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Capitals put media through the paces at fantasy camp

NHL.com staff writers Gulitti, Douglas take part in meetings, drills, enjoy scrimmage win

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Sometimes work leaves you exhausted, but in a good way.

Tuesday was one of those days.

Before opening training camp Sept. 13, the Washington Capitals gave the media a small taste of what a typical day is like for their players by hosting a Media Fantasy Camp at MedStar Capitals Iceplex.

About 50 members participated in the event, which included a locker room meeting with coach Todd Reirden, a skills practice run by assistants Scott Arniel, Reid Cashman and Blaine Forsythe and a 30-minute scrimmage. 

Having celebrated my 51st birthday this summer, I went into the day with two simple objectives: not to get injured and not to make a fool of myself. I believe I achieved both, but I marvel at my NHL.com colleague, William Douglas, who at age 61 still straps on the pads to play goal about once a week and was stellar in the scrimmage. 

My ability in the sport was never worthy of writing about, except for maybe when I somehow scored two goals in the United States-Canada media game at the 1999 NHL All-Star Game at Tampa Bay. (I believe that was the lone time the U.S. won the now-defunct game). 

Other than that, I played some recreation league hockey and would jump in an occasional pickup game into my late 30s, but I had less time and motivation for it after I reached 40. By the time the Capitals announced their initial plans for this fantasy camp in late July, I hadn't skated in more than 10 years. 

To shake off more than a decade of rust I went to two public skates and a Stick-N-Shoot session at MedStar Capitals Iceplex. I wouldn't say skating is like riding a bike but getting back on the ice a few times helped Tuesday.

Here's a rundown of how the day went.

 

Capitals locker room, 2 p.m. 

Reirden welcomes the fantasy campers with a brief speech and outline of the day's events. He also points out some of the newer features in the locker room, including cushioned seats in the stalls and a video screen above the doorway that will be used to show diagrams of the drills the team will run in practice that day.

We'll be running some different drills during the fantasy camp, but the idea was to set it up almost like a game day, with a morning skate-type session followed by the game/scrimmage.

"It's not quite as long of a layout," Reirden said. "You get no pre-game nap, but eventually you're going to play the game so we're going to have some fun with it. For me, it was important to kind of give you a day in the life."

After Reirden's welcoming address, Capitals assistant/video coach Brett Leonhardt used a projection screen to demonstrate some of the ways they utilize video to help the players prepare for games and what the video staff does during games, including assisting Reirden with deciding whether to use his coach's challenge on a potential offside or goalie interference play.

Head equipment manager Brock Myles followed with a quick briefing on the new Catapult fitness GPS system the players will wear during practices to keep track of their conditioning (heart rate, recovery time, etc.). Fortunately, none of us participating in the media fantasy camp had to wear these.

 

 

MedStar Capitals IcePlex, Capitals Rink, 2:35 p.m.

After getting dressed, the campers hit the ice for drills. The rink is split into three sections where the participants will work on different sets of skills.

The group I was with began with shooting, followed by stickhandling and skating. Assisting with the drills were Capitals defensemen Jonas Siegenthaler and Alexander Alexeyev, former Capitals forwards and current NBC Sports Washington analysts Craig Laughlin and Alan May, U.S. National Women's Team forward Haley Skarupa (from Rockville, Maryland), Capitals director of community relations Peter Robinson and some of the MedStar Capitals Iceplex instructors.

The one-timer drill proved to be too complicated for some of us to follow. Some learned why it's better to be near the back of the line for drills so you can watch others do them first (and sometimes mess up).

None of these drills made me feel better about my skillset, but simply handling the puck and shooting it a little probably helped me prepare for the scrimmage.

 

Game time, 3:25 p.m.

The campers were separated into two teams for a Red-White scrimmage. Laughlin coached the White team. I was on the Red team, coached by May. 

Although the score was not kept officially, May was counting each goal to make sure we -- and Laughlin -- knew we were leading. May also encouraged (jokingly, I think) aggressively slashing anyone in a white jersey who had a scoring chance.

My first shift couldn't have gone better. I fed Tarik El-Bashir from The Athletic for a goal that increased our lead to 2-0. On my next shift, I scored on a backhand from in front.

After that, I tried to focus on staying back on defense a little to help Douglas, who made a few impressive old-school kick saves. Unfortunately, I was standing nearby when the White team finally beat him on a rebound to break up our shutout.

The level of play was not high, and some players were in better condition than others, but everyone was smiling. Unofficially, the Red team won 9-1, so maybe we were smiling a little more on our bench.

After the final whistle we gathered for a group photo. Before leaving the ice I skated a few laps and wondered while I was circling the rink if this experience would reignite my interest in playing or if I'd resume my hockey retirement after I took off my skates.

I guess it will depend on how my 51-year-old body feels when I wake up Wednesday morning.

Photos courtesy of William Daski/Washington Capitals

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