Thursday night’s rookie game between the Capitals and Flyers prospects offered a different environment than any of the others played between the two clubs in recent years.
Both clubs’ prospects got a taste of what life could be like for them in the NHL. More than 11,000 fans showed up at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, taunting goaltenders and mocking those in penalty boxes. With the national anthem played before the game and the scoreboard in full operation, it had the feel of more than an exhibition .
Like the players, Coach Bruce Boudreau relished the spectacle.
“I thought, ‘Geez man, if I was 20 years old what an environment this would have been,’” Boudreau said. “I thought it was so cool and the Flyers did a great job with it…. I know if it was me and I still had junior or college eligibility or if I was a free agent, I’d be sitting there going, ‘Man, this is what I want to do. I’m going to do what it takes to see if I could get up here one day.’”
The Flyers won the contest 3-2, with Garret Ross and Garrett Mitchell recording goals for the Capitals, while defenseman Dmitry Orlov received rave reviews. On to a few more notes and observations from the rookie game.
●Garrett Mitchell, who wore an ‘A’ in the game, didn’t have the easiest go in the first 40 minutes as he was on the receiving end of a few crushing hits but that didn’t keep him from helping to spark some offense at the start of the third period.
“I think it plays to his tenaciousness and the way he has to play,” Bears Coach Mark French said of Mitchell enduring the physical play. “He’s a guy who’s got a high motor. He’s revved up all the time and it’s really refreshing to see him get some good offensive opportunities, he scores the goal. He can compete for 60 minutes as all coaches want guys too.”
Mitchell is vying for a spot on the Hershey roster this season and while he admitted he was shaken up by one of the hits, he downplayed the contact he received.
“There’s going to be times in hockey you’re going to have to take some hits,” Mitchell said.
●Dustin Stevenson wore the captain’s ‘C’ for the rookies and was chosen for the responsibility by French, who wanted to award the fact that the rangy defenseman had played a full year in the ECHL with South Carolina.
“It meant a lot. I try to be a leader on and off the ice,” Stevenson said. “There’s a lot of leaders in this room, but it felt good to come in here and see that on my jersey, but it also means you have a big responsibility ahead of you.”
Last year’s rookie camp marked the beginning of Stevenson’s large transition from playing at the Tier II junior level in Saskatchewan to the professional ranks and French is pleased with his development since then.
“I think you have to remember where he came from and that’s the biggest thing,” French said. “He’s not a guy who was coming out of major junior or college, who had the opportunity to practice every day. He was probably practicing twice a week. I think his development has been excellent. He’s stronger and I think that comes from knowing what to expect from an NHL camp and from pro hockey.”
●French said Mattias Sjogren possibly the “most polished” player on the ice for the Capitals. That’s a complement that speaks to Sjogren’s experience playing against men in the Swedish Elite League and the fact that at 23 years old, 6’2 and 209 pounds, he should stand out in a prospects’ game.
Sjogren protected the puck well defensively and down low in the offensive zone and won several faceoffs. It’s clear Sjogren has plenty of strength but most everyone is waiting to see how he uses it against Alex Ovechkin and the rest.