(Photo credit: James Heuser/Washington Capitals)
By Adam Vingan
At 10:30 Sunday morning, the 2011-12 NHL season unofficially began for the Washington Capitals. Twenty-three prospects – most of whom took part in July’s Development Camp – took to the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex looking to earn an invitation to next week’s training camp or a spot on one of the Caps’ minor league affiliates in Hershey or South Carolina. Yet, as the prospects began to clear out of the locker room and onto the ice, an unfamiliar face (for Rookie Camp, at least) appeared on the bench in full practice attire. Alex Ovechkin is far from a rookie, but joined those who are Sunday in warming up for the camp’s first practice.
“Yeah, he asked me before practice,” Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau said in regards to Ovechkin’s participation. “He was in New York [for the NHL’s Player Media Tour], you know, and he hadn’t been on the ice for the last two or three days. He wanted to get a little bit of skating in”
Ovechkin fully participated for about 30 minutes and took part in the drills that Boudreau and the rest of his coaching staff put the rookies through. According to Boudreau, Ovechkin was not content with only a half-hour.
“He wanted to stay out more, “Boudreau said. “But I said no.”
The consensus among the rookies was that having a superstar like Ovechkin on the ice with them was a motivating factor. Some, like Mattias Sjogren and Cody Eakin, have been practicing with Ovechkin and other members of the Caps during informal practices over the past few weeks.
“I’ve been here for a week now, so I kind of skated with him and stuff like that,” Eakin said. “For some guys, it pushes them and motivates them to not make that bad pass or try to keep up to him. I’m lucky enough to have seen it over a couple of years and I try not to get nervous when I see him out there skating beside me on the ice.”
Others were a little more starstruck.
“First pass I did, I look up, it was Ovi,” Samuel Carrier said. “You don’t want to miss your pass, you know?”
Regardless, Ovechkin’s presence is an example of his maturation as the leader of the Caps. Last week, during Ovechkin’s press conference to announce his endorsement deal with Bauer, Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis praised Ovechkin for showing up for training camp early, proving his selflessness and leading by example in the process. As Leonsis said, Ovechkin’s insatiable desire to better himself both on and off the ice “sets the tone” for the Caps and will make them a better team not just for Ovechkin’s current teammates, but his possible future teammates as well.
“If I’m one of the young guys and I’m seeing Alex Ovechkin and you see a man that’s like that on the ice, it’s a pretty big wow factor,” Boudreau said. “When I got a chance my first year to be on the same ice as Darryl Sittler or worked a hockey school when I was still playing junior, Bobby Orr was there, I was pretty in awe. Seeing a guy take direction like he did and do what he was supposed to be doing and didn’t have any airs about him, it might have something to do with how hard they worked.”