Ice Not so Nice

In researching a story for the 10th anniversary of MCI Center/Verizon Center, I came across a lot of quotes from players at the time of the move. To a man, they were excited about going into the new and modern facility, and the main reason was because they believed the quality of the ice would be better there. Most of them believed that the ice at Capital Centre/USAir Arena was the worst in the league.

The conceprt of better ice at Verizon Center has never really come to fruition. Watching the puck bounce around like a tennis ball doesn’t make for great hockey, but what’s worse is it’s a dangerous surface for the players. Tom Poti’s groin injury was incurred during a home game in October, and now Chris Clark has been sidelined with a groin injury that was sustained on Verizon Center ice in a late November game. Poti — the team’s top defenseman — missed six games. The Caps posted a 1-5 record during his absence. Washington is 1-1 in the two games Clark has missed with a groin injury, and his status for this weekend’s games is still very much up in the air.

Not knowing whether or not the less than stellar ice conditions at Verizon Center were in any way reponsible for the injuries to Poti and Clark, I asked the Caps’ captain that question this afternoon.

“It could [be],” he replied. “There are a lot of ruts in the ice. It’s soft, it’s wet half the time. I could see a lot of injuries coming from the ice there. It could cost guys their jobs. I’ve been trying to work on getting it fixed. I’ve been going over the ice reports. I’ve been doing a lot of things to tell them that it’s there. But it’s been three years now that I’ve been here and it’s the worst in the league. It’s tough to play on. Even other guys on the other teams say the same thing. When we’re facing off against them, they’re like, ‘Oh boy. How do you guys play on this?’ So it’s tough. You’d think it would be to our advantage because we play on it. But it isn’t.”

The $50 million in improvements at Verizon Center this fall are stunning and noticeable, but those improvements need to be extended to the ice surface. The players are the most valuable asset to any pro sports franchise, and the utmost care should be taken to minimize any and all injuries they could sustain.

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14 Comments on “Ice Not so Nice”

  1. gusty161 Says:

    That ice is disgraceful and it’s worse this year than ever before. How in the world can the Caps expect to attract a top flight free agent with these kind of conditions? Abe Pollin has screwed this team for decades and he’s continuing that tradition to this very day.

  2. Scott Says:

    New HD boards are nice and flashy, but watching replays of bouncing pucks and horrible ice take the fun out of it all. I wish they would have spent that money fixing the ice surface system.

  3. bc Says:

    It’s really not good for the Wizards either, from what I’m told. The whole process needs to be fixed I guess.

  4. pgreene Says:

    if our ice is causing injuries, i’m beyond embarrassed. maybe we could play our game at K-plex? the ice is better, and i think all the folks who actually show up for games would fit in there…

  5. Jed Says:

    I know I played a game there a couple years ago with my college team. I’d take the ice at Piney over that sheet any day. It was hot as hell and the ice was soft and wet… At first we were excited to play there, but after the game we had no interest in coming back. That’s sort of sad.

  6. dmg Says:

    How bad is the VC ice? Well that fact that it’s not actually ice, but rather water, much of the time is telling….

  7. Mike Says:

    I response to pgreene – are you kidding me? The k-plex ice is awful – especially on the Caps side. I played there the other night – it was 35 degrees outside, but the ice in the building didn’t freeze until the second period. It must be a problem that the caps have, in general.

  8. pgreene Says:

    in my defense, i’ve never been to the practice facility. i just assumed it was better. plus, it gave me the opportunity to take a shot at attendance as well. it was a two-fer i just could not pass up.

  9. Mike L Says:

    The things that hamper teams from having good ice in the NHL are:

    1) Having many other events in the rink other than hockey
    2) A warm and humid climate

    The Caps have this problem more than most teams because they share the arena with *two* basketball teams (Wizards and Hoyas). Plus with other events going on, there are probably 60-70 nights during the season where the ice is covered with a tarp and has something (usually a basketball court and seats) laid out on top.

    As for the climate thing, we share a similar climate with the Panthers and Lightning (there’s being even more hot and humid). But neither the Panthers or Lightning have NBA teams with 41 games in their arenas. (Yes, there is a team in Miami, but they have their own arena).

    What would help the Caps immensely is if they practiced regularly at the Verizon Center so they could get used to the ice there. The ice at Piney and now at Kettler is superb. They practice on beautiful ice, and then have to play on the stuff at Verizon Center.

    Playing the games at Kettler would work if there was a way to install another 16,000 seats in the place…

  10. Luc Bertrand Says:

    It is unbelievable the Washington Capitals organization spent over $200 millions to build a modern arena in downtown of the national capital without having forecast improvement to the ice problem experienced at US Air Arena for so many years. And yet it was already known that average outside temperature is higher than in other NHL cities in the North. If this problem does not happen in southern NHL towns like Los Angeles, Anaheim, Miami, Tampa Bay or Atlanta, how come the designers of the MCI/Verizon Center seemed to have repeated the same mistakes as in Landover?

    If it is Ted Leonsis who will have to pay the big bucks to fix the problem, he should do so very quickly, even if this has the effect of reducing the Caps competitiveness on the free agents market. It is preferable to lose a few big names in the process (as long as repairs are completed soon) instead of regularly lose key players in postponing the works. Otherwise, nobody will want to play for Washington, starting a catch 22 problem. Without NHL top players or draft picks and with players continuously running into high probabilities of injury, it would be very hard for the Caps to build and remain a powerhouse in the NHL. This will be of no help to increase attendance to the Capitals games.

  11. sk84fun_dc Says:

    Glad this issue is getting some much needed attention.

    On a related note, since the Caps are playing in NJ tomorrow, an update on the ice situation at the Devils new arena…

  12. Jed Says:

    Luc, as many people have said before, Ted and the caps don’t own the building. Abe does and he has never really given a crap about the caps. That arena was built for the Wizards, and I’m sure that if Ted could just make the improvements he would. But, it’s like waiting for an abusive landlord to come fix your hot water…

  13. Mike L Says:


    Part of it is the ownership of the building, as well as the combination of events (basketball) and weather. Yes, it is a warmer climate here in DC (albeit not today…) but LA doesn’t have the humidity we do here, ditto for Anaheim (which also doesn’t have basketball). Tampa and Florida don’t have an NBA team in their buildings (the Miami Heat play in a different arena). Atlanta has a similar problem, but being at altitude with thinner air, the humidity isn’t as big of an issue. The only arena where it would be worse would be in Houston, TX, and I imagine the AHL’s Aeros also have ice issues.

    Of course, when the Caps had their most success was when they were a rugged, tight checking team in the mid-late 1980s. The ice was bad, and the Caps were built as a team who could take advantage of that with the great defense they had… (they had 3 Hall-of-Fame D-men out there every night!)

  14. Chris Says:

    At the risk of sounding ignorant, what would need to be done to improve the ice? Is it as simple as improving the refrigeration system (not that replacing that is truly easy)?

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