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Rocky Mountain Rearguards

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
One is a stay-at-home defenseman, an American from New England. The other is more of an offensive-minded rearguard who hails from out west, Delta, British Columbia to be exact. But New Hampshire native Andrew Thomas and B.C.-born Keith Seabrook have a couple things in common besides their position. They’re both going to be playing hockey at the University of Denver in 2006-07, and they’re both members of the Washington Capitals’ organization.

Thomas is heading into his junior year with the Pioneers, and Seabrook is about to begin his freshman campaign. Ironically enough, when Seabrook visited Denver while shopping for colleges, he was paired up with Thomas.

alt “[Thomas] was actually my student host when I went down to Denver for the visit there,” says Seabrook, who will enter the U. of Denver this fall, after spending the 2005-06 season with the Burnaby Express of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League. “I stayed with him and I got to know him pretty well. It’s good to have someone like that who you can talk to and get a good perspective on what’s going on [with the Capitals] and at Denver.”

Thomas followed the 2006 NHL Entry Draft a little bit, and was excited to learn that Seabrook, who would soon be joining him in Denver, would also be joining him on the Capitals’ depth chart. The two young defensemen hit it off well and have become fast friends.

“It’s kind of a ritual that our coaches set up a recruit with somebody at that position who is going to be an upperclassman at that position when they come in as freshmen,” says Thomas of being matched with Seabrook. “I was lucky enough to have Keith in and we hit it off really well right from the get go and he hit it off with all my teammates and everybody from Denver. I think it was a pretty easy decision for him [to attend the U. of Denver] when it came down to it.”

Both players got their first taste of an NHL development camp in mid-July when they reported to Hershey, Pa. to take part in Washington’s annual summer development camp. Because of strict NCAA rules and to protect their amateur standing, the only way for college players to participate in such camps is to pay their own way, including transportation, lodging, meals and all other expenses. The prohibitive cost usually limits collegiate participants to a precious few, but there were more college participants at the Capitals’ camp this summer than any of the previous sessions.

Both Thomas and Seabrook made the most of the week and the chance to work with Caps and Hershey Bears coaches.

“With the new face of the game, skating is obviously the name of everything,” declares Thomas. “I will be working on my foot speed and working on my quickness. Getting up to top speed as fast as possible is my major goal. Obviously, I will work on the things I do well defensively and try to expand my game a little bit offensively. I think any good player always wants to do better in every area, so I am pushing myself in all aspects.”

Seabrook, whose brother Brent plays for the Chicago Blackhawks, had been working on the ice with his brother before arriving at developmental camp.

“Mostly quick feet and shooting,” he responds, when asked what areas of his game he is working on this summer. “Me and my brother have been working on one-timers lately. I’m working on everything, but mainly speed and shooting.”

Seabrook was chosen in the second round (52nd overall) of the 2006 Entry Draft, just weeks after helping Burnaby to a Doyle Cup victory (he had a hat trick in the deciding game) and a subsequent BCHL championship, the Royal Bank Cup. Just a couple of weeks after he was drafted, Seabrook pulled on a Washington sweater at the Caps’ summer camp. His brother’s previous experiences with such camps helped the younger Seabrook to acclimate himself.

“I kind of know how things go because of [Brent’s] experiences with camps when he was 17, 18, 19,” says Seabrook. “He has come back from camps and told me all about them so I kind of knew what to expect.”

After playing on a national championship team in his freshman year at Denver, Thomas was selected in the fourth round (109th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Because the ’05 draft was thrown together at the last minute upon the resolution of the labor strife between players and owners, few of the potential draftees were in attendance at the draft in Ottawa last summer. Thomas learned his draft fate via the internet.

“I actually followed the first couple of rounds on TV with a couple of my roommates out in Denver,” he remembers. “I was still at school at that point. Then after the broadcast on TV, I just followed along on and kept hitting refresh on the web page. I finally saw my name in the fourth round and I was ecstatic. I called my parents right away and called all my family. As clichéd as it is, it is definitely a dream come true.”

Thomas had a strong sophomore season at Denver in 2005-06, but the team did not fare as well.

“I think last year was kind of a humbling experience, having somewhat underachieved and not making the tournament,” says Thomas. “There was a lot of personal success on the team; Matt Carle won the Hobey Baker and a lot of kids earned some pretty serious accolades. It was definitely a humbling experience after my freshman year, which was definitely a trip to say the least.

“Next year, we’re very optimistic and with having Keith coming in and a real solid recruiting class it is going to help a lot.”

Seabrook is just beginning his college career, and Thomas is likely halfway through his. Thomas’ fellow 2005 draftee Sasha Pokulok recently signed a pro contract with the Caps, forgoing his final two seasons of college hockey in the process. Thomas used this summer’s camp as a measuring stick, but believes he is likely to finish out his four years at Denver before going pro.

“Coming to Washington’s camp definitely gives me some sort of personal knowledge of where I stand here,” he says, “whether it comes from the coaching staff or the management or whether it is just comparing myself to the other players. If I am a four-year guy, I am a four-year guy. I have absolutely no problem with that. I love it at Denver.”

The Caps hope Thomas can continue to mentor and nurture Seabrook along as he integrates himself into the Denver program this fall. Washington also hopes both of these right-shooting rearguards find themselves patrolling the blueline at Verizon Center in the not-too-distant future.
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