When the Washington Capitals played the Anaheim Ducks in March, former Caps and current Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau spoke about the maturing of the team and their increased experience. If you remember, many of the players on today’s team started with the Hershey Bears and Boudreau had the privilege of laying their foundation as NHL players. During his time as the Caps coach, he set the foundation for Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Karl Alzner, Jay Beagle, John Carlson, and Jason Chimera. Braden Holtby was just starting his NHL career when Bruce was dismissed by the Caps management.
So what has happened with these young guns since 2007 when Boudreau first coached them?
For starters, all of the original young guns except Ovechkin are family men now and even Alex is engaged and has spoken about his desire to have a family. They have new priorities in their personal lives and with that comes a personal maturity. All of them are close to 30, except Ovi and Beagle who are 30.There are some new “Young Guns” in the house but you get the sense that between the coaches and these older mentors, those players are more interested in making a name for the team than a name for themselves. For whatever reason, there seems to be a heightened sense of committment to the community, the fan base, and to a winning mentality that we haven’t seen here since the BB years.
Ovechkin has had an incredible year. First, the 30 year old became engaged and he has been all smiles ever since. He played his seventh year of scoring 50 or more goals; he is the fifth fastest player to reach 500 goals, he topped the Russian-born goals scored, and he has shown the world what a personally generous man he is. As captain, he inspires others to succeed.
Backstrom at 28 is a dad now and one proud pappa. The Swedish center sustained an injury that kept him out of play at the start of the season and again in the final days of regulation play but he demonstrated real tenacity to get back as soon as he could. In his ninth season with the Caps, Nicky continues to provide the setup for Ovi to score while notching a few goals (20) of his own; his highest in nearly six seasons.
Alzner married in 2013 and currently has one child. The 27 year old Iron Man has demonstrated remarkable staying power as he continues to show up night after night. His former line-mate, John Carlson at 26 is one of the youngest of the “young guns” and he too has settled in a family-man life with wife Gina and their baby boy. Karl, John, and their wives are all active in their local communities.
Jay Beagle showed us all what it is like to miss a good bit of the season with an injury and fight back to regain his spot. Unfortunately Beags is injured again and we are hoping the 30 year-old dad of one makes a swift recovery. His good spirits always seems to lighten the load for the other players. He and Cheerful Chimera, the papa of the team are reminders to the players that hockey is meant to be fun–winning fun!!
Perhaps the biggest change though has been seen in the maturing of Braden Holtby. There is no doubt that Mitch Korn has helped Braden bring the maturity of a father of two to the goaltender’s on-ice performance. Braden has always had tenacity and a desire to win but this season the 26 year old has turned the corner and shown the hockey world what we Caps fans have always known–he is one of the best goaltenders in the league. Whatever the reason for his steadfast pose between the pipes, Braden clearly is bringing something new this season.
All season we have heard words like “resilience,” “tenacity,” “battle,” “team,” and “accountability” from the coach and the players and these positive words make for a positive attitude on and off the ice. Add the talent and winning mentality of Justin Williams and Mike Richards and you have the ingredients for a solid team that through the 2015/16 season refused to lose two back-to-back games and powered forward to conquer any adversity that might hold them back–be that poor gamemanship or injured players–the Caps battled forward to the President’s Trophy and a season of incredible milestones. This is a seasoned Caps team, from the players who have won the Cup to those that have taken the ride without winning. They all understand that something had to change and have embraced Trotz’s philosophy to do this together. This is what makes Caps fans believe more this time than ever before.