Capitals radio play-by-play man John Walton was driving to Kettler Capitals Iceplex during training camp in September when he got a call from NBC. Having done play-by-play of college hockey and Stanley Cup playoff games for the network in the past, Walton figured the call was in regards to a similar future opportunity, but the conversation went in a different direction.
“They asked if I would be available and if I would be interested in doing women’s hockey for the Olympics, and I think when I heard the word ‘Olympics,’ I almost drove off the road,” Walton, who is in his seventh season with the Capitals, recalled Tuesday after first sharing the news on Twitter. “I was thrilled that they called, I’m honored that they asked and I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a trip of a lifetime.”
For Walton, his first Olympic assignment brings his career and his lifelong love of hockey, which was sparked as a kid growing up in Minnesota, full circle.
“My first hockey memory was watching the Miracle on Ice, albeit on tape delay, which I don’t think I understood at age 7,” Walton said of the United States’ 4-3 upset win over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Games. “The only thing that would be better than this would be the Capitals winning a Stanley Cup. To be able to be on the international stage, to be able to broadcast to a whole different, bigger, wider audience that tunes in every four years and that may or may not watch hockey on a day-to-day basis … Everybody watches the Olympics. To be able to be a part of that in some way, I didn’t expect it, but boy am I sure glad that they called.”
Walton will work with an analyst and a sideline reporter on his TV broadcasts from the Winter Games. Wizards radio announcer Dave Johnson will fill in on Capitals radio broadcasts while Walton is away, beginning with Washington’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Feb. 5. Hershey Bears announcer Zack Fisch will call the Capitals-Lightning game at Capital One Arena on Feb. 20 and Grady Whittenburg, who has called college and AHL games for nearly 30 years, will handle play-by-play duties for road games during Walton’s absence.
Not wanting to disrupt its regular season or risk injuries to its stars, the NHL prohibited players under contract from participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Several Capitals, including Alex Ovechkin, expressed their disappointment with the decision.
“I know our guys are disappointed and said as much, but it’s an opportunity for others that they may not have had,” Walton said. “For me, on the women’s side, I think the women are going to be unbelievably fun to watch. Team USA has come so close, and Canada and the rivalry they have, that first USA-Canada game is going to be amazing. I think that’s the thing I’m most excited about.”
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