They are a match made in hockey heaven.
Joe Beninati, the dapper and loquacious 50-year-old perfectionist from Long Island, and Craig Laughlin, the fun-loving, back-slapping, 58-year-old former hockey player from Toronto.
On Friday night, during CSN’s broadcast of the Capitals’ game against the visiting Nashville Predators, Laughlin will be honored for his 25 seasons as CSN’s Capitals analyst. And from the drop of the puck until the final horn, Beninati will be by his side enjoying every moment.
The two began working full-time together at the start of the 1996-97 season.
“I had heard about the personality,” Beninati said. “I had heard about the fun-loving laughter. I had heard about the voice.”
What Beninati did not know was that for the next 19 seasons he would become Laughlin’s human punchline while also seeing the two become the closest of friends.
“We hit it off right away,” Beninati recalls. “He loves to laugh, we know that. So do I. He loves to use me as a punch line and I’m OK with that. I’ve been playing off that for almost 19 seasons on the air together. Everything I came to love about him he still is.”
During the course of a nine-month hockey season Beninati says rarely a day goes by without Laughlin saying something that drops his jaw.
“So many of the things that catch me off guard are the ones when we’re on a plane or in a hotel or at a restaurant or at the rink, but not on the air,” Beninati said. “He’s always laughing halfway through it but some of them are real gut punches and thankfully, I’ve been able to withstand them. He’s probably aged me 38 years in the 19 we’ve been together.”
Like the time during the third period of a game between the Capitals and Calgary Flames that Laughlin decided to inform Beninati that Flames forward Daymond Langkow had requested his name be pronounced LANG-KO and not LANG-COW, as it had throughout his playing career.
“He knows I’m a stickler for pronunciation,” Beninati recalled. “But he didn’t tell me until the third period. So I’m calling the guy LANG-COW, LANG-COW, LANG-COW, and then he jumps in and says (mimicking Laughlin’s nasally voice), ‘Oh, by the way, uh, he wants it said, LANG-KO!’ Hello! You couldn’t tell me that before the game?”
When they aren’t poking fun at one another, Beninati says Laughlin has found an uncanny ability to convey his hockey knowledge in small, concise bites.
“I think people in this area, whether it’s Landover or D.C., have learned the game from Craig and that voice has said a lot of good and accurate and very instructive things,” he said. “Some of the best things Locker does on the air is teach.”
Many of those hockey lessons have come not just from playing the game – Laughlin played in 549 NHL games with the Canadiens, Capitals, Kings and Maple Leafs from 1981-89 – but from the countless stories Laughlin has heard and shared in his four decades around the NHL.
“He can befriend anybody,” Beninati said. “He can be in a room of 50 and he can find the right people to rub elbows with and to have a laugh with and to share stories about our team and learn stories about the other team.
“His prep work is terrific and he can dig deeper into games to tell stories. That comes from shaking hands and laughing and getting on the good side of people who are coaches, players, executives, people in the media. He’s really good at that. People warm up to him. His personality is such that you gravitate towards that. If you want a good laugh and a chance to learn, go to Locker.”
Beninati said Laughlin’s good-natured personality has helped lighten his own “Game 7 mentality” and “hard-core broadcasting role” and has helped make their on-air delivery entertaining for more than a generation of Capitals fans.
“The two of us are linked,” Beninati said. “You recognize one and you assume he’s there with the other. He calls us a comedy act and that’s part of it. But it’s a small part of it. He’s far more than just comic relief. He’s one of my best friends off the ice. I love going to work, I love sitting in a booth with him. That will never change. I’d like to think that kind of relationship carries over to the airwaves and I sure hope we’re together for a long, long time.”