DJ Stretch: Pumping Up the Volume of Verizon Center

There was something mischievously odd about the smirk on Brett Leonhardt’s face as he approached me in the Verizon Center pre-game press box a few weeks back.

“Did you hear ‘Tom Sawyer’?” he asked me, alluding to the ’80s Rush classic that’s long been a staple of hockey arena soundtracks the continent over. “I played it just for OFB,” he added with a big grin.

Indeed I’d heard the track in the elevator ride upstairs, but Stretch’s role in its playing was lost on me. And while that track isn’t uncommon as a warmup tune in hockey, Stretch’s somehow thinking of me, and OFB, in playing it . . . thrilled me. In fact, we man-hugged. I feigned watery eyes. We had a Canadian-and-adopted-Canadian communal moment. We laughed. It got the evening off to a fun start.

And getting game evenings off to fun starts is a brand new part of Stretch’s job description. I did some asking around of media that night and learned: the Caps’ man all about web site video is also the official DJ Dude about Pre-Game Warmup Tunes. For the 16 minutes the Caps and their adversary take warmups beginning around 6:30 on game nights, Leonhardt personally chooses the tracks that pump up the players and fans.

And he’s exceptionally good at it. No less than Alexander Ovechkin has praised him for it, and Ovi’s allowed Stretch to snatch some tracks off his iPod for his new job. Karl Alzner came up to Leonhardt recently and told him, “I can’t tell you how much this [music] pumps me up!” A lot of Capitals’ players approach Stretch these days fairly begging consideration of their iPod favs for pre-game play. Stretch graciously listens to the suggestions, but he really needs no help. This guys knows music, alright; his passion and flair for the perfect pump-up setlist is reflected in the breadth of tunes and genres that he plays and the fact that so many fans have emailed him asking for the identities of the songs in his setlists. The Caps are helping these fans out, publishing the playlists for each game on the team’s web site.

“The response from the players has been great,” the DJ-goalie-web-guru concedes.

It was fun for me to explore the genesis of this new line of work with Leonhardt. As captain of a beer league hockey team back in my playing days, I had the responsibility for making discs of motivational tunes for our locker room before playoff games. We didn’t have the tunes necessarily for regular season play, but always for the playoffs. It’s a quasi-sacred sonic ritual in hockey. Mostly metal, maybe, increasingly hip-hop, always some vintage rock, the tempo always up, the guitars always grinding.

Perhaps what you notice most about the pre-game tuneage at Verizon Center this season is just how much of it there is. Leonhardt told me that as he travels from rink to rink around the league he notices an unwavering uniformity of approach to the warmup jams: 4-5 songs gobbling up the 16 minutes, all played from start to finish. Leonhardt, on the other hand, takes pride in cramming in snippets or more of up to 17 tracks. And he tosses in a few Capitals’ goal calls for good measure. Great tuneage melded with past scoring success — no wonder the boys below get fired up.

On any given home game night a fan in the stands will hear Stretch open warmups with say Johnny Cash’s ‘Rusty Cage’ and transition, cleverly, seamlessly, to Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. From Zeppelin to hip-hop, the vast range of Stretch’s sonic palate is lavishly indulged.

“Music’s always been a huge part of my life,” D.C.’s tallest DJ told me. “My whole life as a kid was about hockey, but throughout school I also played instruments — guitar, bass, drums. I played in the monthly assemblies at school,” he added.

Leonhardt credits car rides with his father throughout the early years of his developing hockey career with fostering his appreciation for all styles of tunes. Any Canadian kid who gets serious about hockey spends a lot of time in the family car, and the senior Leonhardt wanted his son exposed to the music that made a mark on his own life.

“My dad used to play Led Zeppelin in the car before my games. He wanted to introduce me to that era,” Stretch said.

Canada's Casey Kasem, aka Stretch

When the Caps interviewed Stretch for his web video job a couple of years back the interview process included Mike Vogel, who boasts his own considerable passion for music. Music emerged as a bonding topic in their interview discussion.

“We’re constantly sharing CDs,” Stretch says of his shared passion with the Caps’ senior web writer. “And like me he likes so many different kinds music.”

Today the two travel on every Capitals’ roadtrip, and just as soon as the season’s schedule is announced the two of them plot outings to the continent’s most revered live music venues in their cities of lodging.

This season’s DJ-ing all started, innocently enough, on a Potomac River cruise outing the team had for its employees in the offseason. Stretch volunteered to spin tunes. His co-workers loved him for it. Mike Wurman directs the Caps’ in-game entertainment at Verizon Center and more or less auditioned Stretch on opening night. A star of stirring sound was born.

I asked DJ Stretch to compile a very special playlist, for a visit by the Penguins on a winter Saturday night, a set of tunes to get the hosts and their Red Army in the stands amped up at a fever-pitched for battle against our most bitter foe. This is what he came up with:

  • Courage‘ by the Tragically Hip (“Gotta have some Canadian in there”)

There is a whole lotta rockin and rollin readying the ranks in red this season, and the man behind it sure knows how to multi-task.

This entry was posted in Alexander Ovechkin, Brett Leonhardt, Karl Alzner, Media, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, Rush, Verizon Center, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to DJ Stretch: Pumping Up the Volume of Verizon Center

  1. Ralph Hass says:

    Very cool!
    I just featured that Tragically Hip song on my blog on November 5th:
    Oh My Gord!
    Before the Hip’s concert in Kamloops, BC in early 1995, I arranged for the opening act (the Odds) to sing the national anthem at a Blazers game the previous night in my role doing promotions and sales for Warner Music Canada.

    Ralph Hass
    – MSG-TV imaging voice for the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres (2006 – 2009)
    – SHAW-TV imaging voice for the WHL
    – Heard weekly on the “Thurman Thomas TV Show” for the Buffalo Bills

  2. Charlie says:

    Nice to to see throw a little HIP in there! I’d go with 50 Mission Cap but you might not have wanted any mention of the Leafs winning the Cup. I like your writing.

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