First Annual Caps Alumni Game Kicks off Convention

Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, September 24, 2011 | , | 2 comments »

The retired heroes of Washington Capitals' teams past walked by on their way to the locker rooms like a parade of memories. Don Beaupre. Calle Johansson. Mike Gartner, carrying a Toronto Maple Leafs equipment bag. Mark Lofthouse, who wore No. 8 before it was cool. Peter Bondra. The list went on and on.

For anyone that grew up on these names, these players, it was a thrill seeing them at all, let alone a couple hours later when they took the ice wearing those familiar uniforms with the stars down the sleeves and pant legs.

Hey, wasn't that Ron Lalonde?

In the end, Team Langway defeated Team Laughlin 5-4, but it wasn't without a scramble at the end when Laughlin, now a broadcaster for the team, pulled goalie Brett "Stretch" Leonhardt for an extra skater in an effort to tie it up.

"Yeah, we had seven guys on the ice there for a while because I didn't think six was enough to try to tie it," Locker said, "And plus I knew [Referee Bill] McCreary wasn't gonna see it anyway."

"But I thought it was great. You know what it is though, I really wanted to win -- badly -- cause I hate to lose, plus I hated to lose to Langway. But, in the big scheme of things, the fans, the hype, and seriously, that's what it's all about. They're all guys that have played here before that are excited to get back to the community anyway they can and we think the alumni can be a big part of the community in building even a bigger Washington Capitals network. So, I thought it was terrific."

Peter Bondra talked about how the competitive fires took over late in the close game. "No matter what, hockey players say, 'We'll take it easy,' but in the end everybody wants to try to win the game. When the game got tied up, there was hooking going on, tripping, slashing. You can't hold back, you just go 100 percent and have fun

Did you see John Druce?

The youngest alumni that dressed for the game was Leonhardt, the team's web producer for four years. "Stretch" also suited up for practice on occasion as an extra goalie, and famously dressed for one NHL game on a special one-day contract when the Caps had an injury at the position and couldn't get a backup up from the minors by the time the game started.

"When they asked me I couldn't believe there wasn't someone else that's been here a long time as a Capital that was available,"Leonhardt said before the game. "I knew there were a lot of injuries and guys that didn't play anymore, so I don't know, I was obviously really excited. Even though I'm not really an alumni, I was part of the organization for four years, so it's cool. So I'm so excited."

Was it all he thought it would be? "Better. No matter how slow a guy looks or how old he looks, their hand/eye [coordination out there, their vision on the ice out there was incredible. If they've lost a step, it doesn't matter. They were professional hockey players at one time in their life and they know where to be on the ice and it was a pleasure to be out there, for sure."

Look, it's Dennis Maruk!

Several alumni that played last night also played at the Caps/Penguins alumni game that was part of the Winter Classic last New Year's. Goalie Don Beaupre was one of those players, and he said he had not put his pads on for nine years before that and hadn't put them back on until last night."

I was at the Winter Classic and that was a lot of fun, so it was easy to say yes and come back here and play with these guys," Beaupre said from the winning locker room. "Some guys that weren't there New Year's were here today so it was fun to see the guys still play. It was pretty impressive, some of those guys can still go. Just a fun night all around."

Yvon Labre can still bring it!

One of the highlights of the event was when Alan May -- one time NHL tough guy now team broadcaster -- and Kevin "Killer" Kaminski dropped the mitts at center ice just before the face-off to start the third period. The pair appeared to be really going at it for the benefit of the fans, but spent much of the fight punching each other in the shoulders. But a few punches at least grazed each other's face, as they were both bloodied after the bout.

"Oh yeah, he hit me about three times," Kaminski said afterwards, smiling. "We were just supposed to throw over the shoulder but he hit me a few times, but that's the way it goes. We're both that kind of same player -- competitive, do anything it takes for your teammates. It was a lot of fun, I had a blast out there. It was great to come back and see everybody again, and it was a great crowd to put on a little show for them."

Kaminski also addressed the size of the crowd for the alumni game, which rivaled the size of some of the crowds he played in front of during his active days. "This town is crazy about the Caps. What a great move, to move to the building down here [Verizon Center]. The sea of red, you know, unleash the fury, all that stuff. It's absolutely amazing the way it's caught on down here."

Bondra noted the crowd as well. "It's great for fans. I saw a lot of my jerseys [in the stands], a lot of Rod Langway jerseys. So it's good to see those people get a chance to come here and see us doing this and good for the Caps to have us here."

Ken Sabourin looks like he could still play.

Mike Gartner, recently elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame and just the fifth member of the 700-goal club, was delighted to see so many of his old teammates. "It was really good for me personally. There's some guys there that I haven't seen for 15 years. So it's really good to get connected again and we're gonna go out after to a restaurant and just kind of try and catch up. It's really a lot of fun."

When I remarked to Gartner that he still had his "wheels", he replied, "Well, not completely. But there still something there."

There was still "something there" in all of those players last night. And for the fans assembled, seeing them one more time like that was a fond and nostalgic trip down memory lane, and a great way to get fired up for the return of today's heroes and the new season.

Boudreau Juggling Lines in the Pre-Season

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, September 23, 2011 | , , | 0 comments »

I don't blame all the breathless Tweeting and posting from Kettler this week about how Bruce Boudreau is tinkering with possible line combinations.  We're all excited for the return of hockey and unless there's an injury or trade there's not much else to write about during a practice from training camp. 

Knuble's on the second line?  Johansson is still with Ovi!  Ward could play first or third RW?  Etc, ad nauseum.

But let's face it, this is what Boudreau does.  And this is what pre-season is for.  Especially with all the new veteran faces out there, it's a good time to mix things up and see who might be comfortable playing with whom. 

The big thing that Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward bring to this team -- other than an innate toughness -- is versatility.  Both players have experience playing up and down the line up and on either wing and are defensively responsible.  You could see either one of them playing comfortably on any of the top three lines.  And during the course of an 82-game season, we probably will.

So what is the best combination of those lines?  Who knows, really.  Mr. Fancystats over at RMNB does a great job of number crunching and his research is a good place to start the discussion with.  But Boudreau rarely sticks with line combinations longer than a few games, if that.  Is it better to keep static line combos, or move players around giving opponents different looks all the time?  It's a fascinating question.

Recently, Boudreau has talked about staggering the power play personnel so that he can put a scoring line on the ice following the man-advantage.  It's an interesting theory to be able to roll out a scoring line while the opponent's top defensive players are recovering from killing a penalty.  But all things considered, wouldn't just be more efficient to take advantage of the extra man?

It's fun to pretend we're the coach, doodling line combos on napkins at lunchtime.  But ultimately, it's the players who decide who plays where with their performance.  Boudreau can do all the tinkering he wants, but eventually you have to dance with the date that brung ya.  My bet is that at the end of the season, Ovechkin and Backstrom will still have played together more than any other combo on the team, despite all the pre-season juggling.

Capitals Cut 13 Players from Training Camp

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, September 21, 2011 | , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals cut 13 players this morning from training camp before travelling to Columbus for tonight's pre-season game with the Blue Jackets.

Among the cuts were Stan Galiev, who had a strong camp, and Danick Paquette, who was acquired in the off-season trade with Winnipeg for Eric Fehr.

Galiev was sent back to St. John of the QMJHL, his junior team, after a strong showing in both the rookie game against the Flyers and in Tuesday's pre-season opener against Nashville.

All of the players cut except Galiev are expected to report to Hershey's camp, which begins Sept. 25.

The rest of the players cut were:

F Francois Bouchard
F David de Kastrozza
F Kyle Greentree
F Boyd Kane
F Maxime Lacroix
F Graham Mink
F Garrett Mitchell
F Danick Paquette
D Paul Baier
D Zach Miskovic
D Phil Oreskovic
D Dustin Stevenson

Caps Slush Through Baltimore Hockey "Classic"

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, September 20, 2011 | , , | 0 comments »

The best thing to say about the Washington Capitals 2-0 loss to the Nashville Predators at the Baltimore Civic Center 1st Mariner Arena, is that no one got hurt due to the ice surface.

By all accounts of those that witnessed the event in person, the ice was soft, cracked, and pooling with water all night long.  The new voice of the Capitals, radio play-by-play man John Walton, remarked at every opportunity how poor the playing conditions were and how the pooling water and slush made stick-handling near impossible.

Of course, those conditions favored the plodding Nashville squad, who try to slow the game down at every opportunity regardless the conditions.  But the outcome really isn't the story coming out of this one.

I certainly understand the Capitals desire to reach out to the Baltimore community, and it's a nice gesture playing a game up there for loyal fans to see their team without having to schlep down to D.C. for once -- even if it's for just a meaningless pre-season game.  But if you're going to host a National Hockey League game, you darn sure should be required to provide an ice surface that neither impacts the game nor is potentially injurious, and the 1st Mariner Arena staff failed miserably by all accounts.

It's not like the game was played outdoors in a steady rain, or anything.

The Caps will get a chance Wednesday to shake the sting off this one off, as a squad will travel to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets at 7:00 pm.  The team has not announced at the time of this post who will be part of the travelling team.

Tomas Vokoun Gets Down to Business with Capitals

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, September 19, 2011 | , , | 0 comments »

“When they tell me to play, I’m gonna go on the ice and gonna play the best that I can.”

Of all the new faces on the Washington Capitals this season, none is more experienced — and perhaps none more under the microscope — than 35-year old netminder Tomas Vokoun. Vokoun has toiled his entire career 13-year NHL career for bottom-dwelling teams, first during the infancy of the Nashville Predators, then the last several lost seasons for the Florida Panthers. Yet, he has consistently been one of the better goalies in the league in terms of save percentage and goal against average yearly, despite playing for teams that have made the playoffs just twice during his tenure.

Vokoun famously signed a one-year deal for about one quarter of the market price for starting goalies to have a chance to play for the Capitals, citing the opportunity to play for the sport’s Holy Grail as the motivating factor.

After the Caps’ first training camp practice Saturday, Vokoun met the D.C. media for the first time and gave a really in-depth interview about all sorts of aspects about his transition, his relationship with countryman and fellow goalie Michal Neuvirth, his preparation for the season and what his expectations are for the upcoming season, both for the team and his own personal goals.

How did your first practice with your new teammates go?
“It felt good. I’d say it was a little bit harder than it usually is. I travelled [Friday] all day, but I felt good, it was a good up-tempo practice and thankfully for us — wasn’t overly hard so it felt good. Nice to kinda slowly break in and you don’t want to first day, you don’t want to pull something that’ll set you back longer. You want to go in and work hard, but it wasn’t too bad.”
What do you expect your workload to be this season?
“You know what, that’s coach’s decision and I never want to, in my career, include myself in those decisions. Coach always make the decision who’s gonna play and whoever that is that’s obviously his job. For me it’s to prepare for every game because quite frankly, you never know. You may not think you’re gonna play and end up playing and vice versa. But like I said, it was never made, those decisions myself, and I’m not expecting anything in that department to change this year.”
Have you had a chance to sit down with coaches Dave Prior and Olie Kolzig yet?
“I talked to Dave quite a bit when he was in Czech. We sit for a good three hours. Right before I left, last week when I was [in D.C.], we talked a little bit. It’s a long season. I think we’re gonna have lots of time we can spend together. I always enjoy working with people. For every goalie coach I play for there’s a little bit different mindsets on how things are supposed to be done. It’s good to learn and listen to other people on what they have to say. That’s how you learn new stuff and hopefully improve your game. For me, at my age I’m kind of on the baseline of what to do but you always need many hands and it’s good to have a guy that has so much experience and been around this team so long. He knows a lot of stuff. I’m just gonna kind of slowly find out.”
Does your preparation change at all going from a bad team to a favorite?
Actually, not at all. I played in international competition when I play on teams where we’re considered favorites, and I played in the Olympics, things like that. So, for me, it doesn’t change. It doesn’t matter who is in front of you, my job is to stop the puck. That never changes. But obviously both are different things, there are different challenges you have to face. As a goalie in the NHL, you have to be able to deal with all of them. So for me [the preparation] doesn’t change. Definitely not in the preparation. My preparation doens’t change if it’s a pre-season game to playoff game. At least for myself, I play every game I want to win. Obviously, it’s not possible, but you prepare that way and and I say last ten years I’ve been preparing the same way for every game. So I don’t think anything will change for me.”
What’s your relationship with Michal Neuvirth? Is it difficult or a benefit that he’s a countryman and that he looked up to you growing up?
“People think it’s something but it’s not. It’s a little bit different because there’s always gonna be things people gonna say in the paper back home and stuff like that, something I’m not worried about. I have a great relationship with my teammates and I alyaws did, even with all the goalies I played with. I keep relationships going with basically every guy I played with as a goalie. We call each other and stuff like that. I’m really easy-going. Michal said a lot of nice things about me, and that’s totally appreciated. But everybody understands that it’s a performance-based business and a competition. But I’ve been around long enough to be able to deal with that. Hopefully I can learn something from him, he can learn something from me and we just try to make each other better. Every year, it sounds like a cliche, but it’s true, because if you stay the way you were a few years back you wouldn’t be in the league anymore. So I’m looking forward to it.”
Is the pressure different playing on a team that’s expected to go deep in the playoffs?
“It’s gonna be, for me, hopefully, I’m gonna have the chance, which I didn’t have the last few years, to sit in that crease some games and you know, that score is 4-1 or 5-1 and I don’t have to worry every minute of every game. If it’s 1-1 or 2-1, every mistake you make people tell you ‘Oh, [you] give up bad goal and we lost’. You know, it’s kinda hard when every game is like that. Once in a while you’re gonna give up bad goal. I think we have a great team we have a chance to have… hopefully we’re going into the season, these 82 games, to build a good foundation to do what we want to do and go far in the playoffs and I think nobody here is setting up goals in the regular season. The messages was pretty clear over the summer. Obviously, the games are played on the ice, but what happened in the summer I think makes a great team even a little [more] improved from that, so it’s up to us players to perform up to our abilities and hopefully it’s gonna be enough to do what we want to do.”
Does it help that there are players here alreayd that you’ve been teammates with?
“I played with Dennis, I play with Roman [Hamrlik] for long years on the national team. I played against Alex [Ovechkin] many times being in the same division and against Russia and he always makes it competitive.”

Why did you sign a one-year deal to come to Washington?
"For me, this is a chance I basically never had in my career. And you never know, you may not get another one. So I’m gonna do everything I can to take advantage and not to waste it. I’m glad I’ve got the chance to play for team like this. I’m at the point in my career that I didn’t even think it would be possible anymore. So hopefully it’s a refreshing thing for me and definitely through the summer I take the preparation real seriously and came here hopefully ready and start working to the goal to help this team. And whatever that means, that’s gonna be determined, but like I said, hockey’s a team sport and you need all kinds of different people with all kinds of different [roles] on the team. When they tell me to play, I’m gonna go on the ice and gonna play the best that I can.”