-- When Bruce Boudreau
arrived at this practice facility on Thanksgiving Day four years ago, there were many familiar faces looking back at him when he first addressed the Washington Capitals
as the new head coach.
The roster was constructed with high draft picks like Alex Ovechkin
and Nicklas Backstrom
, but also with a collection of guys he had helped develop while coach of the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League.
Only three of those guys remain on Washington's roster, and for Brooks Laich
, Jeff Schultz
and Mike Green
the news of Boudreau's dismissal was not easy to take Monday morning.
"Pretty tough -- he's a man that myself personally I owe a lot to," Laich said. "The job he's done in Washington has been amazing. Before he got here, we were a last-place team. He's taken us from a team that started to win to one that wins consistently and made the playoffs and ultimately had Stanley Cup expectations. It is tough on a personal note to see him go."
Added Schultz: "It was sad news to hear that he's moving on. I think a lot of guys owe a lot to him to being where they are today. I know myself being one of them -- he's given me a great opportunity starting in Hershey and now here with the Caps. I'm very grateful to have played for him."
The trio of Laich, Schultz and Green were part of the Hershey team that claimed the Calder Cup in 2006. They graduated to the NHL, and eventually their old coach joined them and helped them become winners again in the NHL.
Others from that 2005-06 Hershey team have moved on, guys like Tomas Fleischmann
, David Steckel
, Eric Fehr
and Boyd Gordon
When they were all here during the magical run from last place in the NHL to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2007-08 and for that epic showdown with the Pittsburgh Penguins
in the 2009 postseason, the "Hershey guys" were considered the backbone of a club featuring plenty of world-class talent.
The three guys that remain all earned bigger roles with the Capitals after Boudreau replaced Glen Hanlon
. Green became an All-Star caliber defenseman. Laich became Mr. Versatility and earned a huge contract extension this summer. Schultz became the preferred partner for Green after Boudreau arrived, and finished one season with a plus-50 rating.
"When I first found out this morning, my first thought was I wish I could have done more," Laich said. "That's the nature of the beast. It is a business and we understand it. I feel terrible for Bruce because he's leaving his dream job. It would like if you ripped one of our players out of the locker room or ripped me out of the locker room. That's how I would think it would feel. I haven't had a chance to talk with him yet, but I'm sure he's disappointed. We all understand that this is a business and these things happen.
"The world of sports kind of sucks in a way that he takes the fall for stuff that we do. It is not him that took a penalty or missed an assignment or turned the puck over. It is the guys in this locker room. As players we always wish we could have done more."
The Capitals began this season with seven straight victories, but they lost Green to injury in that seventh game and he's only played once since. They are 4-9-1 without him in the lineup, and general manager George McPhee
said there's no clear timetable for his return.
Issues for the Capitals go beyond the loss of Green, however.
McPhee has constructed possibly the most talented and deep roster in franchise history, but some of the core players are underachieving and the losses have piled up.
"I think it was a bit of both," Schultz said when asked if he was surprised or if he expected a change. "As players it is something you never want to have happen, but with the direction we were going we knew something was going to happen. We didn't know if it was coaching or players. It was tough to see Bruce go."
Much has already been written or said about why the Capitals are not performing up to expectations. McPhee said he didn't think the players were responding to Boudreau anymore, and the time had come to make a change.
While others in the dressing room either agreed with McPhee or hinted at it, Laich defended his former coach.
"No, I had never lost belief in any of our coaches and especially not in Bruce," Laich said. "I thought we could play better, but it is not up to him to try and motivate guys or inspire guys. As professionals you're paid to do a job and come to work every day. You should be giving your best effort all the time.
"It (stinks) that he's the fall guy for that."