In October of 2008, Brooks Laich became the first Washington Capital to be awarded a dark-red hard hat, signaling a gritty contribution to a win.
The hat had at least two origins, according to Corey Masisak, who wrote the first published explanation in the Washington Times. First, then-captain Chris Clark recalled the Calgary Flames doing something similar during his tenure in the Western Conference. Second, David Steckel told Masisak about a Bruce Boudreau-led tradition in Hershey, where the AHL Bears used a hard hat gimmick during their Calder Cup run.
“I thought it was an awesome thing,” Clark told Masisak. “It helped out with our run [to the Stanley Cup Finals].”
“It is not always going to be the goal scorer,” Laich said. “It might go to somebody who does something that the fans might not see that the players appreciate to help this team win.”
“It’s always a good memory when we break out the hard hat,” Steckel said. “I think it’s something we are going to pride ourselves on.”
Boudreau, Clark and Steckel are all gone, but the hard hat remains; the current hat-holder chooses which teammate to give it to, and fans now ask reporters for updates on who received the hat after wins.
Anyhow, when Ed Tapscott was briefly coaching the Wizards (remember that?), I once suggested to him that he adopt the Hard Hat gimmick.
“I haven’t picked that one up yet,” Tapscott told me. “I like that. I would probably give the Hard Head award, with my crew...but I’m gonna leave that one alone.”
That was then. This is now. And now is Flip Saunders introducing the Wizards Hard Hat to his team over the weekend, which will be awarded to the player who works hardest during practice. That’s corporate synergy right there. Via Bullets Forever:
In a tradition that Saunders admitted is “maybe not original,” he is handing out a white hard hat to a player who worked hard in practice. It’s a practice reminiscent of what the Washington Capitals are known to do after games.
“He said every day, if we work hard at practice, somebody gets a hard hat,” John Wall said. “The main thing for us is that we’re trying to work hard no matter what.”
On this day, Saunders handed the hard hat to Wall and gave him the option of handing it to someone else. Wall decided to keep it instead.
“I thought about it, but I think I played hard today, so I just kept it,” Wall said.
“I told him he could have it or he could pass it on to someone else,” Saunders added. “I guess he decided he worked hardest.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, Caps fans, but I don’t believe a Caps player has ever awarded the hard hat to himself. But the Wizards are new to this. They’ll learn.