A first-round pick (16th overall) of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1989 Entry Draft, Jamie Heward went on to play in more than 1,000 games during his tenure with North American and European hockey leagues. Included in that figure are 123 games spent with the Washington Capitals. Heward was signed as a free agent in 2005 and brought with him to the district a strong background in the NHL, having spent time on the rosters of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Nashville Predators, New York Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets. A native of Regina, Saskatchewan, Heward recently discussed his two seasons with the Washington Capitals as well as his current on- and off-ice pursuits.
WashingtonCaps.com (WC.com): You signed with the team as a free agent on August 12, 2005. What do you recall about your thought process leading up to and following the signing?
After spending the 2001-02 season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Heward went on to play for three seasons with the National League A in Switzerland. As a member of Team Canada in the 2004 Spengler Cup tournament, Heward was coached by Capitals coach Glen Hanlon, who recognized a talent in the defenseman that the Capitals could utilize. For Heward the opportunity to return to the NHL was appealing.
Jamie Heward (JH): “It felt really good because I had been playing in Europe. I was there for three years and was playing over there during the lockout. I met Glen Hanlon and he felt that I could still play in the National Hockey League. We talked to the organization to see if they could give me the chance to sign as a free agent, which was attractive. For me it was a fresh start. It was exciting because at the time I knew a couple guys on the team and there was the buzz about Alex Ovechkin. I was coming into an organization where I was getting a new, fresh start, so I was really excited to get into training camp.”
WC.com: What do you remember most about suiting up for your first game as a Capital during the 2005-06 season?
During his career in the NHL, Heward played in 394 games. What stands out about his first game in Washington is how important of a milestone it was for teammate Alex Ovechkin. Heward’s first game with the Capitals – also Ovechkin’s first NHL game – resulted in a 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets and the unique memory of playing with current Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin during Ovechkin’s first game of his rookie season.
JH: “There was so much hype about Alex that I think that’s probably what I remember the most. He was drawing so much media attention and that was exciting to be around - just how excited he was to play the game and how he just made everybody else want to be there.”
WC.com: In your second game with the Capitals, you recorded your first assist with the team, and in your third game your first goal. How did it feel to begin the new season with your new team this way?
Heward contributed a total of 44 points during his two seasons with the Capitals and attributes his success with the team to a combination of his work during the off-season and the encouragement of the Capitals coaching staff.
JH: “It felt good because I still remember the first game. I still remember Alex’s first goal. I’m actually in a photograph to the back of him while he’s celebrating, so I still have good memories of that. I was excited to be there. I was excited to be back in the National Hockey League. I worked really hard in the off-season to try to get into good enough shape to still play so the fact that I was there and I was playing and the coaches had confidence in me to go out and play a lot – I was playing lots of minutes – to be out there and be back and be in North America and not playing in Europe anymore was great. I was just extremely excited to be a Washington Capital and to be part of the team. “
WC.com: You led all Caps defensemen and set career highs in assists and points during the 05-06 season. How would you say you developed as a defenseman throughout your career with the Capitals?
In his first season with the Capitals, Heward contributed seven goals and 21 assists, an achievement to which he credits the coaching staff and team’s youth as their encouragement helped him develop into a role model for the team.
JH: “The biggest thing for me was just knowing that the coaching staff had confidence in me to play. We had a lot of young kids and a lot of young players that year on the team. When I signed they had said ‘you’re a veteran guy, we want you to work with some of the younger guys, we want you to try to be a good leader in the dressing room’ and we had a good group of core guys that were really good to me, so my development as a defenseman kind of came from the enthusiasm of the young guys. Mike Green at the time was up and down [from Hershey] and there was the drafting of younger kids and there were trades of course – and just the fact that you got to play with those guys [on the team at that time] day in and day out and see their enthusiasm made me a better player.”
“The coaches were confident in me to go out and get the job done, and that’s something that didn’t happen very often in my career before that. Glen [Hanlon] was great to me and George [McPhee] had confidence in me to play the game. Obviously [the Capitals] were in a rebuilding stage. They had a lot of first-round draft picks, a lot of young guys coming in so for me it was exciting to be around these guys and to try to give them advice and be a good guy and good role model.’’
WC.com: Do you keep in touch with your former teammates?
Among others, Heward spent the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 season playing alongside current members of the Capitals roster, including Mike Green, Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin. The lineup made for a positive atmosphere to play in, said Heward, and the seasons stand out among his years in the league.
JH: “I still talk to a couple of guys. I talk to Jeff Halpern every so often, Brent Johnson and Olie Kolzig. Brooks Laich lives in the same town that I do so I see him quite often. It’s one of those things where you can’t stay in touch with everybody but [when you do reconnect] after six or eight months you feel like you haven’t missed a beat and you can probably catch up pretty quick. It was a good group, we had a lot of fun. My first year there was probably the most fun I had in the National Hockey League. We had a really good group of characters.”
WC.com: What do you recall most about the atmosphere of the locker room and attitude of the team at that time?
Heward recalls how Alex Ovechkin’s passion for hockey had an influence on the team for the duration of the 2005-06 season. Combined with the leadership of veteran players, Ovechkin’s enthusiasm created a unique environment to play in and helped the team develop.
JH: “The atmosphere in the locker room was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I know the guys when they read this are probably going to bug me about it, but Alex [Ovechkin] instilled a youthful exuberance in the room. It was his first year in the National Hockey League and he was just fun to be around. He had a zest for the game; he was excited. It made everybody else feel excited to be around the game. Our dressing room was great – we had a really good core group of guys.”
“Jeff Halpern was a vocal guy and was our captain and he was a great guy and he just knew from being there before. Olie Kolzig was a great leader [and so was] Brendan Witt. We had a lot of older guys that really took everybody under their wing and just of made it fun. Like I said it was considered a rebuilding year so there really wasn’t a lot of pressure on us to do great things so I think that made it a little bit different, but the goal was to try to get some of the guys to progress obviously into the team they are now and I think George [McPhee] and the staff were successful in doing that. They kind of made it a positive atmosphere to be around and we excelled probably a bit better than most people thought we were going to and the young guys excelled more rapidly than I think management felt they were going to.”
WC.com: Tell me about what you’ve been doing more recently both on and off the ice – I understand you co-founded the Shooting Stars Foundation?
Heward was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for future considerations in February 2007 after playing in 123 games with the Washington Capitals. That same year, Heward co-founded Shooting Stars Foundation with fellow NHL alumnus Mike Sillinger. Along with current Edmonton Oilers right wing Jordan Eberle, Heward and Sillinger run the foundation, which raises awareness and funds in support of local children’s charities focused on prevention and relief in sickness and disability or on the participation and education for youth and sports in the Regina region. He also remains active on-ice.
JH: “Since I retired I’ve been basically helping some local hockey teams around here – just trying to stay in the game and making sure that I play. My whole life has revolved around being at the rink so I haven’t left that. I’m still trying to get to the rink as much as I can, both with helping teams here and my son and daughter both play hockey. I’m pretty much at the rink every day. In the summertime – a good friend of mine from my hometown and I started a charity called Shooting Stars. We wanted to kind of give back to the community and support local kids charities. We do a golf tournament and do a ball hockey tournament every year and all funds go toward helping local kids, whether its camps or special needs or that kind of thing. We get a lot of help from lots of guys in town here and the league. We’ve got tons of guys who want to come back and participate in it so it’s been a really good program for us.”