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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mike Fornes Interview: Part Two

Mike Fornes on getting the job in DC:

"When I got the Washington job it was a little different.   It was one of those times that was unusual.  I didn’t have to send in a tape.  I didn’t apply for a Capitals job. 

I got the Capitals job because the Whalers didn’t make the playoffs in ‘84.  I remember being in the hallway of a hotel in Edmonton very late in the season – maybe one or two games left in the season -- 

-- and I was told that I had a phone call and needed to call a man in Washington who was running - at the time - Home Team Sports.   

And when I called there they said they had some games that were going to be done on a brand new network and asked if I would be interested in working those playoff games with Gordie Howe because Gordie Howe was going to be the color man.  

Then I was referred to David Poile [Capitals GM] and I called him and he explained everything to me.   I asked if he’d contact Emile Francis, who was the Whalers GM, and ask permission for me to do this.  And [David Poile] did.   I thought that was very classy.   

And Mr. Francis gave permission and so I did the playoff games.  And when the playoff games were over, the offer came to be the Capitals TV person the next season.   

So that was it.  Away I went.    

The first series I did was against the Flyers and Mark Howe was playing for Philadelphia.  So Gordie got a kick out of seeing his son play and here he was commentating about the game and was able to give some real good insights about his boy, Mark.  

Gordie just did that one playoff series and Sal Messina from the Rangers was brought in to do another playoff series.   And then I didn’t meet Al [Koken] until the next season when we first did a full regular season of games.  

Al did the games with me on Channel 20 and Home Team Sports and he became a good friend of mine and I really enjoyed the association."

Mike Fornes on his time with the Capitals:

"Well I think the first thing I think about is that it was a terrific time to be with the Capitals.  They were an up-and-coming team and they were a team that was on the move.   

They were acquiring players that were going to help them and we should have won the Stanley Cup in 1990.  There’s no question that we had the team that could have done that. 

If it hadn’t been for a few injuries and some bad breaks we probably would have and that would have been a wonderful thing.  But I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.

I came to Washington from the Hartford Whalers.  And the Whalers were trying to make a move and better their team but at the same time I think Washington was – it seemed like they were a generation ahead of Hartford.   

[Washington] had better draft picks, used them pretty well, were making some trades, and were really building a team that later ended up being rebuilt a little more around certain players.  

But it was just a fun time. 

When I think about what people ask me ‘What was it like to be with the Capitals?’ all I can remember are great rivalries.  We had terrific rivalries with Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, the Islanders, the Rangers, that whole division was just a great rivalry.  

There were some really tough games – some that the Caps won and some that they lost – but they were fun.  It was a fun time to be in that area.

You never knew what was going to happen.  The Caps were rising stars.  We had a lot of players that were beginning great careers.  Scott Stevens.  Mike Gartner.  People like that were on the way up.  

It’s been fun to watch and see how well they did.  And they didn’t all stay with the team.  But they were good people and they had good careers.  And they were the right people at the right time for the Capitals to have.  

I just wish that team would have won the Cup.  Because it was a winnable thing.  I think they could have done it had they stayed healthy.  I was shocked and very upset when they didn’t.  And I’m sure the players were."

Mike Fornes on the Capital Centre:

"It was a place that became home.  They had the ice crew there – they did a terrific job.  Sometimes in some of those playoff runs the ice was pretty ‘risky’ at the Capital Centre and it was very warm outside and they did a great job of working so hard to keep the ice in good shape.

The Capital Centre was a place where you knew the ushers.  You were down seated in the stands so the ushers that came by were friendly and you’d know them.  The TV crew people that were there were the same people so you got to know them.  

The off-ice officials were people were mostly in law enforcement so I got to know quite a few of them well.  There were just a lot of friendly faces that I remember from those days.  More than the facility I remember the people who made it such an enjoyable experience.

[I really liked getting to] sit midway up into the stands.  Right in the middle of the crowd.  And that was a great seat to have.   

And I liked the Capital Centre for that reason because it was a good spot for me to watch a game.  I felt like I could do a better job from there."

Mike Fornes on attendance during the 80’s:

"It was climbing.  It was really starting to climb during those years.  And I remember the full house total was 18,130 and I remember there were a few nights where that was the crowd.  

They were a team on the move.  They were playing well.  They were attracting fans.  They were a very saleable product.  People wanted to go see hockey and they wanted to see the Capitals."

Mike Fornes on other DC/Baltimore sports teams:

"I was focused on hockey.  I knew other teams had done well or hadn’t done well.  I would go out and see the Orioles play sometimes.  But I really wasn’t concerned with any other team except the Capitals.  That was my focus."

Mike Fornes on the 4-OT Easter Epic:

“I have a tape of that game and I titled it on the label as ‘The Greatest Hockey Game Ever Played.’ To me, it was. I never had another experience like that. 

There were so many chances for both teams to win it. I recall Greg Smyth hitting the post on a dump in from centre ice, that's how it could have ended.

The goaltenders were Bob Mason and Kelly Hrudey played so well for so long in all the heavy wet gear is beyond me.  

Andy Van Hellemond wound up reffing some of the biggest games of my career and later we used to talk about all those overtimes. How did they have the legs to skate that hard for that long? 

The fans were a story unto themselves. Little kids were asleep in their parents' arms. There were no cell phones in those days, and the lines to the pay phones were long at the intermissions. 

Many people were calling home, calling babysitters, whomever, to say that they were still at the hockey game. It was a long time for everyone to be on the edge of their seats, for sure.

When it ended I couldn't believe it was really over. In later years, I became friends with Pat LaFontaine and we often spoke about his goal and about the game. He is a class act.

After the wrap-up, I went downstairs to the dressing room about 40 minutes after the game ended and many of the guys were still in their gear, numbed by what had happened.

A fantastic hockey game, no matter who won, but it broke all our hearts, those who followed the Capitals.

Of course, the game set the stage for the Dale Hunter trade, which [led to] the very next year in OT against the Flyers."

Mike Fornes on the Caps’ struggle during the 80’s in the playoffs:

"Well I think that was part of the learning curve.  That was part of the process that team had to go through and they seemed like they could do it in the regular season and consistently could not in the postseason.   

And that’s when the team kind of had to be re-tooled.   When they decided to make that trade on draft day and acquire Dale Hunter from Quebec for the rights to the number one draft pick, which turned out to be Joe Sakic that was a big move."

Mike Fornes on the Caps’ visit to the White House in 1988:

"I remember when the Olympic team came to town and played the Capitals and President Reagan was in office we all got the opportunity to go down to the White House and be a part of a ceremony in the Rose Garden.   

Pete Peeters wore his goaltending gear and they brought a net and some of the plastic ice set up and Pete Peeters was in the goal.   

And that was a fun thing.  I remember Rod Langway shaking hands with the President and giving him a few pointers on how to shoot a puck."

Mike Fornes’ favorite moment with the Caps:

"My highlight with the Capitals was calling the goal that Dale Hunter scored to beat the Flyers and that pushed the team out of the first round.  It was a terrific thing."

Mike Fornes on fans' belief that Hunter’s goal is most memorable in team history:

"I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that at all.  It sure is my favorite goal.  I think of different goals that were big goals and with all due respect to the '98 team – which they deserve – but that was a totally different team.   That was a totally different team than 1988. 

And it just seemed like the goal that Hunter scored gave the team some respect and it gave vindication it cast away the demons it let everybody who was a Caps fan finally be able to hold their heads high.

You know Flyers fans used to come into the Capital Centre and parade around the building and do their chants and Rangers fans would do the same thing.  It was very tough to be a Capitals fan.   

And it was tough to be the announcer for the team – the play-by-play voice - when you would have to be describing such anguish.  Did I want that team to win?  Hell yes I wanted that team to win! 

That goal and all of those people wearing white and waving the white towels – they all do it now – all the franchises do it now – but it was really unique back then.  And it was special."

Mike Fornes on the '89-'90 season:

"The '89-'90 season was a year of turmoil, despite the great playoff run. Bryan Murray was fired and Terry Murray took over. A very unusual set of circumstances. 

I admired Bryan a lot. He taught me a lot about hockey and a lot about coaching. I wish that he had been able to finish what he had started many years before, but that's the way things go sometimes. 

Terry picked up the pieces and led the team through the playoffs. We had a lot of luck in some of those games. Eventually, injuries and nagging hurts played a role.  

‘John Druce was on the loose’, I used to say, and he provided a much needed spark. In the end, the Boston Bruins proved to be too much and swept us in four straight. 

The Caps had run out of gas and out of luck. I still think if the team had stayed healthy - I still think if we could have beaten the Bruins - the Capitals would have had a tremendous final series against Edmonton and might have won the Cup. 

We'll never know....but I still feel that way."

Mike Fornes on the significance of the Caps making the 1990 Conference Final:

"The team had never played in the month of May.  And it was great to get the demons off their back and really to be able to say they had played in the month of May.  

Of course we played against Boston and the Bruins swept us in 4 straight and that was the comeuppance.  But that was because of injuries and that was because of things that really had nothing to do with their spirit of winning – which I think they had finally proved [they had] at that point.  

So it took a long time – I mean the Islanders had a spell on the Capitals there for a while – and it seemed like other teams in what was then the Patrick Division also took turns – the Rangers did it to us - the Devils did it to us – and the Flyers enjoyed doing it to us – to finally get past all of them – there was some real justification in that." 

Mike Fornes on being let go from the Caps:

"I had a 3 year contract at the time.  I had been there before, but the contract I was on was ending.   I had 3 different ‘masters’.  I worked for one TV station, Channel 20, which did the games on the road.   I worked for one TV station, Home Team Sports, which did the games at home.  

And I didn’t get any paychecks from the Capitals, but the Capitals had a say in which announcers were used.  I think there was pressure on management in terms of marketing.  They wanted to sell tickets.  

I think the marketing part was probably on the forefront of their minds.   It’s a business.  I understood that.  I understand that today.  For me it was all hockey.  I was trained to announce hockey.  

I was knowledgeable about the game and that’s really what I wanted to talk about.   I didn’t really get as excited about how many times you would talk about selling tickets for the next game or whatever.   

I think that probably related to their sense that they maybe wanted to do something different.  And that’s their prerogative.   They are the ones that have the say-so.

I wanted to announce a hockey game the way that I thought the fans wanted it announced.  I wanted to be able to describe the game to a fan and I think the fans had a real trust in me in the way that I called the game.   

I think they knew I was going to tell the truth.   I wanted the team to win.  But if the team didn’t win I was going to tell why.  Just like I was going to tell why they won.  I was going to tell why they lost.  

And I think the marketing mentality at the time - which I think is even heightened even more now - is inclined to try and make it more of a marketing tool than a reporting tool.  That’s the way I was cut out.  

I was not that type of a guy.  I was the guy who was going to tell what happened, tell the truth.  I think the players respected that.  I never had any problems with players.  I wasn’t the type to get on a player’s back.  

If they made a mistake, I just said they made a mistake and that was the end of it.  I think my focus was more hockey oriented and I think the team wanted to go in a direction that was more marketing oriented."

Mike Fornes on how he found out he was no longer the Caps’ announcer:

"I got a phone call from a reporter from the Washington Times.  That’s how I was notified." 

Mike Fornes on if that surprised him:

"I don’t think it was what I expected from the people I had come to know who ran the Capitals."

Mike Fornes on Abe Pollin:

"I had a lot of respect for the late Mr. Pollin.  You know, he was the ownership I was associated with and he wrote me a very nice letter after I left the team and told me he appreciated all that I had done.   

He assured me that people who worked for him were given jobs to do and it was up to them -- and he didn’t necessarily agree with the fact that I wasn’t going to be doing the games anymore -- but he wasn’t going to interfere because he let those people make decisions like that.  I respected that."  

Mike Fornes on Pollin being known for caring more about the Bullets:

"People used to say that.  But I was treated very well by the team when I was there.  So I couldn’t say that related to me."

Mike Fornes on the “limo incident”:

"That happened after the playoffs were over and I was already [away from DC] for the summer, so the only things I knew about it were what I read in the papers, which wasn't much."  

Mike Fornes on his relationship with today’s Capitals organization:

"I don’t think I have a relationship because I’ve never been asked to do anything.  But I would love to do something with the alumni and I wish I would be asked.  

I was part of those years and I have nothing but good feelings about those years.   It’s part of history.  It’s part of hockey history and I’m proud that I was the broadcaster for the Capitals.  

I’m a Caps fan and I would love to come back and do something with the team sometime."


  1. I was at the game in '88 and 23 years later this interview put me right back in the stands. Great interview. Mr. Leonsis, please bring back Mike Fornes for an alumni event.

  2. Grew up with Al & Mike doing broadcasts. Agree with his assessment, he did a great job teaching me the game and not just to root for the Caps.

    Would love to see him at the Caps Convention either on a panel or otherwise.

  3. Great interview!! It is great to hear what Mike is up to and hear his thoughts after all of these years. I too grew up listening to Mike and Al, even imitating Mike call the games while playing street hockey. I was angry when they let Mike go and still miss him calling the games today. He was great.

  4. Wouldn't it be GREAT to get Fornes to do a special sit in visit with Al Koken and Craig Laughlin during a Caps home game next season? How I miss the team of Fornes and Koken. Fornes alway came across genuine in the fact that he was a fan of the Caps. Joe B. not even close. I am so glad that the biggest goal in Caps history has Fornes' voice on it and not Joe B's!!!

  5. Been a Caps fan since 76 remember him we'll always thought did a great job was shocked when let go !