So, last Thursday (9/18/09) was my first assignment with the Washington Capitals this year, and my first ever beat assignment for, well, anybody.
First off, I was going to have to find the Kettler Iceplex; then I needed to find the Caps’ office to receive my press credential. This was a little easier than I had figured, so I wound up at the Caps’ office at 12:15 for a 3 o’clock game. Everyone was out to lunch, so I was going to have to wait and come back for my credential. This gave me ample time to talk to some of the fans who showed up and were waiting around to pick up their tickets for the game.
Surprisingly, the fans that I talked to seemed completely unconcerned about Olie Kolzig going to Tampa Bay, and Cristobal Huet leaving for Chicago. One even went so far as to say “Good riddance” about the matter as it pertained to Kolzig. I got the distinct impression that this feeling came from the fact that Olie seemed “too good” to be a backup here, but was okay with being a backup in Tampa Bay. It’ll be interesting to see if he plays at all November 10th, when the Lightning come to Verizon, and what kind of reception the fans give him.
I was able to return the next morning for the start of the Capitals Training Camp. I got the opportunity to talk to a few of the Capitals and their Coach, Bruce Boudreau.
If there’s any ill will toward Kolzig on the part of the Capitals, it wasn’t showing.
“I had a great time with Olie.” said Capitals’ center, Brooks Laich, “He really helped me my first years. He is a great guy to have in the locker room. I can’t say enough about him, he’s awesome. Every day he came to work hard. He was very professional. He’s also great with young guys, and helping us into the league.”
“We’ll always remember Olie being here very fondly,” said Washington’s coach, Bruce Boudreau, “and if he does start, I hope he gets a 10-minute standing ovation, ‘cause he deserves that from the people in Washington.”
Laich seemed to be looking forward to meeting Kolzig out on the ice again. “It’s gonna be interesting. When I go to his net, we’ll see if I get a stick in the back of the legs or something.” he said, laughing, “It’ll be a fun time.”
Washington’s Superstar Left-Winger, Alex Ovechkin was known to sometimes be at odds with Kolzig. It’s rumored that during Ovechkin’s scoring slump last year, he made a goal during practice. Typical of Ovechkin he celebrated the goal as he always does during regular games. Kolzig became irritated with the young superstar and yelled “Now why can’t you do that during an actual game, Ovie!”
“It was hard for our team to lose Olie,” Said Ovechkin, “He was here almost 20-years. He was really our Captain in the team.”
When asked about who he thought would win head-to-head; him on the breakaway versus Kolzig in net, Ovechkin got a wry smile and said “I should, I hope.”
For a guy who won MVP of the league, and needed a wheel-barrel to carry all the trophies he won in the off-season, Ovechkin seemed to be at the height of humility.
Several reporters tried to ask him about what he planned to do for an encore this season, and Alex always seemed to defer to the team goals over his own. “I just wanna do whatever it takes for the whole team to play more aggressively,” said Ovechkin, “or play more defensively. Y’know, everything that I can do better, I wanna do better.”
Coach Boudreau was asked what message he had for Ovechkin this year after having such a great year last year. “I don’t have to give him any messages.” said Boudreau, “Y’know, whether he gets forty goals or a hundred goals he’s gonna play and try just as hard as always. He’s going to be ‘team-first’, like always. He’s gonna be just a great team mate. If we win the division again, and have a great year, and he only got forty goals, he’d be just as happy for us as anything, ‘cause he’s all about winning.”
Center Brooks Laich had this to say about Ovechkin; “I don’t think Alex concerns himself with proving or trying to score more goals than he did last year or more points, that’s not what he worries about. He, I think, is going to measure himself, not so much by how many goals and assists, but by how the team does.”
Center Nicklas Backstrom, coming off a great rookie season, seemed ready to help, “Ovie’s not going to score every goal by himself,” Backstrom said, “and so I have to score, everybody has to score some goals.”
This certainly doesn’t mean that the Caps don’t recognize a scoring machine when they see one. When asked whether he was ready to go on record saying Ovechkin would score a hundred goals, Coach Boudreau laughed, “I didn’t say he was going to score a hundred goals, but I wouldn’t put anything by him, either.”