In 1990, a total of 15 high schools in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia region offered high school hockey programs for approximately 250 players.
Today the region boasts 110 high school hockey teams and more than 2,300 players.
Capitals team president Dick Patrick will be the first to tell you he cannot take full credit for the explosion of youth and adult hockey in the DMV region. But it’s the biggest reason he is being honored by the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame tonight as its 2012 recipient of the Lester Patrick Trophy, an award named after Patrick’s grandfather and given annually to a man or woman who has provided outstanding service to hockey in the United States.
“Dick has always supported the grassroots level of hockey in Washington,” Capitals general manager George McPhee said. “He knows it’s critical for the growth of the sport that kids get to play and enjoy it enough to play it for life. We not only have a lot of kids playing, but we have a lot of adults playing as well.”
One of those adults is Duante Abercrombie, a 25-year-old forward from D.C., who played youth hockey at Fort Dupont, went on to play for Gonzaga College High School and Hampton University. Abercrombie said he has never met Patrick but appreciates the efforts that led to the opportunities hockey has afforded him.
“A lot of youth organizations in this area are starting to grow and really put players on the map,” Abercrombie said. “D.C. is not a hotbed, but it’s no longer a place where people say hockey players don’t come from D.C. and it’s definitely because of the Capitals.”
Abercrombie said three of his Gonzaga teammates, Andrew Panzarello, Patrick Cullen and Michael Clemente, have gone on to play in college or the pros and he said it’s only a matter of time before a player trained in the D.C. region is playing the NHL.
Since 2009 Washington Capitals Charities has provided nearly $100,000 to the Potomac Valley Amateur Hockey Association John Crerar Hockey Development Grants program. Last year’s $25,000 grant was distributed to 16 area hockey programs to increase participation and promote hockey within Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Thanks in part to the grant PVAHA had 2,141 new players during the 2011-12 season, an increase of 13 percent from the season before. In the past four years the PVAHA’s participation has increased by 35 percent.
To Patrick, tonight’s induction is as much a testament to others’ efforts as it is to his own.
“There are hundreds of people involved in youth hockey that make it what it is,” Patrick said. “The coaches who volunteer their time, the parents who drive their kids to and from practices and games. The list goes on and on.
“To me, the satisfaction is seeing how much the kids enjoy playing the game and what we’re beginning to see now is parents passing their love for the game down to their children.”
Patrick comes from one of hockey’s most royal families. His grandfather, Lester followed his playing career by serving as a coach and then general manager of the New York Rangers from 1926 to 1946 and the old Patrick Division was named after him.
Dick Patrick’s father, Muzz, was also a star player and general manager of the Rangers, and his cousin, Craig, served as general manager of the Penguins. Dick Patrick has quietly made his mark on the Capitals since being named president in 1982.
“The Washington Capitals would not be what they are today without Dick Patrick,” McPhee said. “The one thing you can say about him is that he’s a gentleman He’s as fine a man as there is, in my mind. He never raises his voice. He always makes you feel comfortable in his presence. He allows his staff to make their own decisions and he’s quick with a smile.”
McPhee said one of Patrick’s greatest contributions to the Capitals was his involvement in the construction of Kettler Capitals Iceplex atop the Ballston Mall in Arlington.
“That was Dick’s project all the way,” McPhee said. “He had to make sure this was going to work for the community and for the Capitals and he made it work. Everyone’s happy.”
Capitals coach Adam Oates said the organization’s move to Kettler, along with the construction of its new home at Verizon Center, cemented its reputation as a first-class organization.
“The environment is way more top-notch now,” he said. “At least I feel it is. The culture has changed.”
More than anything McPhee said he respects Patrick for the quiet strength he has given the Capitals for more than three decades.
“He’s been a very solid backbone for this franchise,” McPhee said. “He’s enhanced the Patrick name and legacy. He’s a very smart guy but refreshingly humble.
“I discuss everything we do with Dick. Not that I have to, not that he needs to know, but it helps to discuss all of our moves with Dick because he’s seen it all before. We value his opinion. He doesn’t offer it unless you ask, and he’s very comfortable allowing you to make your own decision.”