Friday at camp offered a striking contrast in atmosphere relative to Thursday. No big-news presser, no buzz over a free agent’s hat trick from a game the night before, and when Gabby met the media near 2:00 there was only the Washington Post’s Katie Carrera and yours truly there with questions for the coach. The exchange lasted all of about 5 minutes.
* * * * *
After his practice skate Friday morning Mike Knuble obliged a youth’s request to part with his stick, which he signed. But of course one youth’s lottery winning with an NHLer’s stick is another’s loss out at kid-packed Kettler. Knuble, taking notice of the disappointment that accompanied his generosity, looked down at the disappointed lad and said,”Next time, I’ll remember you. The kid with a cut on his chin.” The wager here is that indeed the Caps’ right wing comes up with another stick soon for the kid with the nicked chin. Maybe even today.
* * * * *
Craig Laughlin made his maiden appearance at training camp, having just returned from Canada and a summer-long hosting of his summer hockey camp. His thoughts related to the few open roster spots were the popular topic of the morning in the media work room. The long-time Caps’ broadcaster doesn’t see much in the way of competition remaining — if there ever was any. The forward lines are basically set, he suggested, with an extra body perhaps slated for the fourth line, and there’s little doubt about one through five on the Caps’ blueline. I think he’s right. Of Marcus Johansson, who’s had a solid camp thus far? “No way,” said Laughlin. Too much to ask of a kid making the transition from Europe to North American pro puck, the broadcaster claimed. Maybe he’s been reading this blog.
I also had a chance to ask Laughlin about the Southeast division in 2010-11. I suggested to him that few observers believe the Caps are weaker than they were a year ago, and so subsequently a division foe would have to make a dramatic improvement just to halve the Caps’ nearly 40-point division title margin of a season ago. He predicted the Caps winning the division by 20 points, with Tampa improving significantly. That does seem to be the conventional wisdom this preseason.
* * * * *
My sample set is admittedly small, but for my digital recorder there is no more engaging and thoughtful and pleasant an interview in all of hockey than Andrew Gordon. After his workout Friday, still in his gear and soaked with sweat, he obliged a Washington Post interview request, and when that ended I approached him. “I’ve got just two questions for you, Andrew,” I said. “And I’ve got two answers for you,” the right wing replied, beaming. Always he’s smiling and good-natured and blissfully free of cliche and canned response in every encounter with media I’ve observed, here and in Hershey.
* * * * *
Cody Eakin is impressing, no question about it. “He hasn’t looked out of place, I can tell you that,” Gabby said of Eakin. “It’s not like you can tell he’s an 18- or 19-year-old. His maturity is I think beyond his years.” He’s pushing some older guys for a job, the coach added.
* * * * *
Training camp of course is a great deal of work for its participants, filled with scripted drills, lots of conditioning, lots of off-ice workouts. It’s a real grind. Especially for veterans. And so I was curious to see if guys at camp would identify the experience as also affording any moments of genuine fun. I got some interesting reflections on Friday about this.
“It is all about conditioning and preparation and all about business to make the team,” Tomas Fleischmann told me. “But you always get fun if you are spending time with guys in the dressing room. Seeing guys every day and making jokes . . . it’s a way to relax.”
Gym rat Andrew Gordon would have none of my suggesting that conditioning and weight training wasn’t fun. “I think all the preparation and conditioning is fun, for me anyways. I like going to the gym, I like being in shape. Andrew Joudrey and I take [fitness] very seriously all summer long. He’s my workout partner at home.
“It’s fun to come out and have the coaches try to work you into the ground and then you’re not that upset about it. When you work hard you know it’s for a reason and that it’s going to translate to game situations.”
I asked Gordon what he enjoyed doing away from the rink during camp to give his body a bit of a break from all the rigor. This week, he told me, he’s been helping Tyler Sloan “lug furniture up to the 19th floor” of the defenseman’s apartment building. Note to self: Don’t R&R with Gordo.
The ultimate rink rat in the Capitals’ organization, I’ve learned in recent years, is Mathieu Perreault. No surprise: he fairly detests off days, and he spends them wishing he was playing hockey.
“I enjoy playing so much, even the drills,” Matty told me. “I love the game so much that even on the days off, at my house, I’m like, ‘What am I going to do today, I want to play hockey.’ To me being here just to practice is fun.”