In some ways, attending Capitals’ development camp beats covering every other hockey event the rest of the year.
Sometimes, it’s because of camp attendees who don’t have two pixels to their names but who pleasantly surprise you—both with their play and their natural talent at answering a barrage of questions from unfamiliar journalists (let’s face it … how many 17-year-olds can do that?).
Sometimes it’s because of the fans watching the camp, like Victoria and her son, Troy. Victoria recently started playing hockey at the Fairfax Ice Arena, but it’s her son who’s the big Caps fan… although he plays just about every sport but hockey.
Victoria heard about this year’s camp on WTOP, and, while she and her son were able to attend one Caps game last year, they decided to take advantage of the free-to-watch development camp. Troy has been a Caps fan basically his whole life (he’s currently in college), and Victoria said her father was a big Caps fan from the franchise’s founding and that she remembers watching games on TV back when they would highlight the puck on the screen. Troy now follows the Caps from Maryland while attending college at Mount St. Mary’s, where he describes the student body as either Flyers or Caps fans. In fact, his roommate last year was loyal to the Flyers.
Though a Caps devotee, Troy said he’s finally stopped saying “This is their year,” simply because he’s said so every other year. This time around, he’s not saying anything, hoping that might change the Caps’ mojo.
As for development camp participant Garret Haar: he’s only 17, yet talking to the media afterwards seemed as natural to him as when he and his brother play roller hockey in their backyard in California.
For a kid who didn’t expect to be drafted, there’s something about Haar that kept the media around him asking questions for a good 11 minutes (an eternity in development camp interview time) – he walked the fine line of being friendly and honest in his answers without blowing up bridges, which included a good-natured exchange about the Los Angeles Angels t-shirt he was wearing and the pronounced differences between his home state of California and his USHL location in Fargo, North Dakota.
He’s also the kind of player who doesn’t leave the sport at the rink.
“I’m always watching hockey. I’m always watching NHL Network and stuff like that, Versus – even if it’s not hockey, it’s hockey-related,” Haar said, adding that the roller hockey with his brother takes up a good amount of his time away from the rink. “I’m always surrounding myself with hockey. There’s never a break, and I have no problem with that.”
Haar admitted he’s usually been one of the youngest at everything he does – though he doesn’t have a problem with that, either – and said that although he likes supporting his teammates and cheering them on, he’s never been a captain on a team and he’s usually “kind of the quiet guy.” His cover was blown, however, when Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau praised him during his presser Thursday, saying the scouts were “pleasantly surprised” by Haar.
“Being completely honest, I wasn’t expecting a lot out of myself – I mean, being one of the youngest kids here, I was just going to come in and see what I could do, but I think I’m surprising myself,” Haar said. But he said he’s been training hard over the summer and that his speed on defense is helping him at the camp.
He stayed home during the draft last month, concerned that otherwise he’d be a kid that attended but didn’t get picked. As it got later in the draft, Haar said he had to stop watching the ticker and went upstairs to play Call of Duty with his brother. He got the call that he was the Capitals’ seventh-round draft pick and ran downstairs to tell his parents, only to find out they’d just seen it on the ticker.
Haar did watch the HBO 24/7 series last year, of which his biggest takeaway was Boudreau’s now infamous use of the f-bombs, although he said Boudreau hasn’t utilized that much in camp. For Haar, one of the most exciting things this week is getting to know the other guys and hearing their experiences, although in the end playing the game “is the most fun.”
And that, bottom line, is what makes covering development camp worth it – these are players still able to recognize they’re having fun playing the game, and fans who think that’s important enough to the franchise to come watch them do so.