Glen Metropolit waited his whole life to play in the NHL, then watched his dream fade after just one game. The forward opened the season with the Washington Capitals after a terrific preseason, skating on the top line with Peter Bondra and Adam Oates. After the season opener he was sent back to the minors. Most players would have sulked. Many would have complained. Metropolit just worked.
He went to Portland and played with the same zest and enthusiasm. The Capitals repaid him with another crack at the NHL; he gave them the game of his life. The 25-year-old rookie assisted on Washington's first goal and scored the next two last night, leading the team to a 3-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators at MCI Center.
The victory ended a six-game winless streak for the Capitals, who cracked the two-goal mark for the first time in nearly three weeks by playing a strong overall game. Metropolit, who once was cut from training camp without being offered a contract by the Senators, was the unlikely hero.
"All I knew was that I had to work my butt off down there," Metropolit said. "And that's what I did. I went down there with a good attitude. You get sent down, that's the way it goes. I just went down there and made the best of it. There was no time to be upset."
Nothing has come easy in Metropolit's quest for the NHL. He grew up in a single-parent household struggling to make ends meet. He didn't have the money to play in the big travel leagues around Toronto and never played major junior hockey. He was never drafted. Scouts wrote him off. So Metropolit played professional roller hockey. He did water system repair work in the summer, digging holes while others vacationed. He pushed his way up from the low minors, hired a personal trainer and was signed by the Capitals this summer after a strong season in the International Hockey League.
In his NHL debut, Metropolit was nervous, as one would expect, and even more so given his star linemates. He vowed not to make that same mistake. He was moving out of a hotel and into an apartment Monday when he encountered Portland teammate Mike Peluso while unloading his moving van and was told the coaches were looking for him. He had a 7:30 p.m. flight to Washington.
"We knew he'd be back," Capitals winger Chris Simon said. "He has so much potential. It's great for us to see him play like that. It lifted the whole team. Metro played awesome."
Metropolit began last night's game on the fourth line in a checking role, and watched as the Capitals (3-6-2) started slowly and survived an early flurry. His chance came when Simon jumped Ottawa forward Andre Roy after a hit on Calle Johansson. Simon left the ice with a two-minute penalty for instigating, a five-minute major for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct penalty.
The hitting and intensity immediately picked up (Washington played it's most physical game of the season) and most important, Metropolit had his break.
Coach Ron Wilson tried a few other wingers with the top line then gave Metropolit a shot, figuring the rookie's nerves would be calmer if he elevated him during the game. He was right.
The Capitals began to control the game and less than five minutes into the second period Metropolit and Peter Bondra hopped the bench on an alert line change, catching the Senators' defense by surprise. Metropolit darted to Ottawa's blue line and screamed, "Buli," looking for a pass from Jan Bulis. He got it and slipped a perfect feed to Bondra on the off-wing, where he finished the two-on-one for his ninth goal in 11 games. Metropolit had his first NHL point.
The lead, however, was short-lived. Patrick Traverse's routine shot from the point ended up in Washington's net, with defenseman Brendan Witt jumping out of the way at the last instant. Goalie Olaf Kolzig, who played well, threw out his arms in disgust. The game was tied just 67 seconds after Bondra's goal.
At the 7-minute 22-second mark of the second period, Metropolit shot and the puck flipped off a defenseman and into the air. When it came down he took another whack at it and beat former Capital Ron Tugnutt for his first NHL goal, making the score 2-1. "You dream about getting a chance and scoring," he said. "It's a dream come true."
Kolzig helped preserve the lead, stopping Kevin Dineen down low and extending fully to stop Mike Fisher twice. Metropolit did the rest. He played give-and-go with Oates in the high slot and blasted a slap shot just as a power play expired, fooling Tugnutt just 82 seconds into the third period, a huge insurance goal.
"Now he's got to maintain that," Wilson said. "The list is long of guys who came up in their first game and did very well, and then didn't do much. And I'm on that stinking list."
Capitals Notes: Defenseman Joe Reekie was expected to play tonight, but his foot is still swollen from blocking a shot Sunday. He might skate Thursday. . . . The team announced 11,012 tickets sold, though far fewer showed up. . . . General Manager George McPhee attended his first game after serving a one-month suspension. . . . Bondra's two-point game tied him with Dale Hunter for third in team history with 556 points.