There was quite a bit of activity for the Washington Capitals on Labor Day, the first official day of the 2009-10 season, at Kettler IcePlex in Ballston, Virginia. After the rookies were on the ice in the morning, which we will get to in a couple of paragraphs, 13 veteran skaters, rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth, and the Caps website producer, goalie Brett “Stretch” Leonhardt, took the rink over for some action. The skaters participating were Mike Green, Mike Knuble, Chris Clark, Matt Bradley, Brendan Morrison, Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon, John Erskine, Shaone Morrisonn, Jeff Schultz, Dave Steckel, Brian Pothier and Jay Beagle.
The players did a number of drills, conducted a half ice scrimmage, and then finished with some skating sprints. Of note was the condition of Green, who appears to be in phenomenal shape. Green struggled down the stretch and into the playoffs last season with an illness and a bum shoulder but he showed no effects of any of that on Monday. #52 participated recently in August in a try out for the Canadian Olympic team, and although he might not make a squad that is predicted to capture the gold medal in Vancouver in February (that is what my sources tell me unless there is an injury or two), the camp clearly helped Green get ready to build on his monster 31 goal, 73 point (in just 68 games) 2008-09 season.
Now to the rookies, who hit the ice today for their opening session of training camp. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was eager to get things going and afterwards quickly summed up his mood and the tone for this camp.
“This is exciting, it is day one, but it is what we do, vacation is over…let’s get back to work.”
And work the team he did, putting them through some very tough suicides at the end of practice that apparently had some rookies struggling to finish. Boudreau felt this end of practice session was an opportunity to see where the younger players were conditioning wise.
“I think [the skate today at the end] is a good test, a good barometer. Every coach has some sort of barometer to see who has worked hard this summer and who took it easier than they should have. Most of our guys were really good with it and a couple of the guys who were late additions probably hadn’t skated as much – you could tell those guys from the guys who knew that they were coming to this camp,” said Boudreau.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, this team has a lot of depth and Boudreau was anxious to talk about it and the impact he sees it having on training camp.
“We think we’ve got tremendous depth. We think the Hershey guys that won the [Calder] Cup last year are going to push these guys really hard. They’ve won the Cup and now they want to make the next step, the NHL. I’ve said this before if you look at the history of teams that won the Calder Cup they always have 4 or 5 guys playing in the NHL in the next year or year and a half, at least,” started the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner, “We’ve got 3 good goalies, 11 NHL caliber defensemen, a multitude of forwards who are ready to make the step and I think there are battles all over the ice, which will make for good stories everywhere.”
Boudreau was asked about goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who played very well last post season, and appears ready to challenge for the number one goalie job.
“I think he looked great. Neuvirth [who was out with the veterans in the afternoon] will be in tomorrow. We are just switching both goalies up each day to get them work since [rookie goalie Braden] Holtby is here as well,” said Boudreau on #40′s first day performance before the conversation turned a little bit light hearted, “you know, he speaks English now…I was really surprised, that is a testament to how bad he wants to be in North America to take the language and learn it as quick as he did. I know I couldn’t do it the other way around…when the goalies are smart it scares me,” finished a laughing Boudreau.
A big topic of conversation was Washington 2008 first round draft pick, John Carlson, who made the jump from the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League to being a significant contributor on the Hershey team that won the Calder Cup in June. Carlson continues to impress with his play and professionalism at the young age of 19.
“You know he’ s worked hard because that was a pretty tough skate at the end and he was easily the one that lasted the longest, all the time. He’s ready to put a push on to make this club,” said Boudreau on Carlson, who if he does not make the Caps can go down to the AHL in Hershey and play instead of London since he was a United States Hockey League (USHL) draftee.
Corey Masisak of the Washington Times and I caught up with Carlson after practice and here are some of the things we discussed with him and his answers:
On the USA World Juniors Camp he attended in Lake Placid back in August:
Carlson – “It was good. I saw alot of old buddies so that was fun and we stayed at the Olympic training facility, which is a first class place so it was a good way to jump start my training being on the ice once or twice a day for nine or ten days. When I got back I had that base and could really start to work more. ”
On if he is more ready for training camp this year than last year:
Carlson – “I didn’t know what to expect and I still really don’t know what to expect but the experience I had in Hershey is going to make me feel a lot more comfortable with learning the systems. Every day I am just going to come in and do my best and try and make an impression and wherever I end up that is the right place for me. ”
Is he focused on making the Caps?:
Carlson – “Obviously when you come into camp your goal is to make the team and it has been a dream of mine to play in the NHL ever since I was 3. It would be a dream come true but I try not to think about that too much. I’m just worried about making an impression day by day.”
Who did he work out with during the summer to prepare for the season?:
Carlson – “Off ice I trained with Rob Schremp (Oilers), Sam Gagner (Oilers), some of the older guys from the [London] Knights this year in Matt Clark and Phil McRae, and when we got on the ice Andy McDonald (Blues), Corey Perry (Ducks), Brian Campbell (BlackHawks), and Drew Doughty (Kings).”
How is the US world junior team going to do this winter?:
Carlson – “They’ve got a good team, it was a good camp, and it was competitive.”
How did you feel about not getting picked for the US World Junior team last season?:
Carlson – “I was disappointed but when you play hockey that kind of stuff happens so I tried not to think about it and just focus on my season and maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t go there. Who knows?”
I also had a chance to catch up with 21 year old Michael Dubuc, who had 35 goals in 49 regular season games for the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) Kelly Cup Champion South Carolina Stingrays. Dubuc impressed me at the July 2008 Caps Development Camp and performed well again in this year’s development camp scoring a lot of goals.
WNST: So is your goal to make the Hershey roster permanently this year?
Dubuc – “Of course, it has got to be, I got cut last year and I needed last year to learn a lot about my game to play at the next level and hopefully I learned a lot of stuff. I am still working on it and the coaches are here to help me work on those things. On my part I had to work hard in the summer to get stronger and faster on the ice. I am going to give it my all to make the Hershey roster this year.”
WNST: You missed some games last season, didn’t you?
“I got hurt twice last year, both times in practice, and it was really unlucky. I ran into a guy in practice and got a concussion one month before the playoffs so that is why I missed some games in the playoffs because I completely lost my game feeling. I played the last two games [of the ECHL finals] and to win a championship, to win the Kelly Cup, as a first year pro it was unbelievable and when we scored that empty net and you’ve been through the whole year with those guys and all of the hard practices you just feel the achievement and there is a smile on everyone’s faces and it is amazing.”
WNST: Is “natural goal scorer” an accurate description of you?
Dubuc – “It is, but everyone in Washington knows that so I have to work on other things. It is fun to score goals but if I work hard it will come. Like you said it is natural but I have to work hard on other things to make it as a hockey player at a higher level. I talked to Bruce [Boudreau] outside and he said ‘Just work hard, you know what you have to do. We know that you can score, keep doing that, but try to get better and keep working hard.’ That is what I am going to do this camp and then Hershey’s camp and hopefully I can get a spot in Hershey, that is what I worked hard for all summer.”
News and Notes: The Caps convention set for September 26th at National Harbor is completely sold out…2005 first round draft pick Joe Finley, who was recently switched from defense to forward, left practice early today. “He said something was going to be sore…which is too bad because he was looking really good. I’d rather have him healthy and ready to go for the rest of camp than ruin him by trying to show something on the first day and hurt a groin or hip flexor or something,” said Boudreau…The Coach has a new weekly blog at WashingtonCaps.com, titled Behind the Bench, “It is something I wanted to do. We did it in Manchester. Washington hockey is pretty hot right now so we want to keep it that way,” added Boudreau….For those of you who are concerned about Washington’s salary cap situation, the team does not have to be under the $56.8M figure until the first game of the season, which is Thursday, October 1st, in Boston. It is not clear where they stand right now but by my calculations they are slightly under, but the only guys who really know for sure are GM George McPhee and Assistant GM/team salary cap guru Don Fishman.