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Joe Snively was a recent example of a player who grew up as a Washington Capitals fan, signed with the Capitals as a free agent after college and ultimately made his NHL debut with the team. Snively, who grew up in Herndon, Virginia, was the first player from Virginia to play for the Capitals.
There was another local hockey player who also grew up as a Capitals fan, signed with the team after college and eventually made his NHL debut with the team. That was Jeff Halpern, who grew up in suburban Maryland.
Early Life and Career
Halpern was born in Potomac, Maryland on May 3, 1976, to Melvin Halpern, a lawyer, and his wife, Gloria. At age 9, his parents signed him up for the Little Capitals youth team, which drew players from Washington, Maryland, Virginia and sometimes southern Pennsylvania.
As it turns out, his high school, Churchill High in Potomac, had no hockey team, so he would ultimately transfer to St. Paul’s School, a prep school in Concord, New Hampshire, with the goal of attending a college with a strong hockey program.
While he played well in high school, he didn’t attract much attention from Division I schools, primarily due to his size, as his growth spurt took place later in life. Teams rarely took chances on small players, especially small players from non-hockey hotbeds, such as Maryland.
After graduation, Halpern joined the Stratford Cullitons, a team in the Mid-West Junior Hockey League in Ontario. He performed fairly well for them, scoring 29 goals, recording 54 assists in just 44 games, leading the Cullitons to a league championship.
Photos: From Halpern Family
Halpern then attended Princeton University where he played for four years. He worked hard and improved in each of his first three years. During his junior year, he scored 28 goals and 25 assists for 53 points in 33 games.
The Capitals were watching him by then and invited him to their summer development camp in 1998. He returned to Princeton for his senior year and was their Captain, with 22 goals and 22 assists for 44 points overall and was tied for the most goals in the ECAC. He was named an ECAC second team All-Star in 1998 and 1999. In 1999, he was co-winner of Princeton’s Roper Trophy awarded for athletic and academic achievement. By this time, he was now 6’-0” tall.
After graduation, he signed a two-year contract with the Capitals and played six games with their farm team in Portland, Maine, scoring two goals and recording one assist.
Career With the Capitals
Halpern had a fine rookie year in 1999-00. He scored 18 goals and recorded 11 assists for 29 points in 79 games. Among rookies that year, he was first in shooting percentage (16.7%), second in short-handed goals (four), first in plus/minus (+21), and sixth in goals scored. He had two goals and one assist in the playoffs that year.
The next year, 2000-01, he did even better, scoring 21 goals and having 21 assists for 42 points in 80 games. In the playoffs, he scored two goals and had three assists.
Halpern signed a two-year contract with the Capitals in the 2001-02 training camp and was considered one of their key players going into the season. Unfortunately his season ended prematurely when he tore an anterior cruciate ligament on January 16 in a game against the Montreal Canadiens and required season-ending surgery. Prior to his injury, he had five goals and 14 assists.
In 2002-03, he was the center on the team’s checking line, scoring 13 goals and 21 assists for 34 points. He recorded one assist in six playoff games in the postseason that year. In that post-season, he also took the most face-offs for the team.
His offense returned in 2003-04, even though it was a bad year for the Capitals overall. He scored 19 goals and recorded 27 assists for 54 points, the most points he recorded for the team.
During the 2004-05 lockout season, he played for two teams in Switzerland, the Kloten Flyers in the Swiss A League and the Ajoie Hockey Club in the Swiss B League.
Halpern was named Captain of the team for the Capitals first post-lockout season in 2005-06. In the season’s opener, he was on the top line with Dainius Zubrus and a rookie by the name of Alexander Ovechkin. Halpern scored 13 goals and recorded 33 assists for 44 points for the season.
Photo: John McDonnell – The Washington Post
After First Departure From Capitals
After the 2005-06 season, Halpern signed a four-year deal with the Dallas Stars. He remained with the Stars until they traded him to the Tampa Bay Lighting on February 26, 2008, where he, goalie Mike Smith, and forward Jussi Jokinen were swapped for center Brad Richards and goalie Johan Holmqvist.
He stayed with Tampa Bay through the 2009-10 trade deadline when he was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings on March 3, 2010, in exchange for Teddy Purcell and a 3rd round draft pick in 2010.
Return to the Capitals
In June 2011, he married Kelley Cornwall, a former Washington Redskins cheerleader. He then signed a one-year contract with his original team for 2011-12 season. That season, he had four goals and 12 assists, increasing his career totals with the Capitals to 507 games played, 91 goals, 139 assists, and 230 points overall.
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After the 2011-12 season, he signed a contract with the New York Rangers. That was a season that started late due to the NHL lockout. He was waived in March and was claimed by the Montreal Canadiens. In 2013-14, he played for the Phoenix Coyotes which turned out to be his last year in the NHL. For his entire 14-year NHL career, he played in 976 games, scored 152 goals, recorded 221 assists for 373 points overall.
Over the course of his NHL career, he represented the USA in the World Championships five times (2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, and 2008) and was part of their Bronze Medal team of 2004. He also represented the USA in the World Cup in 2004.
After his playing career, Halpern joined the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2016 as a full-time assistant coach with their AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. Two years later he was elevated to the Lightning and became an assistant coach where he has been ever since. He was with the Lightning when they won their back-to-back championships for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.
In addition to coaching, he and a childhood friend, Elliot Spaisman, founded a restaurant called Astro Donuts and Fried Chicken which serves both donuts and fried chicken, along with other related food.
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