BALTIMORE, MD - Sticks were tapping, kids were cheering and there was an aura of competitiveness in the air as the Washington Capitals hosted their seventh annual Baltimore Street Hockey Tournament in August. More than 150 children from eight Baltimore area community centers participated in the contest.
"It's the end of the year event for all these kids," said Peter Robinson, Capitals Director of Community Relations. "They've been participating in street hockey throughout the summer at their community center. They've been learning the skills, rules and all the aspects of the game and now are putting it all together."
Each team competed in three games to determine their seed for the elimination tournament. Carroll F. Cook Recreation Center, the three-time defending champs, battled through the competition and defeated the James D. Gross Recreation Center for the championship.
Though Carroll F. Cook took home the title, each child got to keep the street hockey stick the Capitals provided them in order to continue practicing at home.
The tournament has seen its participants improve annually after the Capitals donated full sets of street hockey equipment to 15 community centers in inner city Baltimore eight years ago as part of a partnership with the city.
"When we did that, it was the beginning of a great relationship," said Robinson. "It was really to introduce the kids in the city to the sport and teach them something new."
While the first few years of the tournament were to show the kids the basic skills of hockey, in recent years it has turned into a far more competitive event.
"All the kids have been playing for quite a few years," Robinson said. "They know all the rules to the game and have developed some skills. It's great to see that progression and growth with kids who a few years ago did not know anything about hockey. They want to win so badly now that they are getting incredibly competitive during the tournament."
The tournament highlights the Washington Capitals growing relationship with the city of Baltimore, dating back seven years ago when this event started.
"Some of them did not even know who the Washington Capitals were," Robinson said. "Now, they are watching every game, getting really into it and wearing Caps gear here at the tournament."
Bob Wall, the Chief of Recreation with Baltimore City Rec and Parks, was impressed with the exposure the kids of Baltimore are getting to the sport of hockey.
"It not only exposes them to the great sport of hockey, but also to the Washington Capitals," Wall said. "We are thankful that they partner with us every year with this tournament."
The partnership with the Capitals and the city of Baltimore extends beyond just the yearly street hockey tournament.
"In our ice rinks in the city, we hang the Capitals banners," Wall said. "Our hockey teams are part of the Washington Capitals family. Street hockey is where we can expose our inner city kids to the sport. The Capitals help us out with our youth ice hockey program as well."
Wall said the city receives equipment from the team so that inner city kids get the chance to try out ice hockey at no cost.
The President of the Baltimore City Council, Bernard C. "Jack" Young, is excited by the growth of the tournament and looks forward to continue the partnership the Capitals and the city of Baltimore have developed.
"It's big for the Washington Capitals to invest in the young people of Baltimore," Young said. "We have a base here that supports the Washington Capitals. The kids love it. They look forward to the tournament."
The impact of the tournament is not lost on President Young, who emphasized how much the event meant to the city and its kids.
"Now they know the game," Young said. "They have grown so much since the beginning of the tournament. They want to go to Capitals games."
In a city where the primary sports are basketball, football and lacrosse, Young values the experience these kids get playing a new sport.
"They need to learn this sport," he said. "Hopefully one day one of these kids can play for the Capitals."
For more information about Capitals street hockey programs visit washcaps.com/community or email firstname.lastname@example.org.