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The benefits of his escape from Toronto took awhile to kick in. Iafrate sums them up thusly: "I made some really cool friends." While judging a bikini contest in Annapolis during that first off-season, he got to talking to one of his fellow judges, Willie Heflin, an automobile wholesaler. The conversation turned to motorcycles: Iafrate owns two Harleys. As it happens, Willie's brother Sonny does custom work on Harleys, and Iafrate has become friends with both brothers. "They're both married and have kids," says Iafrate. "I go over right around dinnertime and play with the kids."
Sonny, who has since opened Custom Cycle Works in Crofton, Md., is in the process of customizing Iafrate's Springer Softail. "When he's in town, he's at the shop just about every day," says Sonny. "We don't talk that much about hockey."
Says Michael Lee, another friend of Iafrate's: "That's because Al goes into the shop and says, 'Hey, guys, I made the All-Star team!' and they say, 'Cool, Al, check out this carburetor.' "
Iafrate's social circle widened further when Lee, the program director at Rock 103, a Baltimore radio station, found out that Iafrate was a devoted listener. Soon Iafrate was cohosting a weekly show called The Afternoon Power Play with Al Iafrate. The two-hour show has attracted a cult following. Iafrate selects the music, older heavy-metal standards by artists such as Ozzy Osbourne and Sammy Hagar, plus some newer music, by groups like Copperhead, Asphalt Ballet and Badlands. "He's turned us on to some pretty cool stuff," says Lee. In Al Sings, a segment on the program, Iafrate sings a tune and callers can win Capital tickets by naming it. "I can sing anything that requires me to sound like an attack dog," he says.
Callers talk to Iafrate about heavy metal, motorcycles, tattoos and, less frequently, hockey. Exchanges are, for the most part, civil. There are exceptions. Upon learning that Iafrate had a subcompact Volkswagen, one rocket scientist called in and accused Iafrate of driving "a fag car."
"Buddy," said Iafrate before disconnecting the jerk, "my girlfriends could kick your ass."
The truth, according to Iafrate, is that he has led a monk's life this season, and he points to his play to back up that claim. Indeed, after a tepid start Iafrate caught fire around Thanksgiving. In 10 games between Nov. 25 and Dec. 12, he had eight goals and 14 assists. The Capitals went 9-1 during that stretch. "When Al is on," says Capital coach Terry Murray, "he brings people out of their seats every time he touches the puck."
The key to his surge has been an increased use of his gray matter, which had never before been Iafrate's strong suit. "Al's biggest improvement has come in his reading of the game," says Murray. "There are only two or three times a night that I want a defenseman joining the attack. He's picking the right moments."
When he does get caught up-ice, Iafrate can often erase the error with pure speed. And if he catches you, duck and cover. Although he rarely fights—"Every time I do, I break a facial bone"—he delights in crushing opponents along the boards. Said Chicago Blackhawk forward Dirk Graham, "When he runs into you, you remember it."
Graham didn't mind paying Iafrate that compliment last month, because Chicago had just physically dominated the Capitals in a 6-2 win. Meanwhile, in a damp cranny behind the visitors' dressing room in Chicago Stadium, Iafrate vented his disgust between long, angry pulls on a postgame cigarette. "We're——soft," he said. "They pushed us around tonight!"