Amidst the sweet smells of chocolate wafting through the hazy, humid air, the Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania hosted the Washington Capitals prospects camp this week. The camp in Hershey signifies the dawn of a new era as the Hershey Bears are the new AHL affiliate for the Capitals for the upcoming season (the Bears previously served as a Capitals affiliate from 1977-1984). There was an overwhelming sense of optimism and enthusiasm in the air during camp, due to the recent announcement of a CBA having been agreed to in principle, awaiting ratification.
Ironically, the new CBA means that some of the Capitals prospects showcasing their skills on the ice may never actually suit up for the Bears. Players such as Shaone Morrisonn and Steve Eminger, among others, stand a great chance of making the Capitals opening night roster and this week may represent the only time that the fans in Hershey will be able to catch a glimpse of them.
Unlike years past, when the Capitals held their prospect camp at their training facility in Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton, Md., the only public session was Thursday night. The prospects were split into the customary Black/White teams for the scrimmage. The teams played four-on-four in two 35-minute halves, running time. The only stoppage occurred during the second stanza when a rare check knocked a pane of plexiglass into the stands.
The only player who did not participate in the scrimmage was defenseman Nolan Yonkman, but he was put through a grueling 25-minute skate beforehand. Below is a list of the players in attendance at the camp:
Jared Aulin, Chris Bourque, Eric Fehr, Owen Fussey, Andrew Gordon, Boyd Gordon, Eric Labelle, Brooks Laich, Cody McLeod, Cam McCaffrey, Mark Olafson, Marco Peluso, Louis Robitaille, Dave Spina, Brian Sutherby, Joey Tenute
Clayton Barthel, Jean-Francois Daivd, Steve Eminger, Dan Girardi, Mike Green, Shaone Morrisonn, John Oduya, Bryan Rodney, Jeff Schultz, Nolan Yonkman
Maxime Daigneault, Mathieu Poitras, Aaron Sorochan, Scott Talbot
For those keeping score, the White team blasted the Black team 8-3. While the score was secondary, there were some players, mainly on the White team, who played superbly. It’s not often in a four-on-four situation where a goaltender stands out, but that’s exactly what Maxime Daigneault did. Even with the lack of defense being played, Daigneault did not allow a single goal in his 35 minutes of work, and even made a couple of great stops on wrist shots from Chris Bourque. With a year of pro experience under his belt, Daigneault showed a lot of poise, has improved his angles and isn’t afraid to challenge shooters.
Without a doubt, the best player on the ice for either squad was Brian Sutherby. Sutherby, one of the most experienced players in camp and a first round draft choice in 2000, demonstrated great puck control and speed, and certainly helped make the players on the ice with him better. One beneficiary was Andrew Gordon. Andrew, no relation to Boyd Gordon, was a seventh round pick in 2004 and just completed his freshman season at St. Cloud State. He showed a lot of good stickhandling moves, and even some elusiveness. Another player who appeared on the ice skating with Sutherby was Eric Fehr. Fehr scored a pretty goal on a feed from Sutherby during the second half. As of this writing, Fehr does not have a contract with the Capitals, but the customary two-year window of holding draft picks rights out of junior hockey (Fehr was a first round pick in 2003) will be extended due to the recently concluded lockout. It remains to be seen if Fehr will be able to jumpstart his pro career with Hershey this fall or if he will be returned to Brandon (WHL) as he does have one more year of junior eligibility.
On defense, Eminger and John Oduya looked impressive. Eminger seemed to be on the ice every time Sutherby stepped out there and he was on the offensive attack. Oduya, who has spent the past four years playing in Sweden was very steady, and made an impressive backcheck thwarting an end-to-end rush by defenseman Mike Green. Oduya, 23, who has also played a year in the QMJHL, looks like he is ready to make his pro debut in North America this season. For the Black team, Green appeared to be their best player, although there were no real standouts. Green showed good mobility and seemed to have an idea of what he wanted to do with the puck even though his teammates did not necessarily do a great job of taking his passes.
Overall, Capitals General Manager George McPhee had to be pleased with the effort, and while some players will return for training camp in a matter of weeks, others can build on this experience during the course of their college seasons.
A New Bench Boss
A few hours before the scrimmage, the Bears introduced their new head coach Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau has spent the past four seasons as the head coach of the Manchester Monarchs. Prior to coming to Manchester, Boudreau spent two years in Lowell and won the ECHL title with the Mississippi Sea Wolves in 1999. Boudreau received a warm welcome when he was introduced during the intermission of the scrimmage. He is expected to help revive a power play unit that finished near the bottom of the AHL last season.
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