As we near Washington’s regular-season NHL opener on Saturday night, all eyes are on the changes made during the off season in hopes of making Washington the most competitive hockey team this city has ever seen. All ears, however, will be on the new voice of the Washington Capitals, John Walton. I’ve been listening to John for years in Hershey, and was thrilled when I heard of his promotion to “the show.” I also know that while some Caps fans have listened to quite a few Bears games along the way, in just a few games here and there, you can’t get a feel for who the guy behind the mic really is. I asked John to answer a few questions for RtR about his new role, how his old role helped him get here, and even the new guy in Hershey. Despite his hectic week preparing for his first regular season NHL game in the booth, he kindly obliged and took the time to answer them.
[Katie] Has it set in yet that you’re the Broadcaster for the Washington Capitals? If so, when did it first feel real?
[John Walton] I guess there have been a lot of little moments leading up to this Saturday. Bruce Boudreau calling me the morning I got the job was probably the first moment that made it feel real. I heard by phone the next day from George McPhee. Watching Alex Ovechkin take to the ice in Baltimore for the first preseason game certainly made it feel more real. But the first home preseason game against Columbus was probably the first time where it really sunk in. Seeing the home fans and setting up in the home radio booth made me feel like I'd made it to the NHL. But having said all that, I really believe Saturday at home with Carolina for the first regular season game will be the moment I've been waiting for.
[K] Everyone knows that you’re incredibly familiar with the Caps organization – which has obviously helped with your transition to the NHL. What parts of the transition have not been so easy?
[JW] I'm not sure there was anything too difficult about the transition, but leaving the fans in Hershey was tough. They were very good to me for nine years, and helped make me better every day. But it makes it easier that a lot of fans from central PA make the trip down to Washington quite a bit. It will always put a smile on my face to see a Hershey sweater at Verizon Center.
[K] Now that you’ve gotten a few NHL games under your belt – was it difficult to adjust to being farther away from the ice (and the play) in a bigger arena?
[JW] A little. Most of the platforms you call games from, at least in Washington, Nashville, Chicago and Columbus, are further from the ice. The pace of the game is certainly faster, but it only took a game or two to adjust to that.
[K] You’ve always been extremely accessible and new-media friendly in Hershey. How has your attitude towards those aspects helped you jump on board in DC?
[JW] It probably helped me get the job in the first place. I've felt for years that the Capitals led the way with new media and web content, but it's all the more exciting to be a part of it now. I learned a lot from them during my time in Hershey. Now I'm able to continue what I've done and keep growing while under the same roof with them. Having the opportunity to call NHL games is a dream come true for me, but being able to apply what I've been doing media-wise here makes it the perfect place for me to do it.
[K] What kind of reception did you get from the former Bears players & coaches when you first ran into them at Kettler as the new Voice of the Capitals?
[JW] A very warm one. Mark French and Troy Mann sought me out right away when the news came down. Alexandre Giroux and Dean Arsene were among the first I heard from after the news broke, which was fantastic. I talked to Graham Mink soon after the announcement came too. All three of those guys were so great to watch while they were in Hershey, and it meant the world to hear from them in the days after the announcement. A lot of other guys, like Chris Bourque, Patrick McNeill, Patrick Wellar, and many more found me at training camp at Kettler. For that many players to approach me with congratulations was wonderful. I hope that means I did the job right while I was in the AHL, and that the players and their families liked what I did in bringing the games to them.
[K] It’s no secret that you’re good buddies with the new voice of the Bears (and former Wilkes Barre Scranton Penguins property), Scott Stuccio. Is there anything you’d like to tell Bears Nation about him?
[JW] Scott is a great friend, and I'm really happy that he'll have a chance to follow me in Hershey. He'll do a great job. I'm sure it will be strange for him to be in Wilkes-Barre for the second game of the season, but it's like players signing elsewhere or getting traded. He's as Hershey as they come now, and you'll know that from the time the season starts.
[K] You’ve called quite a few OT game winning goals by Alexandre Giroux for the Bears. What was it like to make that call when he scored it against the Caps?
[JW] It felt like watching a rerun of all the goals he scored in Hershey. Since it didn't hurt the Caps in a preseason game, I was happy for him. I was really pulling for him to make Columbus, but at least at the start of the season, it sounds like that won't happen.
[K] What players did you see over your tenure in the AHL that you just knew were going to be impact NHL players?
[JW] First one I saw was Matt Cullen, he was in Cincinnati my first year in the league. Mike Green was that way, you just knew he was going on to bigger and better things at some point soon when he was in Hershey. I believe Braden Holtby is in that same class. For the skaters, they're just quicker than everyone else. That's how I'd gauge it from upstairs. Some guys stick-handle better, some skate better. If they do both, they won't be around the AHL for long.
[K] One of the things players always talk about when they come up to the NHL is the quality of travel/accommodations. What are your thoughts on that now that you’ve gotten a few road trips in with the Capitals?
[JW] It's a huge change, and charter planes rock. I'll miss some things in Hershey, but traveling late night on the bus will not be on that list.
[K] What is the funniest thing you’ve seen take place during a game? How did you react on-air?
[JW] Funny enough, it happened while I was doing college games at Miami University. We played at Western Michigan my last year there, and had a player (who I'll keep nameless to protect the guilty) who was in the visiting penalty box at Lawson Ice Arena in Kalamazoo. Western's mascot is the Bronco, and said mascot (I think his name was Billy, or Bucky, something like that) was getting pretty out of hand taunting our guys who ended up in the box. At one point, he reached his arm into the box to try and grab the player's jersey. Our guy had enough and gave the mascot a two hand with his stick right across the Bucky's arm and shoved him back into the aisle. He fell over and landed on his back right below us. I'm sure there wasn't much padding in that suit, because he started jumping up and down and went running up the concourse after he righted himself. It all came during a stoppage in play, so we called the whole thing on the air. Have never seen anything quite like it before or since. But the boys on the bus had a pretty good laugh about it on the way home.
[K] Which name is the toughest you’ve ever had to pronounce in a quick call?
[JW] When I was in Cincinnati, we had Rastislav Pavlikovsky and Joel Kwiatkowski on the power play together. It's a wonder I made it this far after that :-)
[K] In the AHL, your schedule was pretty regimented with games usually played on Friday, Saturday, & Sunday nights. Do you think it will be difficult to adjust to such a scattered NHL schedule, or will be a good break from a routine?
[JW] I'm actually looking forward to scattered games. The hardest part, especially in Hershey, is that we play on so many Sundays. Most teams don't do that around the league, so there were a lot of seven day work weeks during the season. Having games during the week and not many on Sunday is a huge boost for me personally.
[K] If you had to pick a “diamond in the rough” buried down in Hershey or South Carolina that you think has the potential to be a quality NHL player that people don’t know much about yet, who would it be?
[JW] I love the way Andrew Carroll plays. Hard nosed, never gives an inch, and it was great to see him score a goal for Washington during the preseason. I'd love to see him continue to progress, because he's got an NHL heart, no doubt about that.