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Caps Trio in Super Series

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
If you’re looking for something to help while away the days remaining until NHL training camps open up in mid-September, here’s a suggestion. Watch “September 1972,” the top-notch documentary of the legendary Summit Series between Team Canada and Team Russia. It’s high hockey drama from a different era, and a must-view every summer.

This summer you can do even better by watching the Super Series, the 2007 reprise of the Summit Series. The Super Series gets underway today in Russia and continues through Sep. 9.

The “September 1972” documentary shows how the cocky Canadians strutted into the series with a star-studded lineup expecting to traipse past the Russians in the eight-game series. It didn’t take long for Team Canada to wake up and realize they were in for the battle of their lives, and that national pride was on the line.

Thirty-five years after that riveting series of hockey, the two countries have once again consented to an eight-game tournament against one another. But this one will be different. The first four games will be in Russia and the last four in Canada, the reverse of how it went down in 1972. The biggest difference is in the competitors themselves. Instead of NHL stars against well-trained Russian pros, this year’s series pits junior-aged players, the best players under the age of 20.

Two Capitals draftees will represent Team Canada and another Washington draft choice will suit up for Team Russia in the tournament, which begins today in Ufa, Russia.

Defensemen Karl Alzner and Josh Godfrey, both of whom were Washington draft choices in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, are among eight blueliners on the Team Canada roster. Alzner was Washington’s first choice (fifth overall) while Godfrey was a second-rounder (34th overall). Russian goaltender Simeon Varlamov, expected to be the go-to guy in goal for his team during the tournament, was Washington’s second choice (first round, 23rd overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Alzner is a two-way defender, and a gregarious sort who likes to talk it up with his teammates. Godfrey is an offensive defenseman, and he’s a lot quieter than Alzner. Varlamov is an athletic netminder with plenty of talent.

Last month at Washington’s annual summer development camp, the two defensemen and the goaltender got their first taste of hockey in the District. And Caps fans got their first glimpse of some players they hope will help form the nucleus of strong NHL teams here in Washington for years to come.

During one scrimmage, Alzner and Godfrey were paired together on the point on the power play. Alzner, who is skilled at moving the puck, and Godfrey, who is very adept at shooting it, worked well together. Alzner served as a conduit between the forwards down low and Godfrey. Alzner deftly touch passed pucks from down low in Godfrey’s direction, setting his partner up for one-timers. Godfrey’s point shot nearly reached triple digits on the radar gun at skills competition held last season.

“Coming into this [camp],” said Alzner of Godfrey, “I had met him once before and I knew he’d be coming here and that there was a good chance we’d be playing together. I wanted to make sure I got to know him pretty good.

“I like to pass the puck; he likes to shoot it. It works out perfectly. It’s like he’s the bread and I’m the butter. As long as he’s there, I’m going to pass the puck to him. We practiced a little bit at the end of practice this morning, just to get a better feel for it. It’s going to be beneficial for our team when we go over to Russia if I am passing him one-timers and he can put them on net.”

Godfrey didn’t offer any analogies, but he agreed that the pair has some chemistry working.

“I never played with him before this camp,” said Godfrey. “But we just kind of clicked out there on the ice. Hopefully it can carry over for many years to come.”

Varlamov also fared well during Washington’s development camp, showing poise under pressure when he faced a barrage of shots from in tight. He was good at dealing with traffic and bodies in front of him. The 19-year-old signed his first pro contract with the Capitals during the week of summer camp, but he is virtually certain to be playing in Russia this season. Going forward, he expects to vie for an opportunity to succeed veteran Olie Kolzig between the pipes for Washington, whenever the Caps’ stellar netminder decides to hang up his pads for the final time.

Alzner was named as an alternate captain for the Canadian team, and figures to log a lot of ice time as one of the team’s top defensemen. Team Canada head coach Brent Sutter told Godfrey that he was scheduled to play in seven of the eight contests, but could play in all eight if another Team Canada defenseman is felled by injury. Varlamov figures to be Team Russia’s starter in all eight games. Only injury or ineffectiveness would cause Team Russia head coach Sergei Nemchinov to tab another netminder.

It’s virtually certain that this series will be no match for the ’72 Summit Series. But regardless of how close it comes to equaling its lofty predecessor for sheer drama, it should be compelling late-summer viewing for those who are able to watch.

For those who are participating, it is likely to be an unforgettable experience. Alzner, Godfrey and Varlamov will be performing on quite the hockey stage for the next two weeks. At the very least, they’ll have a good springboard into Washington’s rookie camp and the team’s subsequent training camp, which begins on Sep. 14 at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

Notes: With four Super Series participants, only the Boston Bruins have more tournament representatives than the Capitals. Like Washington, the Columbus Blue Jackets have three participants … Fifteen of the players listed on Team Russia’s extended roster were passed over in the NHL Entry Draft … Seven of the Series participants were Entry Draft selections of Southeast Division clubs, more than any of the other five NHL divisions … Each team has three players who are eligible for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Team Canada will ice the lone 2009 draft eligible player in Oshawa Generals forward John Tavares. Tavares won’t celebrate his 17th birthday until Sep. 20, nearly two weeks after the conclusion of the Super Series … Sutter will coach his son Brandon in the Series, and will be coaching junior players for the last time. When the Series is finished, he’ll begin his first season as head coach of the New Jersey Devils … Corey Hirsch, briefly a Capitals netminder a few years back, is serving as Team Canada’s goaltending consultant.

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