Today is Nate Ewell's last game as Vice President of Communications with the Washington Capitals. It's a position that lives in obscurity in most hockey towns: writing game notes, ushering players to media appearances, doling out press credentials.
But in D.C., Nate Ewell is a rock star.
It wasn't his intent. You can read a very well written biography and appreciation of Nate here and here. It's not in his makeup to call attention to himself. But his hard work and dedication to this organization have become legend, and if you're reading this blog, chances are you're doing it because Nate Ewell influenced you as well, whether you realize it or not.
There's been a sad exodus from the Caps' media relations department over the past year. First, Paul Rovnak left last season to assume P.R. duties for men's hockey at University of Minnesota. Then we found out web producer, emergency goalie and bon vivant Brett "Stretch" Leonhardt was moving to Toronto to work with the league.
Now, the biggest bombshell of them all: Nate Ewell is leaving the Caps to follow his passion: college hockey. He will become Director of Communications with College Hockey, Inc., helping to grow the sport he loves so much at a level that is so close to home for him.
Opportunity calls when you're the best at what you do. It's no wonder the Caps Media Relations Department has had a stranglehold on the league's "Best Of" award.
Capitals fans take a lot of things for granted these days. They expect perfection on the ice. They expect the owner to be at their beck-and-call. They expect open and fan-friendly practices. They expect dozens of well-written and engaging blogs to entertain and inform them.
But you see, it's not like this in other markets. Not even close.
Hockey in general -- the NHL in particular -- had to be brought kicking and screaming into the digital age, and Ted Leonsis and Nate Ewell were the architects of the process.
After the lockout, Leonsis had the vision to treat his sports management businesses in a transparent manner, letting the public know his plan and involving the fans in his decision-making process. A very big part of the plan was opening the press box to independent media, increasing the number and variety of voices that carry the message to the fans.
The man responsible for implementing and nurturing that part of the process was Nate Ewell.
Managing a media relations department for a pro sports team is a full-time job in and of itself. Add the duties of shepherding one of the faces of the entire league to endless media opprtunities and the burdens could seem endless. Now integrate an in-house media department, with full-time beat reporter and video producer.
It would be understandable if there was no time left for a bunch of bloggers.
But the Caps, and Nate in particular, don't see it that way. They know that the independent media that cover the team are a vital, integral part of how they get their message out to the fans. They know they need to cultivate independent media that cover the Caps in a town dominated by coverage of the NFL team.
On a typical night in the Washington Capitals press box, independent media usually equal, if not outnumber, traditional media. And it's all thanks to Nate and his staff.
And it's not just in the press box. Nate's been active in the community and on twitter, sharing nuggets from his meticulous game notes to followers, offering funny stories on players or media members, making arrangements for pick-ups of fan-made baked goods, or sticking up for the team against criticism from national media.
Nate's legacy will live on, not just in the Caps press box, but in the tens of thousands of Capitals fans -- new and veteran, young and old -- who follow this team on daily basis, enjoying so much more quality coverage, in depth and breadth, than ever before.
It's not like this in other markets. Not even close.
Cheers Nate. And thank you.