The oldest player at Capitals development camp, one of just three born in the 1980s, has spent his entire career in Europe and was invited here after director of player development Steve Richmond visited his son in Germany and found Jan Urbas playing for the same team.
“I guess he saw something there,” Urbas said.
Urbas had promised himself to avoid self-imposed pressure, the kind inherent when someone finally comes stateside to play before NHL eyes. Several years ago, his left shoulder required two surgeries, but now he’s fully healed and ready for whatever the week brings.
“I was happy to come here,” he said. “Hopefully it goes good, and they see some good things and we go from there.”
Urbas had visited the United States once before, around 10 years old for a youth tournament with his native Slovenia, but that took place in Cleveland and he doesn’t remember much. So Capitals development camp basically amounts to his first trip here, with its unfamiliar smaller rinks and the structure of workouts.
He’s 25 years old now skating among teenagers, and though Urbas is the only one with Olympic experience, he still came here as an undrafted free agent, plucked on a whim to see how he could perform.
“Usually when you don’t have any pressure, you play your best game,” he said. “Of course you think about it, but I try to not do that and just play my game and do my best.”
In Sochi this year, the 6-foot-3 winger scored in the biggest win of his country’s history, a 4-0 rout of Austria to reach the quarterfinals. With a population of roughly 2 million, and a square mileage ranking somewhere between Kansas and Nebraska, Slovenia favors soccer and basketball. The country contains just seven ice rinks.
“Nobody expected much from us,” Urbas said. “Nobody should, because we have 150 registered players and maybe 50 professional players in the whole country. It’s been exciting all around. Even during games, everyone was cheering for us.”
Suddenly, Slovenia had become the underdog story of the tournament, walloping Austria before falling in the quarterfinals. When Urbas and his teammates flew home, a crowd of nearly 500 awaited them at the airport. The players dispersed to their clubs the next day, but the feeling still persists.
“You couldn’t suck into you everything that just happened” because they left so fast, he said. “But after a while we were very happy and talked about it later. It was just a good thing for the whole country, especially for hockey in the country.”
Better for Urbas, on an individual level, would be parlaying his performance at Washington’s practice facility into an entry-level contract, likely with the Hershey Bears. His deal with EHC Munchen, where he had 17 points in 38 games, was for only one season. After a shootout goal Thursday, he whipped a perfect cross-ice pass from Andre Burakovsky for the first score Friday morning.
“My agent’s probably working on something,” he said. “We’ll see what happens here, and we’ll figure out things afterwards if it doesn’t work out.”