After Hockey: Caps Alumni & Why They’re Still Here

Posted August 6, 2012

Gary Rissling (left) and Alan Hangsleben (right) played in the alumni game at this year’s Leap Towards a Cure charity hockey tournament. Photo by Caps Outsider

It is hard for many of us to imagine what hockey players go through when they leave home for the first time.  Living the dream that sends them off means a life bouncing from city to city, the probability of being traded, international competition and promotion and demotion between leagues, both in North America and abroad.  So at the end of it all, how do they choose where to settle?

For some, it’s predestined–the Modanos, the Robitailles–but for lesser-known alumni like former Caps Alan Hangsleben, Gordon Lane and Gary Rissling, the answer might be less obvious.

All three played for Washington in the late 1970s/early 1980s when the team was struggling to close a season at .500.  None played more than five seasons for Washington and the one who did went on to win four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders.  All three were in attendance at this past weekend’s Leap Towards a Cure charity tournament at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel, Md. where, among other things, I asked them why they chose to settle here.

Lane and Rissling perhaps have the most obvious reasons: they married Maryland girls.  Though Rissling’s 1981 trade to Pittsburgh led him to play for the Penguins in the 2011 Winter Classic alumni game, his heart lies with the Hershey and Baltimore AHL clubs with which he spent the majority of his career.

Lane’s final days in the area on the other hand, included consistent benchings and thoughts of retirement.  “Caps weren’t doing anything at all for me, I wasn’t doing anything for the Caps.  So one day I just woke up and said ‘What am I doing here?’ …so I just stayed home,” said the former defenseman of the the change that new coach Gary Green brought, leaving him on the fringe.  Despite the bitter circumstances of his departure, his wife and the network he had built while playing in the Capital Centre brought Lane back after his time in Long Island.

If love compelled Lane and Rissling to spend their post-hockey days in Maryland, it was practicality that drove Hangsleben.  Drafted by both the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens and the WHA’s Hartford Whalers in 1973, Hangsleben chose the latter where he believed he had a better chance of being noticed sooner.  The merger of the two leagues in 1979 marked the end of his time in Hartford as he was traded to Washington that season.

“D.C. was a much larger city, much more things to get yourself into–more problems.  Hartford was more of a family atmosphere versus D.C.,” noted Hangsleben, who was shifted from defense to left wing before the trade and maintains ties to Hartford.

After playing for the L.A. Kings and some international travel though, the Minnesota native found Maryland the only liveable place to be, “It’s the only area that has four distinct seasons and none of them are really harsh…I would never go back [to Minnesota]–to live anyway.  I go back twice a year to visit, but not to live.”