very, very proud to be a part of this team. And you certainly want that."
In 2003-04, Halpern finished the season with 19 goals and 27 assists for 46 points, establishing career highs in assists and points. He's also represented the United States in international competition and recently attended the 2006 U.S. Olympic orientation camp, where he was one of 39 players hoping to secure a spot on the team that will play in Turin, Italy, next February.