WASHINGTON, D.C. – For many years, when describing our nation’s capital in baseball terms, the old joke was “first in war, first in peace and last in the American League.”
For loyal baseball fans in the Washington, D.C. area, that joke was finally put to rest with the Nationals first World Series title last October.
Area hockey fans endured their own drought until the Washington Capitals skated the Stanley Cup around the ice in 2018. As the team’s fortunes improved over the years, so too did the number of area youngsters who wanted to play the game.
“When I first started with USA Hockey, the Southeastern District was 10 out of 11 in terms of size. Over the years, we’ve grown to a point where we’re now third in terms of player registrations and we’re not too far behind No. 2,” said John Coleman, the long-time president of the Potomac Valley Amateur Hockey Association and current Southeastern District director.
There’s no doubt that the capital city and the surrounding area has become a hotbed of hockey. The latest example of that comes tonight when the Marriott Marquis hosts a sold-out induction ceremony honoring the Class of 2019 of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
Featured in this year’s class are NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, two-time U.S. Olympian and 16-year NHL player Brian Gionta, two-time Vezina Trophy winner and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas, two-time U.S. Women’s Olympic Team player Krissy Wendell and youth hockey pioneer Neal Henderson.
This is not the first time USA Hockey has brought a marquee event to town. In 2012, Washington, D.C., hosted the National Hockey Coaches Symposium with more than 500 coaches, including 106 from nearby, earning their Level 5 certification, the highest level in USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program.
One of the offshoots of hosting something as large as the Level 5 symposium was the opportunity that it afforded to local coaches to gain knowledge and experience that they can in turn pass on to others in their local associations.
“This is a great experience for them to learn from professional coaches and go back to their programs and talk about what is happening,” said Ty Newberry, the Southeastern District coach in chief at the time. “There’s a real ripple effect through the Affiliate and the District. That’s what we want.”
The Southeastern District is also one of USA Hockey’s largest in terms of geographical scope, ranging from Maryland to Florida and as far west as Arkansas. It is divided into four Affiliate associations: Carolina Amateur Hockey Association, Southern Amateur Hockey Association, the Statewide Amateur Hockey Association of Florida and the Potomac Valley Amateur Hockey Association, that covers Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
The area also boasts a pair of ADM model clubs, the Washington Little Caps and the Montgomery (Md.) Youth Hockey, who are committed to meeting or exceeding the highest standards for player development at the youth hockey level. Both organizations regularly send competitive teams to USA Hockey National Championship events, which are held every April in host sites around the country.
“While we’ve produced some fine individual players, I’d like to see more national championships at the youth level,” Coleman said. “That will come in time. Up until this point, our real focus has been on growth.”
Part of that growth has come in the form of a recreational league that boasts more than 100 teams, and those numbers continues to climb as more players are able to play hockey without it taking over their lives.
“They want to play competitively but they don’t want the expense and don’t want the travel,” said current PVAHA president Linda Jondo. “It’s been a great thing and everybody loves it.”
With all the good things happening at the grassroots level and the eyes of the hockey world on the D.C. area for tonight’s induction ceremony, the future looks bright for hockey around the Potomac Valley.