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Caps Kids Can't Wait

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Caps goaltender Semyon Varlamov came within a game of backstopping the Capitals to the Eastern Conference finals last spring. Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth pushed the AHL Hershey Bears to the storied franchise's 10th Calder Cup title last spring, earning all 16 wins and garnering MVP of the playoffs honors in the process.

There is nothing to be gained by having either of those netminders hop a Philly-bound bus tomorrow morning to face the Flyers' rookies in Voorhees, N.J. tomorrow afternoon. And so, they won't.

Brett Leonhardt, better known as "Stretch" to some of us here in the office, will be taking a day off from his usual duties as Web producer for in order to don the pads and serve as the Caps' second goaltender, backing up first-year pro Braden Holtby.

Leonhardt and Holtby will be joined by a dozen forwards and half a dozen defensemen on the trip. Caps coach Bruce Boudreau was asked how the braintrust would determine which six of the eight defensemen in camp would be making the journey.

"The eight defensemen, we wish we could play all eight," laments Boudreau. "The guys have worked their rear end off, but it comes down sometimes to who you invited and who were draft choices."

There were 12 forwards on the rookie camp roster, but 2008 draftee Stefan Della Rovere is recovering from an injury and has not participated this week. His seat on the bus will be taken by 2006 draftee Francois Bouchard, a veteran of the two previous year's Caps/Flyers rookie contests.
Josh Godfrey Washington Capitals

Original plans called for the Caps' kids to stage an intrasquad scrimmage of sorts at Kettler today, but Boudreau thought better of it and scotched that idea.

"They have a 3:00 p.m. game tomorrow," says the Caps bench boss. "We've pushed them pretty hard every day. They've been out [on the ice] for an hour and a half [daily]. And then they've done an off-ice [workout]. I looked up [today] and it was an hour that we were out there, just for the power play.

"Sometimes you defeat the purpose. You get them out and you flood and you scrimmage for 40 minutes with two lines, how exhausted are you going to be? And then you're going into Philadelphia [tomorrow]. So we said, 'Let's just do some situational stuff.' I didn't want to get them so wound up on the scrimmage that they had nothing left for tomorrow. I think the guys want to show a little bit what they can do tomorrow."

Boudreau is right about that. Several of the Caps played in last year's Caps-Flyers game, and a couple have played in each of the two games between the two teams over the last two years. But for some of the youngsters the Capitals drafted this summer, tomorrow's contest in Voorhees is something they're looking ahead to with great anticipation.

"It will be my first game playing in I guess almost an NHL game, so I am pretty excited," says defenseman Brett Flemming, chosen with the Caps' fifth-round pick (145th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. "You dream of it as a kid, right? I guess it's almost there. It's going to be a lot of fun."

"It's pretty surreal," says 2009 sixth-rounder (175th overall) Garrett Mitchell. "Right now, it hasn't hit me yet. Once i pull the jersey over my head, that's something you dream of as a kid growing up. I'm excited. I want to get it going."

As a guy who played in these Caps-Flyers games in each of the last two years, defenseman Josh Godfrey sounded almost like a coach when asked what he would tell younger players like Flemming and Mitchell before the game.

"It's going to be intense," says Godfrey. "Their guys are out there trying to make an impression and our guys should be, too. The coaching staff wants us to play our systems the right way. They obviously want you to show your skill and show what you can do, but within our system."

Boudreau had some words of his own for the boys today.

"I just told them, 'We're here to win every game. Play hard. The logo that's on the front of your jersey, get used to playing for that. This is what we want. We raise the bar pretty high here; [we] expect a lot from you. Hopefully, you learned something. Go out and show us what you've learned."

"We can't wait," admits Godfrey. "Four days of long practices, getting fitness testing done and all that stuff. Tomorrow is our show. Guys got to learn systems the first couple of days: forecheck, neutral zone forecheck, power play, penalty kill and all that. Tomorrow is our chance to put it all together."
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