[WashingtonCaps.com continues the summer series "Alumni Spotlight," where WashingtonCaps.com interviews former Washington Capitals players. Previous Alumni Spotlights include Ben Clymer, Bryan Muir, Jamie Heward, Brendan Witt and Anson Carter.]
WashingtonCaps.com (WC.com): You have described yourself in the past as a shoot first kind of player, has your game changed at all playing overseas?
Matt Pettinger (MP): It has actually. I handle the puck more over there, it’s bigger ice and I sort of have a different role over there, running the power play so-to-speak, and therefore I’m actually more of a look-to-pass-first guy now then a shoot-first guy.
WC.com: Most people say, European hockey is very different from the NHL because of the wider rinks but what have you found most difficult and most enjoyable in your transition?
MP: The difference between the North American game especially the AHL and NHL level vs. Europe is the technical aspects of the game. You know we still watch video, we still pre-scout and all that stuff but systems wise it’s not as disciplined as it is in North America. The big ice too is a pretty big change not only do you have more room to skate but it’s harder to finish checks and you know, for that reason it might not be as physical because obviously there is more room. You go and try to run somebody and try to finish a check and you take yourself completely out of play. On the positive side it’s a 52-game schedule, there’s no two-week grueling road trips. You know you’re home with your family most nights and it’s a little easier on the body.
WC.com: How did you decide on playing in Germany? Did you ever think of playing anywhere else like the Russian KHL or the Swiss National League?
MP: I have an agent over there that dealt with this stuff and it was two years ago and I just sort of weighed my options and the KHL was never really for my family. Everyone has heard some of the stories. If you’re European it’s different you know, you’re used to that standard of living. In regards to the Swiss League, that’s just a tough league to get into. There are only two or three imports per team. In regards to the decision as to what league to play in, in the KHL there are so many uncertainties. Obviously they are trying to get the standard over there better but you know they don’t have an agreement with the IIHF so guys are coming and going in and out of Russia freely. Obviously everyone saw the unfortunate events last year with the plane crash and it’s just different. A guy coming from western Canada with a pregnant wife, we just thought we wanted a little more stability. My first two years in Cologne were great. It’s a great city and we wanted a bigger city with things to do and that’s why we decided on the German League.
WC.com: You were drafted by the Capitals in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft (second round, 43rd overall) what was going through your head at that time?
MP: Well obviously at that time when you’re 19 years old it’s a busy time; you’re excited, you’re nervous. I think I was projected to go anywhere from 10th to 50th so any time after the top-10 comes the anticipation for your name to be called. It was exciting. But at the end of the day it does not end up being that big of a deal where you are drafted. You see I ended up going in the second round and you know there are eighth rounder’s that have gone on to have great NHL careers and there’s first rounder’s that have never played a game. So it’s tough at the ages of 17, 18 and 19 for these teams to come in and project where a player’s going be in six years or 10 years. It was a great experience. I really loved and enjoyed my time in Washington.
WC.com: Your standout seasons with the Capitals were the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons. What do you remember most about the team at the time?
MP: Well we were going through a pretty big rebuild. We had a couple of veteran guys, Olie Kolzig and Brendan Witt were there. My first few years there I was a 20-year-old kid and I come to this team and there’s [Jaromir] Jagr, Calle Johansson, Adam Oates and Craig Billington and Joe Reekie and the youngest guy after me was Jeff Halpern and he was about six years older than me, so that was very nerve racking and exciting at the same time but it was a different sort of mentality back then. Once I played a few games and four or five years later I got to know the guys and felt a little more comfortable and it was good but we lost a lot of hockey games in that time. Personally I had a really good few seasons.
WC.com: You spent many years with the Capitals, is there anything you have seen or witnessed that sets them apart from other teams you have played with?
MP: t’s tough to tell because as soon as the rebuild happened and then all of a sudden [Alex] Ovechkin came. I played with him for a few years, and I played with [Nicklas] Backstrom for a few years and [Alexander] Semin was there so sort of right when I got traded all these guys blossomed. I talked to a few guys later and they, along with one of my good buddies Matt Bradley, said how different the city is now with the Caps. I never really witnessed that when I was there. We were going through this huge transitional stage and the Caps were the Caps but our practice facility was still near Annapolis and the new one had just been built. Nowadays, guys like Mike Green and all these guys are world class players and they have obviously had some really great seasons the last few years but did not have the playoff success they wanted, but if you keep knocking on the door soon enough you’re going to get let in.
WC.com: What was your most memorable moment with the Capitals?
MP: I would have to say the shootout at Madison Square Garden, I think it was in 2004 or 2005 and it went about 15 or 16 rounds. I remember I was the sixth shooter. They still show this game back here in Canada. I think it’s still the longest shootout ever. I remember when Marek Malik went through the legs on Olie [Kolzig] and I know how competitive Olie is and I know if he ever did that in practice now, Olie would probably take a stick around your neck (chuckles). I’m kind of surprised he didn’t do it to Malik there. But just the setting you know, Madison Square Garden, it’s one-on-one, and I think the shootout took about 45 minutes and we had guys that I don’t even know if they had a shot on net that season let alone a goal taking shots, you know like Bryan Muir, Jamie Heward, and the list goes on and on, of guys that it finally got to. So that was probably the most memorable.
WC.com: Do you keep in touch with any other former or current Capitals players?
MP: You know what a little bit. I’ll text with Olie, I’ll text with Matt Bradley. I also keep in touch with Brian Willsie, Brian Sutherby, Jeff Halpern, but we’re not talking once a week, we’re talking sort of every month or two months. You send a text out or an email out or whatever just to see what’s going on. Those are some of the guys I played longest with during my Caps days.
WC.com: What’s next on the horizon for Matt Pettinger?
MP: Well I’m heading off in three weeks here, I start Aug. 1. I had two years in Cologne, Germany, and now I signed a two-year contract with Hamburg. I got two more years, taking my wife and my daughter for another couple years in Germany and I will see where that takes me. I don’t know if I have five years left, two years left, or eight years left of hockey but we will see.