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Ballston’s Frozen Asset

Puck finally drops on the Washington Capitals’ new home.

Dennis Burr walked gingerly on the slick new ice. After months of delays and anticipation, Washington Capitals’ new practice facility atop Ballston Common Mall was finally near completion.

“This happens all the time,” said Burr, chairman of the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association, as he shuffle past a large Caps logo at center ice. “One of the problems that we have as a country is that we expect instantaneous gratification. For something like this, it takes time.”

As November opens, so does the $42 million rink: two sheets of ice that will host everything from the National Hockey League franchise’s practices to national figure skating competitions.

But for Arlington County Chairman Chris Zimmerman, it’s what the facility offers the community that makes it all worth the wait.

“There’s something over 6,000 hours available [to the public],” he estimated. “Bringing the Washington Capitals to this new home is a great thing for Arlington. But it’s something much more — we get a whole new facility with this partnership.”

Tobin Smith, chair for the Arlington County parks and recreation commission, said there would be “significant availability” for the community to use the complex, upwards of 97% of its total operating hours.

“The county, with the hours it will have, will try and reach some new audiences,” he said.

THE KETTLER CAPITALS ICEPLEX — KSI Services Inc., of Vienna secured the naming rights for the facility — is scheduled to be open 360 days a year, 18 hours per day per rink. Both rinks are NHL regulation size; one will have seating for 1,200 fans and the other will have a 250-seat capacity. Metal bleachers will be covered with blue cushions to cut down on the chill factor for spectators. There is also a large “observation space,” with a view of both ice surfaces, that has yet to be developed and could be used for additional spectator capacity.

Officials expect the rinks will be large enough to attract regional and national skating events. The 1,200 seats are the minimum required by the United States Figure Skating Association in choosing locations for championship events. The Special Olympics hockey championships are already on the calendar for Ballston next April.

The facility is located on the 4-acre deck of the Ballston Mall’s parking garage, and will have 200 parking spaces of its own. Accessible by elevator from the mall, it will have party rooms and meeting rooms available for rental, as well as an arcade and a concession stand. There is a pro shop, which will feature a large variety of Capitals merchandise and hockey equipment.

The complex was set to open to the public this week, according to Tom Newman, director of the real estate development group for Arlington Economic Development. He said the $42 million facility was funded by the county, with the Capitals leasing it back. “It was a win/win for the Capitals and for the county,” he said.

THE CAPITALS will begin holding practices — free and open to the public — by the end of November, and will move their corporate offices into the top floor of the two-level facility by Dec. 2. The Capitals’ training camp facility is large enough for 35 players, coaches and scouts; its corporate offices will house close to 60 people.

Nate Ewell, director of media relations for the Capitals, said it will be the first time the team has had all of its hockey operations under one roof. “We’re moving closer to our fans, and our players are as well,” he said.

Indeed, star winger Alexander Ovechkin is one of the Capitals players who’s living in Arlington this year. He joked last season that when the practice facility was finished, he’d ride his bike to work.

For Capitals fans, the rink marks the first time in franchise history that the team's practice facility will be Metro accessible.

THE TEAM hopes the chance to see Ovechkin and his teammates will bring many current and new fans to the Ballston rink during the week. Crowds of a few hundred have been coming to see the team in Ashburn during the week this season, with those numbers spiking to a thousand on weekends. Ewell said the team “would expect those numbers to go way up” in the new facility.

Management from the Ashburn Ice House, where the Caps currently practice, will also manage the Ballston facility and have temporary offices inside the mall in the former Suncoast Video location.

Inside that office is a wall of fliers advertising different youth and adult hockey leagues and skating clinics. More information can be found at www.capitalsicecenter.com.

Newman was optimistic that skater who now travel to places like Reston, Mount Vernon and Fort Dupont to compete will make Ballston their home rink. “When Reston opened in 1993, they started a men’s lunchtime league that I played in. Three quarters of the people came from downtown DC to play at lunchtime,” he said.

Newman is also hopeful that the facility will be a boon for the Northern Virginia Scholastic Hockey League, a high-school league that has survived without much support or recognition from Northern Virginia public schools.

“There’s so much growth in the hockey leagues in western Fairfax County and in Loudoun [County], and it will continue to grow. This will really anchor it close in,” said Newman, a coach for the Yorktown Ice Hockey team. He said that team currently practices at 5:30 a.m. in Reston, and will now have afternoon practice time at the new Arlington rink.

In addition, George Mason University’s club hockey team and hockey teams from Georgetown, American and George Washington universities will also use the facility for practices and games.

NEWMAN SAID THE biggest draw might be the combination of community ice rink and retail shopping mall.

“There’s an expression in the ice industry: ‘Cows can’t skate, but that’s sort of where the rinks end up,’” he said, drawing a laugh from the reporters, county and mall officials at an open house for the facility last week. “You’re in a rink out in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do. Here, you can drop your son or daughter off, go shopping, go get a cup of coffee at Starbucks or whatever you want to do.”

Zimmerman agreed, saying that the rink, the movie theater, the shopping and the dining options combine to create a entertainment experience in Ballston.

“What better place for a date in the Washington area?” he said.