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Summer Take Five

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
We’re not quite to the end of July, and training camp is still more than a month and a half away. But that doesn’t mean that hockey and the upcoming season are far from the minds of the members of the Washington Capitals.

We spotted goaltender Brent Johnson at Kettler Capitals Iceplex today as he was helping to coach some youngsters at the Capitals’ annual summer camp. Johnson commented on how slowly the summer was moving along, and we agreed.

A few weeks back, we had a conversation with Caps center Brooks Laich during his quick summer visit to the District. Our short chat with the affable pivot had us wishing we could fast-forward to September. Here’s a transcript of that one-on-one discussion. You’re sporting the clean look now. I remember during the playoffs you said you wanted to cut it, but you couldn’t because things were going too well.

Laich: “Don’t worry. I’ll grow the grunge back in the playoffs. I think it was from January on, I didn’t cut it. When you get on a streak sometimes …you watch those old movies, like “Bull Durham,” they say, ‘Never mess with a streak.’ It’s just how it is. If something’s going right, you never mess with it. In the summer my hair is too shaggy and bushy and thick to wear [long, especially in the heat of Saskatchewan. So I just trimmed it up. Maybe I’m trying to copy Matt Bradley.

Ever been on a team with this many centers?

“I don’t think so. For the coaching staff, it’s fantastic. Generally speaking, not all the time, but generally speaking centers are more reliable in their own zone. The more people you can put on the ice that are reliable defensively, it can only help your hockey club. It’s nice for a coach because if a centerman goes down with an injury you can slide somebody right in there and not miss a beat. I think from a coaching standpoint, they enjoy having that many centers.”

What about you guys growing up together in the system? A few of you were in Portland together and then played on that Calder Cup team in ’06. Some of you guys are getting paid and flourishing in the NHL together. The only thing that’s left to accomplish now is the big one.

“I was thinking about that the other day, and there are some guys who have now moved on like Brian Sutherby and Steve Eminger. But Boyd Gordon resigned yesterday and I’ve been with Gordo for the last five years now. I was just thinking about that because all along the team had been telling us, ‘We’re going to have a core group of guys and we’re going to grow you together.’ We’ve got a guy like Mike Green and now we’ve got guys like Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr developing. It’s fun because of what we’ve been through.

“The first two years I was here, there were some tough nights. We took some lumps. We knew we were a growing team, but it makes what we did last year that much sweeter. We were a team that went from knowing we were going to be good but not quite there, to now taking steps to realizing that potential. I still think we have a long way to go, but we’re closing in on it. I think we’re an exciting team and I think that this year we should be expecting big, big things from ourselves.”

That leads to my next question. There haven’t been expectations here for a long time. And now with the way you guys captured the imagination of the fan base here last season, coming into this year there are going to be expectations. And with expectations comes some pressure, something we haven’t had for a while on the Washington hockey landscape.

“That’s fine. That’s something that Bruce has brought in himself. The first day he was here, he said, ‘Just trying is not acceptable. We have to win and we have to win now.’ He brings that winning attitude. He brings those expectations; that comes directly from him. We have a taste of it now and we expect it of ourselves now.

“Last year we came in expecting-slash-hoping to make the playoffs. This year we’re coming in expecting to make the playoffs, expecting to do well and play until hopefully June. It’s a different feeling, it’s a new feeling for the Capitals around here lately and it’s a new feeling for myself.  We want to get going right now.

“We’re also curious to see how good we can be. We think we can be good; we think we have the tools and the players. But we’re curious and it’s fun at the same time when you see what we did last year. We won 14 of our last 18 and seven in a row to get in. It’s fun for us as well. It’s fun for you guys to watch, but it’s fun to be a part of as well because we’re curious to see what we are capable of doing.”

How different is Bruce going to be this year being in charge from the start of training camp?

“Last year there was about 15-20 games that were an adjustment period. When he came in, we tried to change one little thing each game because he didn’t want to reinvent the wheel and throw everyone for a loop where all of a sudden we’re everywhere. Bruce tried to slowly ease in his system and by the end of the year you saw how well it was working. Now, everybody knows it. We have all the same players coming back with the exception of a guy or two.

“There are big expectations. He expects everybody to know it, and in camp the players who have been here for a year, it’s going to be a competitive camp. If you’re not doing you’re job from the get-go, he will find somebody that’s going to do it. We’re not going to be here to just try and compete. We’re expecting to win this year.”


Whenever September wants to get here, we'll be ready.

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