What the Will Over Skill Robe Tells Us

Photos: Washington Capitals

As you can see, the Will Over Skill robe is not a fashion statement unless the Capitals are outfitting Santa’s wardrobe on the side.  They adopted the Will over Skill slogan at the beginning of this season.  Here’s more on its origins, the robe and what it all means to the Caps. 

Muhammad Ali passed away last June, after we had watched the Pittsburgh Penguins take a Stanley Cup Finals series lead over the San Jose Sharks that they would not surrender. The Capitals were close to beating the Penguins in the 2nd round of the Eastern Conference playoffs but could not maintain its series lead and eventually lost. What was missing?

Not much.  The Caps could strengthen their depth, add some speed, improve game starts, puck possession and team defense approach but we’re talking incremental, not sea change. And from the coaches’ internal perch, the Caps could also use a little more mental fortitude and determination.

Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.” – Muhammad Ali

The Caps have adopted this well-known quotation from the autobiography of Ali, a man who overcame challenges to become a champion, and made it their own.  Brett Leonhardt, the Capitals video coach, deserves credit for suggesting and abridging Ali’s point, which the entire coaching staff and team embraced.

I originally thought they should’ve gone with Will and Skill, because they’re invariably intertwined, but from the original source and full quote, one can appreciate the context: elite stamina, speed and skill are prerequisites, but because the margin of difference between top competitors is slim, the will, the desire, the dream must be bigger than that of your adversary or you’re likely to fall short.  At this level, will can trump skill.

The relevance of this message is fully appreciated as the team approaches the post season. With the Capitals minimal standing points and tie-breaker lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Penguins, the playoffs have, in effect, already started for them. They’re implications to losing in the regular season that will be felt April 12th, whether the Caps like it or not, so the battle has begun. Home ice advantage and the first round matchup are both in play.  Beginning in March through the final games in June is a time of year about perseverance, intensity at the “next” level, grit and desire, which is why the NHL playoffs are special.

Unlike a boxer’s robe, which is meant to preserve warmth through introductions, the Capitals players have awarded the Will over Skill robe post game this season, to the teammate that best exemplified desire; talk about tough competition.  Take last night for instance. You’ve got Dimitry Orlov’s sublime assist on the game winning goal with under five minutes to play in regulation.  Daniel Winnik’s brace and who basically willed his way to score the final, insurance goal (see 2 minutes, 22 seconds into the video clip that follows; if that doesn’t define will, what does?). But they’re all going up against Alex Ovechkin who last evening achieved 30+ goals for his first twelve seasons, achieved by only Caps’ Mike Gartner and Wayne Gretzky in the history of the NHL.

The symbolic importance of donning this article of clothing is a concerted focus on the “fighting spirit” of each Cap, their dreams and the importance they attach to winning the Stanley Cup.  I don’t know if the Will over Skill robe can communicate, like the sorting hat in Harry Potter, but if it does, it would say: Better order a score of robes for this Caps team.

As for the slogan, I think it’s a keeper, for the Caps are fighters and will be Stanley Cup champions.  Washington Capitals, the Will over Skill team.

By Tim Foisie

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