As Madison Bowey lamented a lost opportunity, he literally added insult to injury and watched the cringe-worthy replay of a skate blade lacerating a tendon in his ankle. It was a fluke injury in an American Hockey League game, and it sidelined Bowey for two-plus months, likely keeping him from his first NHL call-up.
Capitals Coach Barry Trotz thought Bowey had been playing his best hockey when he was injured in late December, and Trotz had even told Hershey Coach Troy Mann that he was planning to recall him to Washington for a stint.
“I think I probably jinxed him, because he got hurt right away,” Trotz said. “That sort of took him out of the mix for the rest of the year.”
“It’s kind of a bad memory of mine,” Bowey said.
So, after watching the clip of how he got hurt a few times, Bowey stopped dwelling and focused on returning to the form he had reached before the injury. If he does that, Trotz believes “he has all of the tools” to play in the NHL, and the two openings on the Capitals’ blue line drove Bowey to show that coming into training camp. Skating with Brooks Orpik for the past two days in camp, he could get a chance to audition for that third-pairing role in one of Washington’s last three preseason games.
“Waking up in the morning, you go to a workout and you have that extra motivation,” Bowey said. “You know that this year, it’s a chance to be your year. You grow up dreaming of playing in the NHL. This year is my best opportunity it’s been in the past five years.”
Since the 2013 second-round pick has spent the past two seasons in the AHL, he’s expected to get a long look to start the season in Washington. Wearing a walking boot for months took a toll on Bowey’s hips and knees, and his right leg became stronger than his left one. To improve his ankle mobility, Bowey said he did a lot of band work with his trainer in his home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and he also dropped 12 pounds by cutting carbs and ice cream.
“My ankle, even in my joints and legs, I thought last year being at 210 [pounds] was a little too much even for my legs to handle,” Bowey said. “This year was huge for me to cut the extra body fat that I had, and I did just that. I feel a lot better on the ice and a lot more explosive in my legs.”
Most NHL teams want their defensemen to be smooth puck-movers because the league is getting faster, so getting lighter and quicker was an important step for Bowey. When he was out of the lineup in Hershey, he tried to make the most of watching games and often picked the brain of veteran defenseman Tom Gilbert, who was traded to the Capitals organization in February. Like Bowey, Gilbert has some offensive upside to his game, and he talked to Bowey about how to balance risk-taking with defensive responsibility. “He picks his spots really well, so I think that’s what I got the chance to learn from,” Bowey said.
Applying that lesson is still a work in progress. After Bowey’s lone preseason appearance in Montreal, Trotz praised most of Bowey’s game, but his one criticism was that, at times, he was looking for the “big” play instead of the “simple” one.
“Just like many quarterbacks, when they have to pick an option, sometimes just getting the 10 yards at a time instead of the 50 yards at a time is a better option,” Trotz said. “I think we can tighten his game up a little bit so that his game can translate really well, but he’s got a good skill set. He’s a big guy and he moves pretty well, so that’s the process for Madison. It’s his time.”
Just as he did with Gilbert, Bowey has been using his time with Orpik in training camp to ask him “a lot” of questions. “I don’t know if he gets annoyed by that,” Bowey said. He’s one of the last seven blue-liners left in Washington competing to make the opening night roster, but rather than feeling more pressure with everything at stake, he’s secure enough in his game to feel less.
“Coming into the previous two camps, you know I had to really do something to prove myself and really put myself over the edge,” Bowey said. “Now I can really just do the things I do right, and they know what I can do. Everyone here can play the game, so I think it’s just making sure I’m consistent with my game and all of the little things I can do. I think that’ll go a long way, for sure.”
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