Al Koken is a name that is synonymous with Washington Capitals hockey, and for good reason. For more than 30 seasons, “Smokin Al” has helped bring the experience of Capitals television broadcasts into fans’ living rooms. From interviewing players, to calling games, to studio work, the multi-faceted broadcaster has become just as recognizable and popular as many of the players he covers on a nightly basis. In this article, NoVa Caps takes a look at Koken’s illustrious career with the Capitals (thus far), and also looks at his work in other sports.
In 1973, Koken came to DMV with the goal of studying law and politics at American University. Soon thereafter, he began writing for the school’s paper, specializing in sports. After his work was highly-praised by one of the university’s journalism professors, Koken put his political and law career on hold to do freelance sports journalism. After a stint with the Montgomery County Sentinel, he began covering the Capitals and Bullets (now the Wizards) for United Press International Wire Service.
Koken first joined NBC Sports Washington (originally Home Team Sports) in 1984 after working for Washington TV’s WUSA, WTOP and WTTG networks, where he served as a member of the networks’ sports departments. Upon joining Home Team Sports in 1984, Koken served in a number of roles, including analyst, play-by-play announcer for the Capitals, and in-studio host. It was during his time at WUSA that he was given the nickname “Smokin Al Koken” (which is detailed in this Washington Post story from 2013). Koken is the longest-tenured on-air personality for NBC Sports Washington. He served as an analyst from his first season (1984-85) to 1989-90, a play-by-play announcer in 1995-96, and an in-studio host and on-ice reporter throughout his 34-year career covering the Capitals.
In addition, the popular broadcaster has covered every other major sport in the Washington area, including college basketball, serving as a play-by-play announcer for Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles, and the aforementioned coverage of the Bullets/Wizards.
For the past 22 seasons, Koken has worked alongside Capitals’ television play-by-play announcer Joe Beninati and color anlayst Craig Laughlin, and the trio have become as recognizable and as popular as the players they cover. During the 2014-15 season, the Capitals recognized Koken for his 30 seasons of service with an in-game ceremony, presentation of a custom jersey, and a celebration in Chinatown after the game.
While Al has been covering the Capitals for 34 seasons, he always brings the same enthusiasm and passion to every broadcast, and his willingness to interact with fans at practices is something that endears him to the Capitals’ fan base. And after being one of many who witnessed multiple heartbreaking losses in the playoffs, he was rewarded with the Capitals’ first Stanley Cup championship in 2018.
For those of us who have been there since the beginning , it’s about f***ing time !!! pic.twitter.com/5ecSn0YmPT
— Al Koken (@RealSmokinAl) October 4, 2018
By Michael Fleetwood