One of John Walton’s most memorable occasions as a broadcaster came when he had to lend Bruce Boudreau his pants. Literally, the pants off his body.
The coach of the Hershey Bears at the time, Boudreau forgot to bring his suit pants to the stadium for a game against Bridgeport. The year was 2006 and Walton was the play-by-play radio broadcaster for the Bears, the minor league affiliate of the Washington Capitals. Walton was called down to the locker-room 20 minutes before game-time to find Boudreau dressed in a shirt, tie, suit jacket and his boxers. The animated coach was spitting mad while his players tucked their chins down trying to conceal their laughter.
The Bears won the game. But the real question, did the superstitious Boudreau keep Walton’s pants? “My waistline is a little different than Bruce’s,” the Capitals radio play-by-play announcer said with a laugh. “Bruce said he couldn’t yell at the refs because he had to suck it in too much. Superstition ends with a size 34.”
That is probably one of the more humorous recollections for Walton, though the memories he’s accumulated over the years as a broadcaster are as plentiful as they are diverse.
Back in 1996, Walton’s first radio broadcast for baseball’s Cincinnati Reds was tragically cut short when the home-plate umpire, John McSherry, was stricken by a massive heart attack on the field seven pitches into opening day. McSherry died an hour later at a local hospital. “That gave me some perspective,” Walton said. “I think I maintain a pretty even-keel professionally. I get excited during the games, sure, but I try to keep a big-picture perspective.”
Walton grew up in Ohio where his father taught at Miami University. He would eventually attend Miami himself in 1991 and was immediately taken with hockey. “I was hooked right away. My first memories are growing up in the coldest climates with frozen ponds.”
Miami had a terrific division one hockey team and Walton already had the itch to do broadcast work, so calling the games was a natural fit. Eventually broadcasting would take him to the Hershey Bears, where he became closely affiliated with several key figures in recent Capitals history, including ex-coach Boudreau and players like Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Braden Holtby, Mike Green and Eric Fehr.
Walton will be entering his fifth season as the radio play-by-play voice for the Capitals this year. He also serves as the team’s director of broadcasting, overseeing the 12-station Washington Capitals Radio Network. He likes the chances of this Capitals squad this season, and is impressed with the job coach Barry Trotz did in his first season with the team.
In the offseason, the Capitals added T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, both gifted scoring wingers, but lost Green, Fehr, Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward, who was a favorite of Walton.
The changes are already making an impact, The Hockey News picked the Capitals to reach the Stanley Cup finals this year against Boudreau’s Anaheim Ducks. “I think the expectations are pretty high,” Walton said. “You’ve got one of the most respected coaches in the game. They acquired an Olympic hero in T.J. Oshie. They got Williams. Holtby is a year wiser. I’m excited, I’ll tell you that.”
While Walton knows all the Capitals well, he has a particular affinity for Holtby, having watched the goalie work his way up through Hershey to become one of the top goalies in the league.
Walton lists among his most memorable moments the time when captain Alex Ovechkin scored four goals in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. A couple of other fond memories were created by Ward, the first of which was his overtime goal in game 7 in 2012 to beat the Boston Bruins, then the defending Stanley Cup champions. Another Ward moment came this past spring when he scored with just 1.3 seconds left to stun the New York Rangers in game one of their series. “I literally had one foot out the door to go to the bathroom before overtime.”
DC is home now for Walton and his family. He treasures his profession in a sport that is in his blood. Even though it sounds like a dream job, Walton is on the road half the season with the team when they travel, and he is constantly studying and talking with broadcasting greats like Michael “Doc” Emrick and listening to sporting events of any type to polish his own game.
“The story can be told a thousand ways and we need to weave together a tapestry for a single broadcast,” Walton said. “Being a storyteller for an NHL team is special.”
To learn more about John Walton visit www.capitalsvoice.monumentalnetwork.com.
Catch John calling play-by-play for the Capitals at the season opener on Oct. 10 at 7 p.m against the New Jersey Devils.