Caps Hit the Pond, Use Their Outside Voices
Friday, January 30, 2009; Page E03
For the past three seasons, the Washington Capitals have participated in a practice on the outdoor rink at Chevy Chase Club.
This year's event featured an interesting twist.
The players were divided into two teams -- picked by goaltenders José Theodore and Brent Johnson -- and played a hotly contested intrasquad, three-on-three scrimmage that served as a welcome break from the 82-game regular season grind and, for many of them, a brief return to their younger years when they played shinny on frozen lakes and ponds.
"It was awesome," Brooks Laich said. "If you looked at the guy's faces, every time someone made a play or a goal was scored, guys were hooting and hollering."
The idea to scrimmage rather than run through drills was hatched by Coach Bruce Boudreau, who also served as the linesman and referee. Boudreau has a long history of spicing up otherwise routine practice sessions and turning them into team-building exercises, such as the three-team Gaetan Duchesne Cup tournament he instituted to motivate his players during training camp.
Last night's scrimmage, which consisted of two 15-minute periods, was another Boudreau special. Theodore and Johnson "drafted" their teams after Wednesday's practice, and by the time the 30 minutes were over, the players were doubled over in laughter as they argued over the final score.
"Reminded of when I was a little kid," Alex Ovechkin said. "It was tied. The referee was no good. Tell Bruce he was no good."
After a 15-minute warmup under the lights on a smaller-than-regulation rink, Boudreau dropped the puck and it was game-on in front of a couple of hundred club members who stood along the glass or sat in the stands in the low 30-degree temperatures.
Defenseman Jeff Schultz scored the scrimmage's first goal. Ovechkin netted a penalty shot on Theodore. John Erskine recorded a hat trick. So did Donald Brashear.
No one played defense or lined up a teammate for a big hit. And there were several plays that should have been whistled offside but went undetected by Boudreau, who at one point halted the scrimmage, called the players over to the bench and implored them to lighten up.
"Now I know why the refs don't like us," Boudreau said. "Those guys are relentless on the referees. I don't know who won."
"It was fun until both teams started yelling at me," he added, chuckling. "I thought they were getting too serious, so I had to pull them aside. I told them: 'Leave me alone, guys. I can't take this pressure.' "
Because there was no official scorekeeper, the team that had actually won the scrimmage was the subject of some good-natured debate over a catered dinner in the crowded clubhouse afterward.
"It depends on who you're asking," said David Steckel, who along with his teammates signed autographs as they left the clubhouse. "If you ask the blue team, we tied. If you ask the white team, they say they won by one."
Erskine added: "I wasn't keeping track. But it was a good time. It was like back home in Canada playing on the lake. We were joking around and playing around with the rules."
Then, after some careful consideration, he added with a straight face, "Blue won, definitely."
It's exactly what Boudreau was going for with the Capitals on a two-game losing streak and approaching the pressure-packed stretch drive.
"It was a nice break from the strenuous practicing and the businesslike atmosphere, Laich said. "Tonight we had a lot of fun."