If you’ve visited Washington, DC in the past or if you live in the Metro DC area, you’ve probably done all the basics: the Smithsonians, the monuments, the cemetery. Maybe you’ve even done some of the stuff that’s not free, like watched the Nats play, caught a show at the Kennedy Center, or been to a concert at the Verizon Center. But have you been to Arlington, VA to watch the Capitals—for free?
Ever since she saw the movie Inside Out for the first time, my four-year-old has declared that she wants to play hockey like the movie’s main character, Riley. I thought perhaps she should see a real-life game before making that decision, but I wanted to find a place to do that on the cheap. (I mean, seriously: she’s four.) Lucky for me, Washington’s NHL team, the Capitals, has a practice facility located Arlington, VA—just about ten minutes from my house! The Kettler Capitals Iceplex is located in the Ballston area of Arlington. It’s easily accessible from the Metro’s Orange and Silver lines, or there’s a parking garage attached to the iceplex where parking is only $1.00 if you’re in and out within three hours. Pro tip: park on the eighth floor for direct access to the iceplex. You can find out when the Caps are practicing by visiting the Washington Capitals page at Monumental Network.
If you arrive at the start of practice, you’ll find the Caps warming up on the “public” rink where the iceplex offers open skate times for the public. There are bench seats around the glass that are the perfect height for a child to stand on in order to see over the boards. I usually arrive right at the start of practice and haven’t had a problem finding a place for my daughter to stand. The players are dressed in sweaters (jerseys, for the Americans among us) with no names or numbers on them. If you look closely you can see that the helmets have tiny numbers on the back, so be sure you know your favorite player’s number—or other identifying feature. (Pro tip #2: Alex Ovechkin wears yellow laces in his skates. I’ve got to admit that I love to watch hockey, but I’m not a fan of any particular team or player. “Ovechkin” is one of those names you know if you live around Washington and are even vaguely aware of the local sports teams’ performances.)
What I love about the warm-up time in this rink is that you are right there next to the players! I’ve been to see the Caps at the Verizon Center and I was so far away that it was easier to watch the Jumbotron than to make out what was happening on the ice. I’m used to watching games from the student section of my alma mater where you could catch a flying puck if you were lucky, so the view from the nosebleed seats in the Verizon Center was more than a bit disappointing. No such worries at the iceplex! Our first time attending practice we went with friends. As we were chatting, I realized that Ovechkin was leaning over right in front of us. Like any calm rational person would do, I started snapping pictures and I giggled like a preschooler telling a poop joke as I told my friend, “Oh my god! I have a picture of your kid with Alex Ovechkin’s butt!” My friend promptly said, “Send it to my husband!” This is why we’re friends. (I did indeed send the picture with my quote from above. The text reply? “Um. The picture didn’t come through. But I’m afraid.”)
After about 20 or 30 minutes, the team moves across the lobby to a rink with spectator stands. There is space to stand close to the glass, but you can see the whole rink if you sit in the stands. There’s another 30 or 40 minutes of practice, and this is my favorite time to watch the goalies at work. By this point in time, my daughter’s and her friends’ favorite thing to do is climb up and down the stairs in the stands, which is apparently wildly entertaining for the two- to five-year-old crowd.
Once practice is over, you can head right next door to the pro shop to pick up your Caps gear, or make your way into the lobby for a snack from the snack bar. We’ve also seen the Zamboni at work on the small rink post-practice, and we’ve been able to watch figure skaters practicing there, too! Plus there’s a spot with a cutout of Slapshot, the Caps mascot, as well as cardboard stand-ins that let you pretend you’re a Caps player or goalie. Photo op!
If the snack bar isn’t quite what you had in mind for food, you can also take the elevator to the mall below the iceplex. The mall is slated for redevelopment in the next couple of years, so it isn’t anything to write home about, but in the food court there is a selection of fast food chains, Chinese, Thai, and Indian food. In the mall itself, there are a couple quick-service options, as well as ice cream and coffee. If you really want to make a day of it, there’s a movie theater, too!
Whether you’re local to the DC area, love the Caps, love hockey, or simply want something unique to do when you visit (or you live here and need something unique to entertain your visitors), check out the Caps practice schedule and get ready to Rock the Red!