This week, Jeff Halpern scored a game-winning goal for the high-flying Washington Capitals.

But not so long ago, Halpern was a kid in Rockville, going to Wayside Elementary, Hoover Middle and Churchill High and playing hockey for the Montgomery Blue Devils and the Little Capitals at the rinks at Cabin John, Wheaton and Fort Dupont.

I talked with Halpern last week about how he got started and where he thinks the Capitals are headed.

When did you start playing hockey?

I started skating when I was about 3 years old. I was on a house (local) team when I was 5.

What first got you interested in hockey?

The speed of the game. I had played other games, but hockey was the fastest and I loved that. Also, hockey was the first time I was part of a team. I really enjoyed playing with my friends and teammates and doing things to help the team win.

Were you always a good player, even when you were young?

I had good success when I was younger. Skating came quickly to me, and I had a good head for hockey. So I was really good until I was around 12 or so. But then everyone got bigger and I didn't. I was about five feet tall in the ninth grade. I still had my skills, but it was hard to compete when everyone else was bigger and stronger.

Were you a Capitals fan when you were growing up?

Sure. I went to lots of games with my family in the old Cap Center.

When did you first begin to dream that you might play pro hockey?

I guess I first started dreaming about it the first time I laced up my skates and stepped on the ice. But the idea of playing in the National Hockey League did not really present itself until my junior year at Princeton. By then my body had filled out and I thought maybe I could play in the NHL. [Halpern is 5 feet 11, 198 pounds.]

What is the coolest thing about being a pro hockey player?

The games. It is so exciting to play in front of eighteen, twenty thousand people in a state-of-the-art arena. It is even that much more exciting during the playoffs. People really have to come out to the games to understand how exciting they are.

How do you think the Capitals will do this year?

We have high hopes. I think it is good that we have pretty much the same team as last year. We lost in the first round of the playoffs last year. Everyone was frustated by that. We're playing great and we have the best goalie in the league [Olaf Kolzig] so we believe we can go all the way to the Stanley Cup.

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Jeff Halpern, now an NHL star, as a kid played for the Little Capitals.