From the time they were pre-teens, the hockey careers of Mike Green and Jay Beagle have been linked. As peewees, they played together in their hometown of Calgary, where their fathers became friends.
When they became teammates with the Capitals, they would spend their summer training together in Calgary.
“Even this summer, when we were skating together, I said, ‘Alright, I’ll see you at training camp.’” Beagle said. “And then all of a sudden I realized we’re going to be enemies this year. It’s weird seeing him in Detroit gear.”
Tonight at Joe Louis Arena (7:30, CSN+), the main spotlight will be on Alex Ovechkin’s quest to pass Hall of Fame inductee Sergei Fedorov as Russia’s all-time leading NHL goal scorer. But before the game there will be plenty of banter going on between the Caps and Green, who spent his first 10 NHL seasons in Washington before signing a three-year, $18 million contract with the Red Wings last summer.
“For all the players who played with Greenie they’ll all be yuck-yucks at the morning skate and telling stories and all that,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said. “But once you drop the puck he’s a Red Wing, not a Cap.”
Trotz said he expects his players to treat Green like any other opponent, but since the 30-year-old defenseman will be playing in just his second game after being sidelined by a shoulder injury, he wouldn’t be surprised if the Caps shied away from heavy body contact on their former teammate.
“I think if he has his head down,” Trotz said, “they’re probably going to let up a little bit on him, if they’re friends.”
Ovechkin says he’ll be targeting something other than Green’s body – saying he’s aiming for his beloved stick, which has been discontinued for years.
“I’m probably gonna slash his Easton stick,” Ovechkin joked.
But that’s his favorite, Ovechkin was reminded.
“Yeah, I’m gonna slash it,” he replied with a laugh.
In eight games with the Red Wings, Green has no goals on nine shots, three assists and is a minus-3 while averaging 20:23 of ice time on a top pairing with Danny DeKeyser. Last year, as the Caps’ fifth defenseman, Green averaged 19:06 in ice time, his lowest since his first full NHL season.
Green told reporters in Detroit that “it’ll be strange” facing his former teammates tonight, but noted he had become “stagnant” in Washington and wanted a change.
In his 10 seasons with the Caps Green totaled 113 goals and 247 assists for 360 points in 575 games. He also netted nine goals and 26 assists in 71 playoff games.
Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt, who played alongside Green in his first two NHL seasons, says Green meant a lot to him as a rookie.
“He kind of took me under his wing and spent a lot of time with me,” Schmidt said. “He’s a phenomenal guy off the ice, like he is on the ice. I learned a lot from him and I’m sure there will be some Green magic out there. Hopefully, not too much.”
Schmidt said the trait that stood out the most to him was Green’s ability to snap a pass from a relaxed position, catching opponents by surprise.
“When you least expect Mike Green to do something is when Mike Green does something,” Schmidt said. “He’s got ice in his veins. He doesn’t panic ever and he stands there to make plays longer than anybody who stands and make plays. If I stand there that long I get blown up.”
Beagle agreed, saying even at the age of 10 everyone knew Green was a “specimen from the start.” But it was Green’s thunderous slapshot that Beagle remembers most.
“We actually had a play where we’d just give it to him and he had a clapper,” Beagle recalled of his days in peewee hockey. “He’d go top shelf and goalies couldn’t stop it. Kind of like Fulton Reed from The Mighty Ducks.”
Several Capitals said they hoped to catch up with Green before tonight’s game, but when he met with reporters on Monday Green already was talking like a crafty opponent.
“I might send them to the wrong restaurant,” he said with a sly smile, “and not show up.”
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