Tomas Fleischmann heard Jakub Klepis's name for the first time about 10 years ago, when, as peewees, they were top players on rival teams in the Czech Republic. Six years later, the flashy forwards wound up wearing the same colors, those of the country's junior national hockey team, and skating on the same forward line.
It was the beginning of a friendship that has seen them drafted by different NHL clubs on the same day in 2002, traded to the Capitals in separate deals one week apart in 2004, become minor league teammates, and this week, realize their ultimate dream -- how else? -- together.
Fleischmann made his NHL debut Thursday against Philadelphia; Klepis's came the following night at MCI Center, where he scored a highlight-reel goal midway through the second period of the Capitals' 3-2 shootout win over the Atlanta Thrashers.
Klepis took a pass in the slot, darted to his right and held the puck until he got a clean look at the net. Then, just as it appeared he was too deep, he fired the puck from a tight angle, beating Atlanta Thrashers goalie Mike Dunham.
Moments after scoring his first goal, Klepis, a 20-year-old center, was greeted along the dasher boards by his close friend and left wing, Fleischmann, 21, who had watched the play develop from behind the goal.
"That was sick," Fleischmann said of Klepis's goal after practice at Piney Orchard Ice Arena yesterday. "He knows he can do it all the time."
Watching Fleischmann and Klepis celebrate after a goal was a scene Capitals management hopes to see often, considering the touted prospects are expected to be integral cogs in the club's rebuilding movement, and considering what the club gave up to bring them here.
Fleischmann was traded to the Capitals on Feb. 27, 2004 in the deal that sent Robert Lang to Detroit. Klepis followed 10 days later, swapped for Mike Grier, who went to Buffalo.
The two were linemates last year for Portland of the American Hockey League during the NHL lockout, and began this season in Hershey after being cut during training camp. They were called up this week after a rash of injuries wreaked havoc on the Capitals' roster, roughly 10 years after facing each other in a youth hockey tournament in Fleischmann's home town of Koprivnice.
"The Czech Republic is small," Fleischmann said. "We played against each other all the time. The first time I played against him, we're about 10 years old. And he won best player in the tournament."
Recalling those days, Kepis said: "I always knew about him because we were battling for first place in the scoring leaders. So he knew who I was, and I knew him."
Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon is cautiously optimistic about what he has seen from Fleischmann and Klepis.
"It's nice to have your prospects come in and play and have some success, but it's one game," Hanlon said. "The hockey graveyard is full of one-week wonders. The first stage is get drafted, the second stage is make it and third is to stay. And each one gets a little bit harder."
The old friends have successfully navigated stages one and two. The third, as Hanlon said, is up to them.
Capitals Notes: Left wings Matt Pettinger and Jeff Friesen, and defensemen Nolan Yonkman and Jamie Heward did not skate yesterday, all of them apparently suffering from varying degrees of lower body injuries. Meantime, Petr Sykora, Matt Bradley and Dainius Zubrus -- each of whom have missed the past two games because of injuries -- returned to practice. Sykora was out because of back spasms; Bradley and Zubrus were sidelined by groin muscle strains. Their availability for today's game against Toronto is unclear.