I'm watching the four letter network's "Countdown to Monday" or whatever the hell they call their MNF pregame show, and just now, at 8:04 PM EST on September 17, 2007, Tony Kornheiser, out of the blue, just compared 'Skins QB Jason Campbell to none other than Alex Ovechkin. Even scarier? After they threw it back to Stu Scott, Scott threw out a reference to both Ovechkin AND Crosby. Please, somebody, tell me you saw it too, because I'm still not sure I believe my ears.
Needless to say, both Scott and Kornheiser will probably be fired by tomorrow morning.
So it begins. Today was day number one of the Capitals' 2007-08 season as training camp kicked off in earnest, and I, as has become my custom for the past week, made the trek down to K-Plex née KCI. Unfortunately, do to some ill advised consumption of some very tasty Jameson the previous evening, I wasn't able to get there in time for all the "pregame" festivities. I arrived just as the actual practice was starting and was immediately overwhelmed by it all. The Caps had somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty hockey players spanning two full size ice sheets, not to mention all the other attractions like the Vezina, Selke, Norris and Calder Trophies upstairs, or the new jerseys (finally) for sale in the team shop. So I'll go ahead and leave any sort of in depth analysis of the first day of camp to the experts (check out OFB's liveblogging, plus updates from Tarik and Corey). I will, however, quickly note that Victor Kozlov appeared to take a puck to the face towards the beginning of the scrimmage and was not seen or heard from again for the remainder of practice. Hopefully that will prove to be nothing significant. (UPDATE: Corey Masisak strikes again.)
The most interesting part of the day, for me at least, was the "Town Hall" style meeting with Ted Leonsis and Chris Clark (Olie Kolzig was also advertised, but he didn't show). Now I'm not a fan of town hall meetings (link is to The Onion and is hilarious), but I had nothing better to do. I'm glad I went because, as it turns out, Chris Clark is a glorious fountain of great quotes. One of the people in attendance asked Clark how much he, as captain, has input into personnel decisions. Clark responded by saying that the only thing management ever asks him about is what a particular player might be like off of the ice, explaining that there are some guys who are really talented who are complete knuckleheads away from the rink. Immediately, a lady in the back asked Clark to spill the dirt on which guys he's played with were the knuckleheads and Chris, after diplomatically responding that he has been very lucky in his career, finally gave in and said "I think you guys had one here right before the lockout." He stopped just shy of adding "*cough*jagr*cough*". The comment drew immediate laughter and applause from everyone in the room.
Some other highlights from the meeting:
-Chris Clark comparing Milan Jurcina to the cast of the film 300, in response to a question about which player showed up to camp in the best shape. He went so far as to say it might be a good idea to have Milan walk shirtless past the opposing team's dressing room as a scare tactic.
-Clark talking about why his offensive numbers wouldn't necessarily go down moving to the third line, explaining that, when on a line with Ovechkin "you're always up against Chara" versus the checking line playing against some of the more defensively suspect players opposing teams have to offer.
-Clark admitted that the team had probably not taken the shootout seriously enough in practice last year and said it was something he thought they would spend more time working on this year.
-In response to a question about low attendance at home games, Clark said "we need to steal some of those Redskins fans", which garnered enthusiastic applause.
-The only thing of note that came out of Ted's mouth was some additional information about the "Rivals Package" they've set up to try to keep games against the Penguins and Flyers et. al. from turning into de facto road games. Apparently, the plan is to market these rivals plans for awhile and then jack up the price of single game tickets to the games the package applies to, thus further discouraging opposing fans from making the trip (or profiting handsomely off of them should they still decide to come). So if you aren't a season ticket holder, or at least a partial plan holder, you may want to seriously consider going in for one of those packages, if only to avoid getting gouged.
I've got a ton of pictures from today's festivities, but I'm also pressed for time and I won't be able to post them today, but I promise that I will, barring any technical difficulties, have them up for you by tomorrow morning. I'm still not sure if I'll be able to make it out to the Plex tomorrow, so I can't say whether I'll have any more updates for you over the weekend.
Today is Media Day down at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. I was not issued an invitation, which is not surprising after I let it slip to a Caps official that my only real motivation for attending would have been to get close enough to Dave Steckel to enact my sweet revenge. But I'm dedicated to bringing you the in depth coverage you can't get anywhere else, so I wasn't about to let a little thing like a direct order from team management not to show up get in the way of bringing you a hard hitting story. So I did some investigating, and eventually, I was able to get Dave Steckel on the phone for a hard-hitting, in-depth interview, the transcript of which follows:
KHFC: So, Dave, please explain to my readers, in as much detail as possible, why you are trying to kill me?
DS: Who is this?
KHFC: Very funny. Seriously though, what's the deal with that?
DS: How did you get this number?
KHFC: Given your precarious position on the Caps' depth chart, shouldn't you really be more focused on trying to kill, say, Brooks Laich?
DS: Why would I try to kill Brooksie?
KHFC: Why would you try to kill me, you psycho?!
DS: ... (hangs up)
So, there you have it folks. Dave Steckel: a man who clearly wants to off his own teammates to ensure himself a spot on the opening night roster.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am excited to report to you that hockey season has, more or less, arrived. Per Tarik, the gang's all here. Media day is tomorrow, followed by the kickoff of training camp down at Kettler on Friday. There's a chill in the air. And to top it all off, today, players wearing Capitals sweaters took the ice to play a full sixty minutes against a group of opponents wearing Flyers black. Granted, what we're talking about here is a rookie game. Nevertheless, it was a real game, with an announcer giving us names and numbers for the players scoring goals (or, in the Caps' case, taking penalties). There were actual people (well, Flyers fans anyway) in the stands. And the best part? Dave Steckel was no where to be seen.
As for the game itself, it could have gone better. The Caps' rookies dominated the course of play for the first two periods but did themselves in with a bevy of first period penalties. Six in the first period alone, to be exact, resulting in two Philly power play goals. In fact, through the first two periods, the power play was pretty much the only way Philly's rookies were able to generate any sort of offense. The Flyers' rookies were clearly not as talented at the Caps', but what they lacked in raw ability, they more than made up for in old school Broad Street Bully-ism. They played a very physical game, finishing pretty much all of their checks, whereas there were only one or two Caps players who seemed especially interested in throwing their bodies around. The physical play seemed to wear down the Caps' rookies eventually, and the Flyers managed to pull even with the Caps in the third period scoring two goals to put the game away.
How much can we read into the results of this game? Not much. The roster that took the ice up in Voorhees today is not a roster that will ever play in an NHL game that counts. It was a little discouraging to see the guys physically handled by the Flyers' rookies, but I think it's safe to say that it won't take too much time playing alongside the likes of Chris Clark, Donald Brashear and Alex Ovechkin will correct the problem in any of the rookies that should eventually make the team.
The most enlightening part of the day, for me at least, was the play of Karl Alzner. There's not much I can say about him that hasn't already been said. He is the real deal. I was focused on him pretty much every time he was on the ice and I don't think he ever made a mistake. There was one instance in which he and a Flyers player got in a footrace for a loose puck, and despite the fact that the Flyers player beat him to the puck clean, he still managed to somehow catch up and strip the puck, eliminating any sort of scoring opportunity. I think it is entirely possible that Alzner is already the most talented player on the team in terms of pure defensive ability. Obviously, there are alot of things he has to do besides just stopping opposing players one on one, but I wouldn't be shocked at all to see him realistically challenge for a roster spot.
With all that said, let's move on to the photos:
retired at one end of the ice. The Flyers? Have rainbows.
Today's rookie camp practice consisted entirely of a scrimmage. Because I know you're dying to know, here's your (probably innacurate and definitely incomplete) boxscore (question marks denote instances where I missed what happened because I was focused on something other than the play):
Francois Bouchard - Nicklas Backstrom - Dan Kronick
Maxime Lacroix - Travis Morin - Steve Pinizzotto
Steve Werner - Jay Beagle - Marty Guerin
Karl Alzner - Josh Godfrey
Sami Lepisto - Sean Collins
Mathieu Perreault - Justin Taylor - Brett Leffler
Andrew Gordon - Kyle Wilson - Luke Lynes
Tommy Maxwell - Andrew Joudrey - Donald Brashear
Sasha Pokulok - Jamie Hunt
Tyler Sloan - Patrick McNeill
WHITE - Pinizzotto (Morin, Lacroix)
BLUE - Brashear (Pokulok) (PPG)
BLUE - McNeill (?)
BLUE - Lynes (Gordon)
WHITE - Bouchard (Unassisted)
BLUE - Taylor (Hunt, Pokulok)
WHITE - Morin (Pinizzotto, Kronick)
BLUE - Maxwell (Hunt, Pokulok) (PPG)
BLUE - Pokulok - 2 minutes for ?
WHITE - Guerin - 2 minutes for hooking
BLUE - Maxwell - 2 minutes for holding
WHITE - Collins - 2 minutes for hooking
BLUE - Maxwell - 2 minutes for holding
BLUE - Maxwell - 2 minutes for holding
WHITE - Beagle - 2 minutes for elbowing
WHITE - Collins - 2 minutes for ?
FINAL SCORE - BLUE 5, WHITE 3
The third period was, by far, the most entertaining. Bouchard's goal was especially pretty, picking up a loose puck along the left boards then curling and dragging towards the net. Also of note were successive tic-tac-toe passing plays on both Taylor's and Morin's goals. All in all, it was fun to finally see something resembling an actual competitive hockey game for the first time in five months. Not as exciting as it will be tomorrow, when I have a team to actually root against, but still, it was one more indication that the long, slow march towards October 5 is nearing it's conclusion.
After the rookies were finished, the veterans once again had an informal skate. My suspicions that Dave Steckel has designs on my life were confirmed when he made absolutely no attempt whatsoever to kill me.
Apparently, Steckel thinks he can trick me by lulling me into a false sense of security. But I'm onto you, Dave. Your ruse failed. Even after you tried switching uniforms to disguise yourself.
In case you were wondering whether I have anything better to do during my vacation than travel out to Ballston to attend Day 3 of the Caps' rookie camp, the answer, obviously, is no. I made the trek out there once again today and once again I was treated to, well, a bunch of young hockey players skating around (I swear it's not as exciting as it sounds). This time around, it was even more difficult to get a read on whether any particular players were really sticking around as, unlike Saturday, nobody had their names on their backs. They were nice enough, however, to color code themselves, which didn't actually help, but was at least a little more interesting visually. Which gave me something to do, as I tried to obtain photographic evidence of all seven colors. Ultimately, I missed only the burgundy duds:
If I had to pick one player who particularly impressed me, I'd go with Andrew Joudrey, who had an impressive moment towards the end of practice when, during an offensive zone drill, he took the puck from the bottom of the left circle, curled around three other players to the top of the slot and then sent a backhand shot over Daren Machesney's outstretched leg and into the net.
The more interesting part of the day, though, was watching the guys from the big club skate after the rookies were done. Specifically, it was fun to watch Olie Kolzig. Having never really attended a Caps practice before, I've only ever heard the well-spoken, made-for-TV Olie, so it was a little bit odd to hear him in practice sounding, well, more like a sailor than a hockey player. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Towards the end of the team skate, as the guys were having a somewhat loose scrimmage that had less defense than a typical NHL All Star Game, Olie, after getting scored on for maybe the third or fourth time, started into a profanity-laced tirade. His complaint (and I'm paraphrasing here, attempting to translate it into a more family-friendly version) was that the scrimmage was basically a waste of time as a result of guys not taking it seriously. He urged his teammates to "pick up the... pace".
The amazing thing was the seemingly instant change in the atmosphere. What had been a light-hearted game of shinny suddenly turned into a hard-fought battle. As hard-fought as an informal pre-training camp skate can be, anyway. It is one thing to hear the players talk about how much of a team leader Olie Kolzig is, and another to see them play at a higher level when he is on the ice as opposed to Brent Johnson of Frederic Cassivi. But it is another thing altogether to witness it in person. It was a moment that made me appreciate Olie's presence on the team that much more.
On a more light-hearted note, I am convinced that David Steckel is trying to kill me. It wasn't enough that he "accidentally" fired a puck directly towards my head (thank goodness for plexiglass), he then had the audacity to flip a puck up over the netting that hit me in the shin. Not only that, but he managed to do it at a moment when I was looking away from the ice, leaving me with absolutely no proof whatsoever that he was the one who shot it. He who laughs last, laughs loudest though, and my revenge is, as always, swift and severe. Dave Steckel, congratulations, you are the newest KHFC Whipping Boy©.
As promised, I made the trip out to Kettler today to attend the first day of Caps' rookie camp, or, as I like to call it, "Prelude to a Training Camp". It was the first time I've stepped foot in a building with an ice rink since April and, despite the fact that it was excessively early for a Saturday, I was instantly transformed from a groggy, slightly hungover mess into a giddy fan. It was the first time I've been to KCI (which is a beautiful facility), as well as the first time I've ever actually attended any sort of Caps practice.
What I quickly discovered is that watching hockey players practice is not nearly as entertaining as watching hockey players play hockey. To be fair, there were some particularly fun moments, but for the most part, what we saw out on the ice today was still a pretty lame imitation of the game that has me longing for this month to be over. As such, it's pretty difficult to report any sort of "news" from today's skate. Nicklas Backstrom, obviously, was one of the real standouts. This was the first time I'd seen him in action and he is definitely deserving of all the hype. During one drill that involved a scrum in front of the net the puck popped up into the air, and his ability to stick with it, find the puck and manage to get a shot off while spinning around to face the goaltender was quite impressive.
That said, my impression of Backstrom may have been colored by the fact that the KCI staff apparently failed to properly disinfect the Caps' dressing rooms, as many of the players on the ice appeared to be suffering from Zubritis*. During one breakaway drill, it seemed like Backstrom was the only player who managed to even get a shot on net, with most of the guys shanking pucks over the crossbar and off the glass, or else well wide. In J.P.'s (paraphrased) words "These really are Capitals prospects."
On the defensive side of things, I was impressed enough with Sasha Pokulok that I made an effort to learn to correctly pronounce his name (it's pronounced sort of like "potluck" only with an "uh" in the middle). First of all, the guy is huge, but he also seemed to be pretty sound positionally, and I saw him use some excellent stickwork to disarm several forwards of the puck during drills. As with any young, large defenseman, I'd like to see him throw his body around a little more, but I think he, along with Jeff Schultz and Milan Jurcina, could one day be part of a physically intimidating Caps' backline.
The best part of the day though, for me at least, was playing the role of pseudo-journalist, as I snuck back to the locker room area with CapsChick and J.P. and Ken. Even though I had nothing to do but stand and stare, just being that close to a guy like Nicklas Backstrom was definitely an experience. I still have no desire to sit in the press box during games, but I think I could really get into this whole "interviewing players at practice" thing.
Unfortunately, I managed to forget my camera when leaving my apartment, but I'm sure there will be pictures at Japers' Rink, A View From the Cheap Seats or DCSportsChick, all of whom had cameras.
(*Webster's Dictionary defines "Zubritis" as "a sudden inflammation of the tendency to play like Dainius Zubrus")
PROGRAMMING NOTES - Due to the fact that I have a matinee performance tomorrow, I won't be able to attend Day 2 of rookie camp. I'll be back at it for the rest of camp, though, including (possibly) a trip to New Jersey on Wednesday to see the kids take on the Flyers' rookies.
Another important note is that my next entry will be #100 for me here at the KHFC. With my 100th post will come some slight changes to the blog, in the form of rookie KHFC contributor DefDude, who is going to start helping me out around here when my acting duties prevent me from being as involved as I'd like. Or when I get too lazy to write anything. Or whenever he feels like it, really. So just be prepared for a sudden onslaught of awkwardly censored vulgarity and strange paragraph structures.
For those of you who are keeping track of such things, we are less than a week away from actual professional hockey players skating around on the ice surface of the Kettler Capitals Iceplex. The ending of the summer doldrums is also going to provide me with an opportunity to finally get back on track with this here blog.
I've planned my vacation time at work to coincide, more or less, with the opening of rookie camp (as well as the opening of my latest play) and last through the first weekend of training camp. Which means you can expect the KHFC to be transformed from a sparingly updated blog lacking in any real substance, to a frequently updated blog lacking in any real substance. But at least I can promise you daily updates (And pictures, too! Probably!) from KCI. In fact, there are even plans in the works for a journey up to New Jersey to see the kids take on Philadelphia's own obviously inferior group of rookies.
So stay tuned, because everything is about to get a whole lot more interesting around these parts.