By: Justin Creech
Washington, DC—The Washington Capitals have become one of the most exciting teams to watch in the NHL the last several season’s for several reasons. They have the game’s best player in two-time reigning league MVP Alex Ovechkin, the game’s most prolific scoring defensemen in Mike Green, a head coach whose biggest claim to fame just a few years ago was having been an extra in the cult film “Slapshot”, and a supporting cast of young, energetic players.
Of the many reasons why the Capitals have become was on the league’s biggest draws, one of the reason’s, and probably the most important, is how close the team is both on and off the ice.
Over the last several seasons, the Capitals players have formed a camaraderie with one another that has had just as much to do with their success on the ice as the talent that is on the roster.
“We’ve pretty much had the same team for the last two and a half to three years, so we all know each other,” said defenseman Tom Poti. “We all get along really well, and we are happy to be in here with each other.”
Poti, who is in his third season with the Capitals since signing with the club as free agent in the summer of 2007, said the team is closer now then it was when he first arrived.
“Well three years ago there were a lot of new guys and a lot of new faces,” said Poti. “The old guys welcomed us with open arms and we’ve just been a great fit for each other. There are no cliques on this team. Everyone hangs out together and I think that makes for good camaraderie and a fun atmosphere to play in.”
The average age of the Capitals’ current roster is only 27 years old, with the average age of the team’s core group only 24.
Several Capital’s including Eric Fehr, Mike Green, Tomas Fleischmann, Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich and David Steckel were all a part of the Hershey Bears, the Capitals minor league affiliate, run to the 2005-2006 Calder Cup.
Those players, along with Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom have been with the Capitals since the start of the 2007-2008 season, which has allowed the group the opportunity to mature in the NHL with one another.
“A lot of guys first pro years were here in DC, and for a lot of us it was in Hershey in the minors, so whether we’ve come up through here or Hershey it’s been a pretty big journey,” said Steckel. “There’s some pretty big things that happen in life that happen in your early 20’s, and I think we’ve experienced those things together and I think that makes us very tight knit.”
The closeness amongst the players has been evident several times this season both on and off the ice.
Just last week, the Capitals had several incidents during games that called for teammates to physically stand up for one another with the most notable incident occurring a week ago against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Late in the third period with the Capitals trailing 7-4, Lightning forward Steve Downie challenged Oveckin to a fight after the two came out of the penalty box. Ovechkin obliged by dropping his gloves and taking off his helmet, but Capitals forward Matt Bradley quickly came to Oveckin’s aid by stepping between Ovechkin and Downie.
On Friday, defenseman Shaone Morrison did the same after Toronto Maple Leafs enforcer Colton Orr knocked Mike Green to the ice with what was perceived to be a cheap shot. Morrison quickly grabbed Orr and began throwing punches.
“Whenever you have a guy like [Downie] who likes to disrupt things on the ice and a guy like that going after the best player in the world you can’t allow that to happen,” said Bradley. “We’ve got a bunch of guys on our team that you wouldn’t want fighting [Downie], so whether it’s me or other guys that are on the ice at that time we’d jump in there and we don’t want those guys fighting.”
Another example of the Capitals’ team first attitude is the recent acquisition of forward Jason Chimera. Chimera was traded to the Capitals just before there December 28 game against the Carolina Hurricanes for then Capital’s Captain Chris Clark and defensemen Milan Jurcina. Clark had been the teams’ Captain since the start of the 2006-2007 season, however, Chimera said he was welcomed to the team with open arms.
“I think anytime you get to a new team you are welcomed,” said Chimera. “Hockey players in general are pretty good guys. It is a business, guys realize that and the guys have been pretty good, it’s been a pretty easy adjustment so far, but it doesn’t hurt when you are winning to make an adjustment.”
Chimera arrived in Washington on December 28 to take physical at Verizon Center, then hitched a ride with Brooks Laich to Dulles International Airport so the team could fly to San Jose. Chimera said Laich’s gesture made the adjustment period a lot easier and also gave him an opportunity to learn about his new team.
“I was like a kid again asking him 35 questions,” said a smiling Chimera. “It was nice of him to stay back and give me a ride and let me know what was going on. It’s nice when guys take it upon themselves to help a guy out when he comes in. Stuff like that makes a good team and shows you how dedicated they are to the guys that come here and it’s nice to have that.”
While Laich waiting for Chimera was a stand-up gesutre, he is not the only player on the team willing to step forward to help out a teammate, which is something the Capital’s know will go a long way as they hit the stretch run of the season.
“That could be any guy on this team doing that,” said Bradley of Laich’s gesture. “It could be Ovie. We are lucky to have a great group of guys in here and that goes a long way come playoff time.”