Thursday, March 25, 2010

How I Became a Caps Fan


In terms of Caps fans, I’m a very recent one.  Before you call me a bandwagoner, know that I was never a hockey fan before my first Caps game.  The Caps not only made me love them, they made me love the game.

I grew up in Illinois, which is pretty popular in hockey.  But I was a figure skater.  I skated competitively from age 5 to 15.  My primary activity was what is now called synchronized skating – I spent probably 75% of my childhood in an ice rink, and have competed in rinks all over the US and Canada.  As a figure skater, we hated the hockey kids.  They ate up our ice time, they made divots in our ice, they stank up the locker rooms, and they walked into the rink with their enormous bags like they owned the place.  I remember in my hometown ice rink they had some Blackhawks plaques on the walls, so I knew the names Chris Chelios, Ed Belfour, and Jeremy Roenick.  And yet our mite teams were called the Red Wings.


In high school, I changed my focus.  Figure skating was becoming increasingly expensive, and going into high school, I couldn’t afford to miss all the school time as I had traveling for competitions.  So I joined my high school’s girls hockey team.  It was a “no experience necessary” club team, so, to put it lightly, we sucked.  But I proudly wore #33 for the Barrington Fillies.  I was a fast skater due to my years of figure skating and eventually learned all the rules of hockey, and even scored one GWG in my career.  But despite playing hockey, I still failed to find interest in professional hockey or any particular team for that matter.

I found myself in Washington, DC for college, and stayed in town post-graduation.  My first Capitals game was February 26, 2008.  My ticket in section 110 cost $25, thanks to the Student Rush promotion.  I was 22 years old.  And I was enraptured.  It was the most exciting sporting event I’d ever witnessed (and to give you some perspective, we were playing the Minnesota Wild).  The speed and the skill were jaw-dropping.  I’d only ever heard of Alex Ovechkin and here he was.  And I wanted more.  After that, I started watching the games on TV.  I got to know the players’ names, then their strengths and weaknesses.  I started learning about other teams’ players as well.  I started to get attached.  I went to one other regular season game that year, and then Game 7 of the playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers.  If that didn’t cement my love for the team and the fans and the energy of the game, nothing would.  If someone calls me a bandwagoner, believe me, I know about rooting for a losing team: I’m a Chicago Cubs fan.  Hello, 1908.

Today I not only call myself a die-hard Caps fan, but also a fan of the game of hockey.  I’ll pretty much watch any hockey game on TV, and much of my money goes to hockey games and merchandise (well, and arena-priced beer).  I have a Caps blog and a solid Twitter following.  I was introduced to the Hershey Bears.  I feel now that I have something that I’m really passionate about; somewhere I fit in and feel comfortable.  And I owe it all to the Capitals.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Focus on Prospects: Dmitry Kugryshev

 photo by russianprospects.com

Name: Dmitry Kugryshev
Position: RW
Shoots: Left
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 187 lbs
Birthdate: 1990-01-18
Hometown: Moscow, Russia

When it was announced last week that Dmitry Kugryshev was signed by the Caps to a three-year entry-level deal, fans were excited.  Anyone who attended development camp knows that he looked to be a promising young player from the land of Alexander Ovechkin.  The Moscow-bred 20-year-old is now eligible to play with the Hershey Bears once his Québec Remparts season is over.

Dmitry first came into the hockey public eye in the 2008 World Junior Championships.  He had 4 points (including a goal) in 7 games, and helped the Russians toward a bronze medal.  His 2008-09 rookie season with the Remparts was a great entrance into North American hockey.  That season, he scored 40 goals and notched 54 assists, and won the Michel-Bergeron Trophy, awarded by the QMJHL to the Best Offensive Rookie of the year (an award that Sidney Crosby won in 2004 with Rimouski Océanic).  Drafted by the Caps in 2008 (2nd round, 58th overall), Dmitry showed excitement about his drafting team, especially considering the Russians on the team at the time - Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Viktor Kozlov, and Sergei Federov.  On his visit to Washington after the draft, Dmitry was invited to dinner with Ovechkin, his parents, Semin, and Federov.  On his blog (H/T to On Frozen Blog), Dmitry was pleasantly surprised by his selection:
I was extremely happy – to be picked at all, and to be picked by them. There are a lot of Russians on the team, and the team itself is really good. Went there for the training camp. Loved everything: the City, the Team. Honestly, everything was awesome.
Now into his second QMJHL season with the Remparts (of which he's considered the star), his numbers have improved still - in 66 games played, he's scored a whopping 87 points (29 goals and 58 assists).  Hockey's Future currently ranks him #10 on their list of Washington Capitals prospects - one spot above Cody Eakin, who was signed by the Caps earlier this season.  Hockey's Future offers the scout's perspective on Dmitry's skills.  He's called a "solid winger" and especially talented along the boards "where he uses his technique, balance and toughness to win most of the battles also thanks to his resilience to opponent’s physical play."  His passing still needs work, but some work with the Bears' A-line (Giroux, Aucoin, and Gordon) should definitely help his passing play.  He's a very dedicated and passionate player, but doesn't "over-rush his play to impress the coach or the scouts."

His Remparts coach Patrick Roy agrees.  In an interview with Dmitry Chesnokov in June 2009,  Kugryshev said:
Patrick told me that I have everything to play in the NHL. But he also told me that I shouldn’t stop working on improving myself and turn my good hockey skills into even better ones. He is very interested in me realizing my dream of playing for the Capitals as soon as possible.
With his current numbers and provided his improvement in some areas (which is certain in a system like Hershey), Kugryshev is poised to become the next Nicklas Backstrom (although Kugryshev says he gets inspiration from Semin's play).  But knowing how valuable Backstrom is to the team, the eventual addition of Kugryshev to the lineup will be a very good move for the Capitals.

Update:
I enjoy this interview that Kugi did with sportsandmoore.com earlier this season.  His English has improved by leaps and bounds since his first training camp.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Thoughts on trade deadline day

I'm a little late to the party in talking about the Caps trade deadline moves, but I also wanted to see the guys in action with their new team before I was able to make a decision about how the moves affect the team.  So let's break them down by person.


Walker fighting former Cap Chris Clark (photo by AP)

Scott Walker

I'm going to be honest, I had no idea who this was.  Until a loyal Bruins fan reminded me of this incident from last year's playoffs.  I instantly remembered.


The funny part is that Ward and Walker were teammates on the Carolina Hurricanes this season until the deadline (Ward was traded to the Anaheim Ducks).

My first impression was that Walker gets points for being so excited about coming to Washington.  Seriously.  Adorable.

Scott Walker came here for a 7th round draft pick, which is practically nothing.  He's not really known for his offensive prowess - he came to the Caps with three goals on the season and is described as being a gritty grinder on the 4th line.  In fact, prior to the 1996-97 season (when he was with the Vancouver Canucks) he was a defenseman, which might explain his tough style and focus on backchecking.  The 5'10" winger has said he actually modeled his game after Caps General Manager George McPhee's style of play:  
After checking out some of McPhee's game film and fights from his six-year NHL career, Walker thought, "maybe you don't have to be 6-foot-2 to make it."
Walker scored two goals in his first game as a Capital on March 4, leading the Caps to a 5-4 victory over Tampa Bay.  Keep in mind that in the entire season in Carolina, he'd scored three goals total.  This season.

Verdict: thumbs up

photo by Scott A. Schneider/Getty Images

Éric Bélanger

Another guy I didn't know.  This time because he's on a Western Conference team that the Caps play very little.  Not to be confused with the male model of the same name, Belanger's a 6' centerman who ranks 8th in the league on faceoff percentage with 57.4% (David Steckel is 2nd with 60.2%).  He came to us from the Minnesota Wild, where he had 13 goals and 22 assists this season.  Just after the draft, he was quoted as saying he uses his speed to his advantage in his play, and this description immediately put Jason Chimera into my mind.  Chimera's been a fantastic pickup for the Caps, so I was looking forward to his play.  

Last night, it really solidified for me how well Semin, Belanger, and Laich play together on a line.  Saturday night versus the Rangers, Belanger scored his first goal as a Capital, having been set up for the shot by Semin and Laich.  Last night against the Stars, the trio again were setting up fantastic plays - all three are gifted passers and are great with positioning.  The new second line could be the line to beat going into the post-season.  Plus, José Théodore's gotta like the addition of another Québécois to the lineup.

Verdict: thumbs up

photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

Joe Corvo

I was a little iffy about this one.  I certainly knew him by name, but never saw anything too magnificent about his play.  This one was also tough on me as I was a big Brian Pothier fan and was upset to see him leave.  However, I know it's supposed to be about the team, so let's move on.

Corvo has missed a lot of games for Carolina this season, having recently returned to the ice after Karl Alzner's skate accidentally severed his Achilles tendon during a game against the Caps on November 30 (interesting side note: he, along with Ovechkin and Morrison, now wears a Kevlar sock to protect against such injuries).  However, in his career with Carolina, he's been known as a power play specialist, often holding up the blue line on the man advantage.  He's enough of an offensive force to pick up some of Mike Green's mind-boggling amount of TOI.  And he's spent enough years in the NHL (8) to avoid mistakes in his play.

He didn't have a great game last night, but he recorded an assist on the Fehr goal on Saturday night, and had a great first home game last week.  Corvo and current D partner Tom Poti seem to have great chemistry - cycling the puck with ease and making smart defensive plays.  Douchey tattoos and assault arrests aside, he's matured and the Coach has confidence in him.  We'll give him a shot.

Verdict: thumbs up

photo by Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

Milan Jurcina

Sigh.  This idiot again.  Well, we all know who he is and how he plays (read: badly).  And he's out for 6-8 weeks with a sports hernia that is getting operated on Thursday.  At least I won't have to be dealing with screaming at him via my TV until then.

Verdict: thumbs down

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Caps Fan's First Visit to Chocolatetown

 
all photos by ME!

Up until this weekend, I kind of felt like a bad Caps fan.  I had never before made the trek to Hershey to see the Bears play in person.  Sure I've seen many of them play before - I did attend a day of development camp in the summer and of course have seen some of them when they're called up to the Caps, but I'd never seen all of them play together as a team.  One of the disadvantages of not having a car.

I had been to an AHL game before.  In fact, my very first professional hockey game was a Chicago Wolves game.  It was live hockey game love.  I honestly can't remember who they played (it was maybe 7 years ago) but I remember the excitement.  The arena was alive and the crowd was electric.  I credit that game for my first budding interest in professional hockey.

I follow the Bears of course, but only in a limited capacity since I'm too poor to pay for AHL Live, so I rely on Twitter for the most part.  So you can imagine my excitement when a bus trip down to Hershey was offered.  On Saturday, I hopped on the bus with 20 Caps fans and prayed for Holtby to be in net.  We turned into Giant Center a little over two hours later, and just judging by the sheer amount of people, I knew it was going to be good.

Was it ever.  Check out the picture below of Mathieu Perreault that I took during warmups.  He'd just scored on Bacashihua during a warmup drill.  It ended up being oddly prescient.


In the Bears' 9-2 win over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Mathieu scored the first goal for Hershey, and over the course of just two periods, scored three more (including one successful penalty shot).  Greg Amadio got into a fight (and kind of lost).  Chris Bourque scored, and Steve Pinizzotto (rocking a full face cage due to facial bone fractures) racked up four assists.  American Hero John Carlson had a number of great hits, as well as an assist.  Braden Holtby faced 24 shots and saved all but two.  I got to see the magic that is the Bears' top line of Andrew Gordon, Alexandre Giroux, and Keith Aucoin (the line ended up with 11 combined points on the night).  Andrew Gordon earned a new nickname from me (affectionately, "Funshine Bear").  The hockey game had everything - outstanding goaltending (by Holtby), a hat trick, a penalty shot, a fight, and over 10,000 screaming fans.  Even Coach Boudreau was there!

So, when's the next bus to Hershey?