When the Hershey Bears captured the Calder Cup Thursday night, it marked the perfect ending to the first year of our relationship with the AHL’s most historic franchise. And it kicks off what we expect will be an exciting couple of weeks for the Washington Capitals.
We will head to Vancouver for Thursday’s NHL Awards Show (8 p.m. ET, OLN
) and Saturday’s NHL Entry Draft (6 p.m. ET, OLN) secure in the knowledge that our plan is working, as evidenced by Hershey’s run. We want to build a winning franchise from within, and clearly we have a group of players at the AHL level who have the talent, drive and character that it takes to create a winner.
It’s true that a Calder Cup doesn’t mean we should start printing Stanley Cup tickets for next spring just yet. But it’s reason to celebrate, and it’s an extremely positive sign. I’m thrilled for the players, the coaches, Hershey president Doug Yingst and his staff, all the wonderful fans in Central Pennsylvania, George McPhee and our scouting staff, and all the Caps fans who have embraced this team as their own. As they’d say at the GIANT Center, WOOO!
It’s been inspiring to see Caps fans rally behind the Bears team, and it’s easy to see why – they’ve been a lot of fun to watch. I’ve seen a lot of Caps jerseys in the crowd when I’ve gone to GIANT Center, and I know a lot of others have joined me in listening to and watching games on the Internet or reading recaps on WashingtonCaps.com. Special thanks to Comcast SportsNet for helping to get Game 6 on TV in the D.C. area on a tape-delayed basis so we could see the Bears hoist the Calder Cup.
It’s impossible, as a Caps fan, not to picture some of the Bears in a Caps uniform in the near future. Of course, lots of them – 15, in fact – played for Washington this year, and some, like Brooks Laich
, were regulars.
| Tomas Fleischmann |
That was part of the appeal of our partnership with Hershey to begin with – the proximity, which would allow us to easily move players between the teams and give our prospects exposure to the NHL.
Tomas Fleischmann is a great example of that. We acquired him in the Robert Lang trade and his first year as a pro, in 2004-05, was average. But he blossomed into a dynamic offensive player this year and earned a taste of the NHL. He played 14 games with the Caps, mostly in November, and I’ve got to think that experience helped propel him to such a great year. He ended up posting 32 points in 20 playoff games to lead the Bears. Mike Green
, who we drafted with a pick obtained in the same Lang trade, was an AHL rookie this year who played with the poise of a veteran. He led our rookies and our defensemen in scoring with 18 playoff points after becoming the first Caps prospect ever named to the AHL All-Rookie Team. And he’s only 20 years old.
You can go up and down the Bears roster and sing individuals’ praises. Eric Fehr has earned a reputation as a big-game player, scoring the overtime winner in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. Joey Tenute, Jakub Klepis and Colin Forbes scored big goals Thursday night. Kris Beech provided the icing on the cake against his old team, his team-leading 14th goal of the playoffs. Dave Steckel and Boyd Gordon did a great job against opponents’ top lines through the whole playoff run. Boyd Kane has now captained back-to-back Calder Cup teams. And how can you not get excited for a guy like Freddie Cassivi? He’s beloved in Hershey, and will be even more so now that he’s the MVP of the AHL playoffs.
It’s a great story all around, and one we can celebrate as an organization. In short, we’re seeing the fruits of the plan put in place in the 2003-04 season. Some of those trades were painful at the time – I got skewered personally in the Washington Post by a columnist who encouraged fans to vandalize my lawn. (That same columnist earlier this month encouraged the Nationals to trade their veterans for prospects – perhaps he’s learned from our plan?)
When you look at the contributions of guys like Laich, Fleischmann and Green, those trades that were painful at the time have given us a lot to be proud of. And a lot to look forward to.
In another week I hope Alex Ovechkin
has a Calder Trophy that we can celebrate along with Hershey’s Calder Cup. And we’ll have a crop of young draft picks that could include as many as five of the first 50 picks. In the five most recent drafts, including this one, we will have 11 first-round picks – that’s four more than any other NHL team in that time. By all accounts, the No. 4 pick this Saturday should yield an outstanding prospect – which gives us more talent in our system, or gives us value that George McPhee can leverage in trade.
Alex will be there in Vancouver to join me in welcoming those new draft picks to our organization. It’s an organization they can be proud of, for what we’ve accomplished in Hershey, the character and skill Alex and our Capitals team demonstrated in 2005-06 and what we have to look forward to in our best-in-class practice facility opening in Arlington in the fall.
If you can’t be in Vancouver on Saturday, I hope you can join the Caps Draft Day Party at Dave & Buster’s at the White Flint Mall
. This is a time of great optimism for the Washington Capitals, and as those of us who packed the GIANT Center in Hershey last weekend know, there’s no better way to celebrate than with a group of like-minded fans.
Along the way, here are two great sites where you can follow the draft: WashingtonCaps.com
, of course, and NHLDraftNet.aol.com
, which I’ve got a bit of a rooting interest
Meanwhile, congrats to Hershey, and stay tuned for what should be a fun week ahead for the Washington Capitals.
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