For five days at the beginning of July, when it was hot and humid outside, there was ice hockey at Kettler Capitals IcePlex, the practice home of the Washington Capitals. Eighteen free agents and eighteen draft picks, including names like Jonas Siegenthaler, Caleb Herbert, Liam O’Brien, Jakub Varna, and others from around the world and the United States, came to Kettler in hopes to get a spot on the Capitals and /or the Hershey team. I had the opportunity to attend the morning practices at Kettler all week and the following are my thoughts/ observations for each day:
Tuesday, July 7:
The players were divided into two teams: The White team and the Red team. Each team was separated into different groups to work on skills. One would think that they know how to play hockey, since they have been most likely playing since they were very young, but this involved working on the specific skills to be an NHL player. Skills, like how to position the body correctly while skating, how to take strokes when pushing off, and handling the puck correctly, were modeled by the coaches, then the players actually performed the skill. Each player was recorded to be reviewed later in meetings. I was really impressed by the attention that the players had when the coach was teaching the skill – players were imitating the coach when he was going over the skill. It just proves that they are a very focused group of players.
Wednesday July 8:
Today was testing day. The team was divided into two groups again to test the players. At one end of the ice, the coaches set up a camera and computer at center ice, went over the skill , and videotaped the players demonstrating the skill. At the other end of the rink, there were yellow poles set up and the players had to weave in and out of them without knocking them over. Riley Barber had a challenging time doing this cleanly, so he did his about six times. After testing, the team went over to the other rink . I was not able to stay at practice very long because I went to the luncheon at the National Press Club featuring Coach Trotz.
Thursday July 9:
When I got to Kettler, the first thing I noticed is that the players had on different colored jerseys. They were divided into the 4 lines, even though they were still on the same team. When I saw the different lines, I knew that it was time for position practices. The defense practiced at one end of the rink, while the rest was at the other end. At one point, goalie Vitek Vanecek , was getting one on one instruction from the goalie master, Mitch Korn. Korn was teaching him how position his body and glove in order to prevent the puck from entering the goal. Once again, I love how the coaches are hands on teaching the players the skills they need to know to learn the position. One highlight of the morning was seeing John Carlson and Evgeny Kuznetsov running sprints back and forth in the hallway by the bench.
Friday July 10 :
The last official practice day of Camp before the big scrimmage at Fan Fest on Saturday. The teams were still in their lines and went through different plays drawn up by the coaches on the whiteboards. Some of the players, like Liam O’Brien, stayed on the ice after everyone left to practice their slap shots into an empty net. I mostly concentrated on getting pictures with the players. I knew that this would be my last opportunity to get pictures with them , because tomorrow will be insane with thousands of people at Kettler for Fan Fest.
Saturday July 11:
Today is the high point of Development Camp with the Fan Fest experience that had activities for the kids, equipment sales, autograph session with newly traded TJ Oshie and some of the prospects, different vendors ( Caps Fan Club (www.capsfanclub.org) , Wizards, Panda Parking, and Dunkin Donuts), and the intrasquad scrimmage. Twenty five hundred people, about ten times the amount of people that were at practice on Tuesday, came to Kettler to have fun and watch some future Capitals. The appearance of Slap shot and Wes Johnson, the public announcer of Capitals games, got everyone even more excited for the day. It started early by getting in line for the popular equipment sale – the one opportunity to get game worn gloves, skates and sticks of the players, and also T – shirts, name plates, pucks, and jerseys.
After stocking up on gear, it was time to get in the line to get newly signed, from the St. Louis Blues, T J Oshie. I just happened to be 16th in line, 2 hours before the start, but soon it was four lines deep. From where I was positioned in line, I was able to see the warm ups and the massive amounts of people in the bleachers and gathered around the glass at the start of the scrimmage. When I got up to Oshie, I had him sign a puck for the Caps Fan Club and welcomed him to Washington. It was a quick interaction with him, but he seemed really friendly and taking everything in stride. One of the pluses about being so far up in the Oshie line was that I was able to watch the majority of the scrimmage from the stands.
The scrimmage was played as the following: 20 minutes of 5 on 5, 5 minutes of 3 on 3 (the new overtime rule) and then another 20 minutes of 5 on 5. The game was intense and at a game pace. There was not a lot of checking, but you could feel the intensity of the players. Chandler Stephenson was the only injury of the game, by getting a tooth (it was one of his fake teeth) knocked out by a stick, but he came back and that did not stop him! The Red Team beat the White Team 7 -3. It was a long, but great day at Fan Fest to tide Caps fans over until training camp and the season begins in a couple of months!!
I have been to several Development Camps over the years and, as always, it was fun to see hockey in the middle of summer, see the up and coming talent that will one day be on the Capitals/Hershey rosters, to reconnect with and make new friends who love the Caps as much as I do!!
By Jean-Marie Simpson