After the Washington Capitals secured the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title, Shane Gersich was on the ice with the rest of the newly crowned champions inside Las Vegas’s T-Mobile Arena. He felt numb, struggling to wrap his brain around what just happened.
That moment was a stark contrast from where Gersich was three months prior. In March, he was just a college student attending classes and playing hockey at the University of North Dakota. After finishing his junior season, he signed with the Capitals on March 23. Five days later, he made his NHL debut. He appeared in two of the team’s playoff matchups against the Pittsburgh Penguins ahead of that night in Las Vegas when the Capitals raised the Stanley Cup for the first time.
Now, less than a month after that whirlwind journey ended, he is in yet another role — as a prospect at the Capitals’ development camp, albeit one with a few more stories to tell than most. And his fellow prospects — like defenseman Connor Hobbs, who has attended the past few development camps with Gersich — are eager to hear them.
“It’s unbelievable,” Hobbs said. “The first thing I said when I saw him was: ‘Holy cow, man. That’s so cool’ — because it is. That is unbelievable. It just makes you want it so much more when you see your buddies doing it.”
One of the next things Hobbs said to Gersich regarded the now-famous Stanley Cup celebrations around the city that quickly went viral. While there are some moments Gersich decided not to share, he highlighted Ovechkin in the fountains at the Georgetown waterfront and players doing keg stands out of the Cup as his favorites.
But beyond telling his campmates the crazy stories he accumulated over the past three weeks, Gersich can act as a guide for some of them, especially the new players as they all try to realize their goal of making the NHL.
“Because you’ve been here, you can help with the new guys, help kind of bring them along and get to know some future teammates,” said Olaf Kolzig, the former Capitals goaltender and now the organization’s professional development coach.
Gersich has done just that this week. Near the beginning of camp Wednesday, Gersich was with the goalies, helping Ilya Samsonov, a Russian with limited English, go through an exercise.
Gersich knows that is his role now, just as he knows his unforgettable moment with the Stanley Cup matters little for his immediate future. He is just another 21-year-old fighting for a spot in the NHL, and that means he must improve as well.
“Being a part of that run, it really motivates me to have a huge summer,” he said. “You’re practicing and playing at the highest level in the world with some of the best players in the world, so you just pick up on all their pro habits, on and off the ice. So, for me, if I keep those habits up this summer and keep working hard, I’ll be ready to go.”
Among Gersich’s goals for the summer is putting on some size and strength to complement his speedy skating. He’s expected to compete for a depth forward spot with the Capitals next season, and his late-season stint should give him an edge to make the roster out of training camp.
“It’s about earning your stripes,” Kolzig said. “Even though you’ve signed an NHL contact and you came in at the most opportune time, right when the team goes on that run, you still have to earn certain things.”