The Inaugural Capitals Convention was today at the Gaylord Resort at the National Harbor. It was supposed to be modeled after events held by the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago Blackhawks, and the announcement of this event had a lot of long-time season ticket holders worried that it would supplant the now annual season ticket holder party. The Capitals organization constantly stated that the Convention and the season ticket holder party were not connected at all, and in fact, an email was sent out two weeks ago announcing the date of the party. And the Convention was today.
Season ticket holders were given an extra hour in the exhibit hall to purchase used equipment, buy souvenirs and otherwise take in the exhibits, before the rest of the "general admission" tickets were admitted. Pat and I arrived around 9:30, mainly because I didn't feel like getting up this morning after a very long week at work. We'd parked in the Gaylord parking garage, and knowing we'd be there most of the day, I wasn't particularly happy about being slapped with a $19 parking fee. Even the $11 that others reported paying off site wasn't really a "bargain," though I should have known that at a "resort hotel," everything would be overpriced and underwhelming. At least the spaces in the garage were "normal sized," plus we managed to get a parking space next to Clyde and his new Miata top.
The first thing we noticed was that the line to sign up for the autograph sessions was long, really long. We opted to just go into the exhibit hall (bypassing all the general admission people who were grumbling about waiting) to see what it looked like. The "History Lesson" session was taking place on the main stage when we entered, but the sound was pretty bad if you were standing against the skills "rink," and we decided to go look at what was available at the jersey shop. The equipment sale line was crazy long and the interactives were dominated by kids, so there wasn't much else to do at this point.
I saw a couple of shirts I was interested in, but Pat was fixated on the jerseys. Since Brashear signed with the Rangers, Pat had decided that Brashear was "dead to him." He wanted another jersey, but he wanted an American-born player, and preferably one who would stay with the team for at least a few years. We'd been discussing this (along with Clyde) for the last couple of weeks, and even on the way down to the Convention, Pat had mentioned sadly that new Capital Mike Knuble was from Toronto and had only signed a one year contract. So, it was no surprise that he was glancing between the Poti and Steckel jerseys hanging along the back wall. He tried on the L/G Steckel jersey, and I knew his decision had been made. He took his claim to the first line of the day, and I went to check in for autographs.
I picked a 4-5PM timeslot at first, and when I came back to Pat (still in line to pay for the jersey), I told him I knew it was during one of the panel sessions he wanted to go to, but I was going back with his (the other) ticket, and I'd get a different session then. I was just about at the actual window to get the second wristband when Pat showed up with his new jersey in hand, and I gave him the 1:30-2:30 band, telling him that I hoped he'd get Tyler Sloan to sign the Sloan CD he'd brought with him.
Pat headed upstairs to sit in on a panel discussion about the media coverage of the Capitals. That was really no surprise, since Pat's a photojournalist by trade and while he was trained by the Air Force and he currently works for an Army affiliated group, I'm sure he wouldn't mind covering the Capitals (or Nebraska football... and I think Nebraska would win if it came down to those two!). I told him I might come up to join him, but I wanted to wander around some more in the exhibit hall.
I took some pictures of the various trophies on display -- it was very much like the Hockey Hall of Fame set up with these -- but I was sorely disappointed that the Stanley Cup wasn't present. Was this a ploy by the Penguins to irritate the Capitals fans? I'm not sure what the "rules" are when it comes to public showing of the Stanley Cup, but every other trophy was there except for the Calder Trophy (for the top rookie). The Kelly Cup for the ECHL Champion (South Carolina Stingrays) was there, and I think the Calder Cup for the AHL Champion (Hershey Bears) was there too. Why not Lord Stanley, unless someone couldn't part with it for a night?
I ended up joining Pat in the panel discussion, which was very good. Frank Brown, the NHL Director of Media Relations, was the moderator, and Jon Press, Lindsay Czarniak, Corey Masisak, Joe Beninati, Craig Laughlin and Steve Kolbe were on the panel. It was a real show of camaraderie, as it was evident how much the broadcasters as a whole enjoyed working with each other, especially Kolbe, Beninati and Laughlin. Press, a blogger, and Masisak, a beat writer, seemed a bit out of their element in front of an audience, but when handed the microphone, they could still hold their own.
Afterwards, Pat and I looked around a bit for food, and we weren't impressed with the options on site. Instead, we meandered back toward the exhibit hall so that Pat could get in line for the autograph session. He was in group B, and I had chosen correctly for Tyler Sloan... except Sloan was in group C, along with Tom Poti. Group B was Shaone Morrisonn and Chris Bourque. I suggested to Pat that he try to switch wrist bands with someone from group C, since we are SCCA experts at removing wristbands. He considered it, but ultimately decided to just get in the "B" line. I guess he's hoping that Sloan makes the big team this time, and that he can meet him at Kettler.
We looked at the trophies some more and waited in the line to see the mock locker room setup, which was cool in some respects (the real Jose Theodore mask and the real Semyon Varlamov pads, albeit from Hershey, for instance), and completely lame in other respects (the wrong jerseys hanging (logo forward) in some "lockers").
We had some downtime after the autographs, and so we hit the hotel's atrium for lunch. We opted for the buffet place, at a mere $23.50 apiece, and while there, Steve Kolbe stopped by and chatted with me for a few minutes, which was very cool. Pat was kind of astonished when he came back from getting a second helping to see Kolbe talking to me about attending games in Philadelpha. One of the most interesting things he said to me was that he really wanted to place a bid on the Eastern Conference Champions banner that was available in the silent auction, but he also thought a fan should get it. His desire for the banner was due to the fact that he'd first announced for the Capitals in that season. I asked him, "But aren't you a huge fan of the team too?" I have to wonder if he did end up bidding on it.
Heather was at the Convention too (along with Julie -- one of our skating friends -- and Kelly -- who has season tickets next to us), and while we were trying to eat that late lunch, she was spazzing that she wasn't going to get Semyon Varlamov's autograph. Like me choosing Pat's session, she'd chosen the correct time, but didn't get the right stage (B vs. C, just like Pat). So, she wanted me to snap a few shots of Varlamov for her while she languished in the other line.
I got in line for my autograph session soon after, because I wanted to go to a panel session at 4:30, so I wasted a good 40 minutes of my time just standing around so that I could be one of the first to get an autograph. I didn't even know who would be in my session until about 3:40 when Pat came over with his newly purchased Steckel jersey.
Alexandre Giroux and David Steckel were the two players I would get autographs from. Not being a psycho about getting autographs, I hadn't really brought anything to get signed, so it was a good thing Pat had brought some ticket stubs and given me the jersey. Otherwise, I would have felt like a total fool. At least the stub he gave me was from a game where Giroux had played (the preseason game again the Blackhawks last Wednesday). As I presented it to him, I remarked that he had been robbed several times in that game, and he completely agreed. While he may have set a new record in the AHL for goals scored, he has still struggled to get the puck past the goal line in the NHL.
I told Steckel that the jersey belonged to my boyfriend, who'd bought it because he was an American born player, and Steckel responded, "I like his style." I amended that Pat hoped he'd stay for more than just one more year, and Steckel replied, "I'll work on that." I hope he does. I think that game six against the Pens in the playoffs really upped his fan approval, considering the number of Steckel jerseys I saw today, and his faceoff ability is only matched by Boyd Gordon's.
I headed upstairs immediately so that I could hit the "Dropping the Gloves" breakout, and on the way, I saw Eric Fehr heading downstairs. I asked him, "Aren't you late?" as I was pretty sure he was supposed to be with Jose Theodore in the group B autograph signing, and his reply was, "I'm on time!" with a big grin, as if he knew he was going to be reamed for being late.
The "Dropping the Gloves" panel was moderated by Steve Kolbe, and the panelists were John Erskine, Alan May, Gary Rissling and Ken Sabourin. Seeing Sabourin at the back of the room before the session began, I asked him why he was there, since I didn't remember him getting into that many fights when he played. He remarked that he used to be "worse" when he played for Calgary. This was another good panel, as the stories told about the penalty box and the opposing players fought were very good. The most awkward moment came when someone asked about how incidents like the Patrick Kane idiocy were breakdowns of "turning off the fighter," but all of the (former) players agreed that what happened with Kane wasn't normal, and that any professional player can turn off the fighter off ice.
Heather and her friend Dennis were ready to leave after the session, so while Pat went to get my skates and jacket from the car (since I'd left them with her after our skating class on Wednesday, instead of trying to carry a duffel with hockey skates into the Verizon Center), I waited to ask Alan May a question I'd been dying to know the answer to for over fifteen years.
"A guy I went to college with swore up and down that he was close personal friends with you, to the point of 'calling you' during our chemistry lab one day. I just have to know... do you know Craig Fitch?"
May immediately responded with, "Do you mean Fitchette?" and I confirmed that (Fitch was his nickname). Then he asked, "Where did you go to school?" I told him, "Western Maryland, but I think Craig was working on his second bachelor degree then." May nodded, "Yeah, I knew him from when he was at Princeton..." After over fifteen years, I finally had my skepticism erased about Fitch's association with Alan May. So, that phone call during lab was for real after all...
My other question was about his propensity towards instigation via goaltender interference. I asked him if he feared certain goaltenders, like Ron Hextall. He said that Hextall was a lot less scary when he faced him than if it had been a few years earlier. He also pointed out how small Hextall was outside the pads, which I know, since I'd met Hextall at one of the Flyers' fan club activities.
So, it was cool talking to Alan May for a few moments at the end of the panel. I then went to the room next door for the athletic trainer's panel, and texted Heather to tell Pat where I was (since I knew he didn't have a phone). He popped in shortly thereafter, then went next door to watch the "'Bear' Facts" breakout session.
Not many people were at the session I attended, but I guess since no players were there, there was a lot less interest in the discussion from the general populace. Ken Sabourin was the moderator for this group, and I was chosen to ask my question, which was in reference to my teaching. I asked how high school students interested in being athletic trainers should prepare themselves, and the head trainer (Greg Smith) said that they should consider if they want to go the sports medicine or the physical therapy route (he's evidently done both!), then choose the school appropriate to their decision. The strength training coach, Mark Nemish, also suggested networking as an important tool to getting into the "big leagues."
Pat gave some funny stories from the session he went to, including a question asked of Karl Alzner about the craziest thing a female fan has done. :o
We went downstairs again to scan around the exhibit hall one last time. The line to get into the Capitals Shop was gone. The equipment sale was essentially done. Even the late autograph sessions were poorly subscribed, likely because everyone knew there was zero chance of Ovechkin being in the last session (since he was signed up to do photographs then).
Besides Heather, Clyde had also already left, when his autograph session included Ovechkin... at another line (gee, sounds familiar). His line was Milan Jurcina and Tomas Fleischmann. I wish he'd told me, because I would have gotten Jurcina's autograph. Oh well.
We surveyed surroundings, then decided we could wait until next Saturday to see the opening night video. Before leaving entirely, we did the "hard shot" interactive (the only one that didn't seem to be dominated by children under twelve).
We waited in one last line (to prepay for the parking), then came home.
Knowing it was the first attempt at this sort of thing, and knowing there are 4998 other people with opinions (me and Pat being the other two of the 5K passes sold), I'll just sum up our pros and cons here.
* Season ticket holders had extra time (over the general admission ticket) to survey the souvenirs and the game/used equipment
* Breakout sessions that we attended were fun AND informative
* Interactive sessions with puck shooting, etc. were interesting
* Availibility of players and others was good
* Some of the "players" were very polite and accessible -- including Ted Leonsis, Bruce Boudreau, Steve Kolbe, Al Koken, and Gary Bettman
* Honest attempt to include children in the Convention.
* All players -- current and possibly-current were available for autographs.
* Very inexpensive ticket costs.
* Most of the NHL trophies available to look at.
* One hour extra was not nearly enough extra time for the season ticket holders
* Breakout sessions did not have enough room for the number of attendees, and there were a lot of people being disruptive via opening snack bags and talking to each other during the sessions
* I saw the various skills clinics on the schedule, and wanted to do one or more of them. But the overwhelming majority of participants in the interactives were children, and I felt like I shouldn't participate if it was meant for children. But I'm not sure it was meant that way.
* Lines for various things -- including getting souvenirs -- were out of control. I might have gotten a souvenir T-shirt if the line for such hadn't been ridiculously long from the moment of arrival. Pat waited a good 20+ minutes in the line to buy his Steckel jersey. I wanted some alumni autographs, but upon monitoring how quickly the line was moving, I realized that by the time I got to the table for signatures, chances were that the current players would have been replaced by other alumni by the time I got there.
* Some of the players were there for as short of a time as possible.
* There was no order to the alumni table autographs, and the line was inexcusably long. Of all the autographs I would have liked to get today, the alumni autographs were at the top of my list. I was very disappointed that the alumni line was the most sluggish, and the least predictable when it came to who would be seated upon arrival.
* Too few seats and very poor acoustics for the main stage.
* Too many children in then interactive sessions made it impossible (or at the very least, awkward) for adults who wanted to participate in stick skills or other clinics.
* The autograph sessions ran into breakout sessions too much. Too many people in some sessions with hardly as many in other groups.
* No photo-postcards or anything for the players to sign for people who didn't bring/buy something to get signed. The alumni table had an "autograph sheet" for signatures, but the regular player tables didn't even have that.
* Parking and food costs not disclosed until too late. Captive audience doesn't equal people who will pay anything -- I know some people just left the convention early to avoid paying the hotel $25 (or more for lunch), and they didn't come back.
* No Stanley Cup.
Other thoughts :
* Have a second room available. This would allow for a larger main stage, and more space for the autographs. The equipment sale and the preseason sale could also be expanded (meaning no line to get into the souvenirs). A second room where the interactives could be the primary thing would be cool, and could allow for kids and adults to compete but not against each other.
* let people know costs (parking, food, etc), ahead of time so they don't get slammed with ATM surcharges. $19 for parking is a bit exorbitant. On the other hand, the $175 Pat paid for the Steckel jersey is less than I paid for his Brashear jersey at Verizon Center.
After seeing Boyd Gordon and Michal Neuvirth at the A stage, we decided to call it a night. Something about needing to be up in time for a noon event on Sunday. At least I don't have to work on Monday!