Checks and balances will take on a whole different meaning at the Verizon Center tonight. Six Members of Congress, Hill staffers and an opposing team of lobbyists will take to the ice usually occupied by the Washington Capitals for the third annual Congressional Hockey Challenge.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and five House Members — returnees Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) and Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), and newcomers Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) and Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) — headline a team that also includes 16 staffers. Brad Dayspring, press secretary for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), plays defense for the Lawmakers team and is its spokesman.
The Lobbyists team is made up of 19 men and defensewoman Melissa Lavinson of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Jeffrey Kimbell, president of Jeffrey J. Kimbell & Associates and Magnum Entertainment Group, is the team spokesman.
The Lawmakers vs. Lobbyists contest benefits the hockey program for inner-city youths at the Fort DuPont Ice Arena in D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood and is staged with assistance from the National Hockey League and its “Hockey Is for Everyone” campaign.
The game’s goal of promoting youth participation fits the core mission of the two-year-old Congressional Hockey Caucus, which works to provide hockey equipment for recreational and therapeutic Wounded Warrior programs for injured military personnel.
Quigley founded the caucus after he won an April 2009 special election for the North Side Chicago seat previously held by Democrat Rahm Emanuel. He now co-chairs the caucus with teammate Higgins and nonplaying hockey fan Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.).
Higgins said the mission of the caucus is to promote hockey “as a way to instill good values in young kids,” while building self-esteem and sense of purpose and offering incentives to excel academically.
Quigley said a big part of the caucus’s youth hockey efforts are aimed at overcoming obstacles that inhibit participation, especially in urban areas where ice rinks are rare and expensive to maintain or rent. The skates and protective gear needed to play ice hockey also can make it prohibitively expensive.
“If hockey is for everyone, then everyone should have access to hockey, which is not easy. How can we help facilitate that and spread that word on a national basis?” Quigley said.
Street hockey, generally played on inline skates, is a less costly and more accessible version of the game that Terry calls “a gateway” to participation in ice hockey. A street hockey clinic — hosted by first lady Michelle Obama with participation by the NHL and USA Hockey, the sport’s amateur association — will take place on the South Lawn of the White House on Friday afternoon immediately after the Chicago Blackhawks have their ritual ceremony with President Barack Obama as the NHL’s defending Stanley Cup champions.
Quigley will have yet another chance to hobnob with his hometown team. “You know, this year has been a fantasy camp for me,” said Quigley, who brought the Stanley Cup to the Capitol in December for Hockey Day on the Hill after he attended the Blackhawks’ title-clinching road win over the Philadelphia Flyers last June.
He was accompanied at that game by caucus colleague Higgins, who says he grew up and played hockey in Buffalo, N.Y., with Patrick Kane Sr. — the father of Pat Kane, who scored the goal in overtime that gave Chicago the championship.
Of course, those attending the Lawmakers vs. Lobbyists game tonight shouldn’t expect the flashing speed and brilliant moves of Capitals star Alex Ovechkin. Quigley said the owners of the Blackhawks have asked him how good he is. “And I say, ‘It depends on what sub-class you’re dividing us into. Among 52-year-old Congressmen, I’m the best player in the world.’”
For some of the players, it will be a marvel just to see them playing at all. Kerry, 67, said in a press release promoting the game that he is “grateful to the doctors at Mass. General for the new hips that got me back on the ice.”
The Verizon Center is a big leap in venue from the Fort DuPont facility where the first two games were played, with the Lawmakers winning the 2009 game by a score of 6-4 and the Lobbyists making their case by 7-2 last year.
This is unlikely to be daunting for Meehan, a 55-year-old freshman Republican who starred in hockey at Maine’s Bowdoin College in the 1970s and skated as an NHL game official for a couple of years before enrolling in law school.
Nor is it a big deal for Quigley, who has played hockey at venues ranging from the Montreal Forum, former longtime home of the Canadiens NHL team; Chicago’s Wrigley Field, the baseball shrine where the Blackhawks played an outdoor game against the Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 1, 2009; and the United Center, the Blackhawks’ home base, where Quigley is a regular at an annual fundraising game for the Chicago Legal Clinic.
“It’s amazing going into the building and skating the first shift. I always play like crap the first shift — you’re kind of out of it,” Quigley said. “But after that, honest to goodness, you can forget where you are.”
The game is open to the public, with a recommended donation of $10 per person collected at the door. The doors open today at 5:30 p.m.