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Behind the scenes before an NHL game, players find their routine

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Behind the scenes before an NHL game, players find their routine

 WASHINGTON -- Game time draws near and the hallways at Capital One Arena come to life. 
 
The routine is the same all across the NHL. In the 30 minutes before warm-ups begin, when players take the ice in uniform, fire shots at the starting goalie and roll through their lines and defensive pairs for the night, there is the pre-warm up. 
 
That’s the part fans don’t get to see. Unless, of course, you’re one of the lucky ones with tickets in the front row on the glass. In Washington that allows entry to the MGM National Harbor VIP Lounge near the Capitals’ locker room. Those ticket holders wander the corridor on the event level as reporters and broadcasters, public-relations staffers and off-ice officials check in for the media meal or scurry to handle their pre-game duties. In that long hallway, just a short walk from the visitors’ locker room, opposing players appear in the hour before the game with work to do. 
 
As bemused ushers and security personnel check credentials and look over tickets, an NHL player runs sprints at near full speed. At the other end of the hallway, a teammate bounces three small balls off the wall at a rapid pace, a hand-eye coordination exercise that helps with focus before taking the ice. Another player does quick steps through a rope ladder. He ignores anyone walking past.  
 
“I do pretty much the same thing every game day. I think a lot of guys do,” Capitals forward Tom Wilson said. “There’s no surprises. You know what game days look like, you know where you’re going to be, what you’re going to be doing. At this point in your career you’ve found out what works for you.”
 
It’s all part of the game day routine for hockey players who are creatures of habit. Capitals players aren’t visible at home games. They have their own weight room out of sight of prying eyes near their locker room. But the visiting players get no such luxuries. 
 
Instead, they find space where they can to get their bodies ready for warm-ups about 45 minutes before puck drop. The Capitals do the same when they go on the road.

 There’s no one right way. For some Capitals players, their basic routine might stay the same at the morning skate – how long they stay on the ice, what they try to accomplish while on it – and a pre-game nap in the afternoon is almost universal. 
 
But before a game is when things really get wild. T.J. Oshie uses the EVO UltraFit training method developed by Arizona-based trainer Jay Schroeder. It employs exercises that help Oshie with balance and coordination and gets specific muscle groups firing in unison to help reduce the chance of injury on the ice. Oshie has multiple programs he can use depending on how he feels physically before a given game. 
 
“The only things that stay the same is the little stuff for me,” Oshie said. “The things I do with the trainers, the handshakes and then the warm-up I do on the ice.”
 
Oshie used to shoot hoops before games. During the Stanley Cup playoffs, press conferences were moved onto the Wizards’ practice court at Capital One Arena to accommodate more media demand. It wasn’t unusual to see Oshie and some teammates, including former Capitals forward Justin Williams, dribbling and firing up shots at one end of the court while reporters waited for the coaches to talk at a podium at the other end. That all went away when the Wizards moved to their new training facility across the Anacostia River and the practice court was transformed into the MGM lounge.
 
A large contingent of Capitals, estimated at 12-to-13 players, like to kick a soccer ball around before games. That group stays pretty steady and includes most of the European players. That’s common across the NHL. Players come to the rink on the bus from the hotel, prepare their sticks and make sure their equipment is in order. They get some food and then go through pre-game meetings. For some, their remaining down time is spent kicking the soccer ball around. It helps get the body going before it really has to move.
 
“I think every team does it. A little elimination soccer helps get you ready,” forward Brett Connolly said. “I wonder when it started? But it was well before I came into the league. We have fun. You get in that competitive mode a little bit.”
 
You can tell that just from the jeers and trash talk that accompanies the games. That was on display again in the bowels of Wells Fargo Center before Washington played the Philadelphia Flyers last Wednesday. The sounds of the soccer game mingled with forklifts taking equipment around the arena and kegs of beer being stacked onto trucks and taken upstairs on the elevator. There is a lone basket attached to a wall in the event-level concourse where Flyers players sometimes shoot. For pro athletes, the mini-games aren’t very attractive.    
 
The soccer games are free form. Some players participate the entire time, others take part for as little as two minutes. Some duck in and out depending on what else they need to accomplish before a game. Wilson gave a very specific “seven minutes” when asked how long he plays. Some players would rather be on their own in the locker room or training room. Some are very serious, no talking. Others are very loose. The soccer game epitomizes “loose”. 


 
Oshie used to play pre-game soccer early in his career with the St. Louis Blues, but after a couple of concussions that’s probably not a good idea any more. Every arena is different. Some are better than others. Indeed there has long been a “No ball playing of any kind” sign just across from the Wizards locker room at Capital One. That is a directive honored in the breach.  
  
“I played soccer when I visited here and it’s no good,” Oshie said of Washington’s arena. “You get no space there…But it’s a long season. You’ve got to make it fun.”
 
Oshie said he actually likes the smaller spaces in older, cramped buildings. It makes the games more competitive and skill matters as players try to keep the ball alive by any means possible, including bouncing it off the wall, the ceiling, the scaffolding. Once a local reporter, waiting for Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper, took a ball off his face. It’s all in the name of getting ready to play.
 
“Gets your eyes going a little bit, hand-eye, foot-eye,” Wilson said. “You go through that game day routine so many times that playing soccer is kind of a fun thing you do with the guys that keeps it light before the game and breaks up the serious stuff a little bit.”

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Capitals make lineup changes after Game 3 debacle

Capitals make lineup changes after Game 3 debacle

RALEIGH — Adjustments are the name of the game in the Stanley Cup playoffs. After a 5-0 drubbing by the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday, the Capitals need to make a few. 

Washington coach Todd Reirden has made some tweaks to his lineup with Game 4 approaching on Thursday. The Capitals are still in front with a 2-1 series lead, but they know that can change quickly with another performance like Monday’s. 

Reirden shifted his forward lines around at practice on Wednesday at PNC Arena. T.J. Oshie moves up to the top line to play with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom while Tom Wilson drops to the second line to play with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana. 

Oshie was critical of his own play, but he does have a goal in this series and this seems like a move more to help Kuznetsov and Vrana get more space with Wilson on their line. Shots have been hard to come by in the series for Washington. Kuznetsov does have three assists, but Vrana doesn’t yet have a point. 

“Playoffs you kind of make adjustments and there’s pushbacks from both teams depending on how the last game went – or even the last period went,” Oshie said. “And they won the Game 3 pushback. Game 4 momentum is on their side, we have to get it back, play physical, play strong, play for each other, block shots, be better.”

So while Reirden flipped his top two right wings, he also flipped his bottom two left wings. Carl Hagelin will play on a revamped fourth line with Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd. Andre Burakovsky moves up to play with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly. The bottom six forwards have just one point in the series – Eller’s empty-net goal in Game 1. 

Depth scoring was so critical for Washington in its run to the Stanley Cup last spring. Hagelin kills penalties, but this move only makes sense if they’re trying to add to that depth scoring and get the fourth line more ice time. Boyd joins the lineup for the first time this series and is more skilled offensively than Chandler Stephenson, the man he replaces. That theoretically should make it harder for Carolina to match lines the way it wants to.
 
“You need to forget about it, but also realize what went on,” Wilson said. “I think as a group our compete and our effort just wasn’t what it needed to be. So you have to use that. You can’t just think it’s all good.”

The blueline had just one change. Rookie Jonas Siegenthaler will make his playoff debut in place of Christian Djoos, who has been on the ice for four of Carolina’s 10 goals. Siegenthaler’s size and poise under pressure could help there. Djoos is just 170 pounds and has been targeted by Carolina in his limited ice time. But he can always skate the puck out of trouble and that’s a question mark with Siegenthaler, who played 26 games in the NHL this season. 

“I felt like we wanted the game to come a little easier to us and they ramped up their game,” Oshie said. “You could tell with not only the score, but the shots and how the play went. We’ve got to be better and we will.” 

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D.C. Good Samaritan Tom Wilson nominated for King Clancy Trophy

D.C. Good Samaritan Tom Wilson nominated for King Clancy Trophy

Tom Wilson has been formally recognized for all his good deeds. 

The Capitals right-winger was nominated for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy by the Capitals organization for his involvement with Forty Three’s Friends, So Kids Can, Top Shelf Teammates as well as other initiatives, some of which he launched himself, according to the Capitals' website.

“He’s always one of the first in line to do stuff for charity,” said Capitals head coach Todd Reirden at a press conference on Wednesday. “Charity projects, started his own program this last year, just always willing to give back.” 

This season, Wilson started So Kids Can, in which he donated four tickets per game to Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic children across 20 games. Wilson took the recipients in the Capitals locker room following each game for one-on-one interactions. 

Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby participate with Wilson in So Kids Can, in which each athlete donates $50 (during the regular season) and $100 (during the playoffs) per win to a local nonprofit organization. 

This season, the group has been raising money for Heart of America, partnering with Hendley Elementary School to supply them with 75 laptops and 45 tablets. The players surprised the school in November by announcing that Hendley was the recipient of a So Kids Can and Heart of American Foundation makeover.

Since the 2013-14 season, Wilson has been a part of Top Shelf Teammates. Through this, he donated $10,000 to the Fort DuPont Ice Hockey Club. 

Three finalists will be announced on April 23, and the winner will be announced at the 2019 NHL Awards on June 19. The winner will receive $40,000 to benefit a charities of the winner’s choice, and two runners-up will each receive $5,000 to donate.

All nominees are nominated by their clubs, and the winner will be selected by a committee of senior NHL executives, led by Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, according to the NHL's website

The selection committee will chose their winner and subsequent finalists by examining the following criteria:

  • Clear and measurable positive impact on the community
  • Investment of time and resources
  • Commitment to a particular cause or community
  • Commitment to the League's community initiatives (Hockey is for Everyone, Hockey Fights Cancer, Future Goals, Learn to Play, NHL Green, etc.)
  • Creativity of programming
  • Use of influence; engagement of others


The last Capital to win the award was Olaf Kolzig for the 2005-06 season. The former goaltender co-founded Athletes Against Autism after learning that his son, Carson, was autistic. Additionally, he worked closely with the Children’s Medical Center after coming to D.C. in the late 1990s, purchasing season tickets to give to hospital patients and allowing them to be his special guests at games. He raised over $650,000 through multiple charity endeavors, all contributing to his receipt of the Memorial Award. 

Kolzig is the only Capital to have won the Memorial Award, putting Wilson in the position to be the second.

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