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Four NCAA Capitals prospects on normalcy, finishing their degrees, and the quiet minority of college players in the NHL

Four NCAA Capitals prospects on normalcy, finishing their degrees, and the quiet minority of college players in the NHL

For many NHL hopefuls, getting drafted into the league overrides everything else in their hectic lives.

A lucky few end up in the big leagues their first season, especially if a team is strapped for options on their roster or wants a fresh start. 

But for the Washington Capitals — who have kept a significant amount of their roster intact since 2015 — those next in line have more time to consider their options. 

At this year’s Capitals Development Camp, a third of the prospects on the Caps’ roster spent the 2017-18 season as NCAA student-athletes.

Although players who choose to finish their college career may not get as much media attention, it doesn’t mean they’re uncommon. 

”I think [about] a third of NHL players nowadays are college guys,” said Capitals prospect Steven Spinner.

Capitals RW Prospect Steven Spinner (Scout Pruski / NBC Sports Washington)

The league’s quiet camaraderie among collegiate players is obvious in the Caps’ locker room. When approaching Benton Maass, Brian Pinho, Chase Priskie, and Steven Spinner to talk to them on Friday, I found them pressed shoulder to shoulder in four consecutive stalls, chatting about the morning’s defensive drills. All are equally driven to success both on and off the ice.

Pinho, who graduated from Providence College in May with a degree in finance, attended his sixth dev camp this year. He feels like finishing all four years of school was the right choice for both his academics and his NCAA career. 

“I worked so hard the first few years to get my degree. It was important to me to finish,” said the 23-year-old. “I really enjoyed what I was studying.”

Capitals C Prospect Brian Pinho (Scout Pruski / NBC Sports Washington)

Classes weren’t the only motivator for Pinho, who had a strong team community behind him. After winning the NCAA title in his freshman year, he finished his senior year as captain of the Friars. 

“It was a natural fit. I was assistant my junior year, so I kind of just eased right into it,” Pinho said. “But I really enjoyed it. We had a young team, but everyone really dialed in to [our] process and our game plan and we had a good year.”

Maass, a rising sophomore at University of New Hampshire, still has plenty of time. While undecided about his major, he plans to finish his degree and further his role in his team’s community.

“Being from the United States, college hockey is the only thing I ever planned on doing,” Maass said. “I didn’t look into major junior or anything. I guess it was just always the best option, especially because I wanted to stay in school.”

Capitals D Prospect Benton Maass (Scout Pruski / NBC Sports Washington)

Spinner, a 22-year-old right wing majoring in marketing and management, also spoke of the desire for normalcy. 

“I just decided that I’m going to go back next year to [University of Nebraska-Omaha], get my degree, finish out – just be a college guy. Be an American [young adult].”

For many players, playing Division I competitive hockey offers a middle ground between developing skills and a normal college experience. The student athlete lifestyle feels like a natural extension for those who grew up going to practice every day after high school classes.

“Time management’s the biggest thing in college hockey,” Spinner added. “That and discipline. If you don’t have a good week in practice, you should expect it [to affect] play. But I think [the NCAA] is a great league, and I enjoy every single day of it. I’m happy.” 

Priskie of Quinnipiac University, who finished his degree in finance and computer science in three years, stressed the chance to mature without major-league pressure. 

“I knew I wasn’t going to be ready to play pro hockey at 18, 19, 20, so I figured I can use the extra two-three years to develop physically. So I just thought it was a better route for myself. Some of the other guys that came out of Florida like Shayne Gostisbehere ranted and raved about how fun college was, such a great experience.”

Capitals D Prospect Chase Priskie (Scout Pruski / NBC Sports Washington)

When you’re dividing time between hockey and school, fun can be essential. 

“I took an acting class with a couple of my buddies on the team and some of their friends,” Pinho said. “At first we were all really shy, and then our class was pretty close knit, so it ended up being really fun, actually.”

So what’s next? Though everyone is obviously excited about their respective NHL hopes, Spinner and Maass will return to school in August while Pinho and Priskie have an eye on the AHL. Priskie also plans to work towards a masters’ in business analytics this year. 

At the end of the day, both are grateful for the safety net that a college degree offers. 

“When hockey ends, eventually, I have something else I can crash on,” Pinho said. “But obviously, right now, hockey is the most important thing.”


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Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

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Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo may have won the American Century Championships celebrity golf tournament this weekend, but T.J. Oshie definitely had the most fun.

Using the Modified Stableford scoring format for the tournament — which included several pro and retired athletes, such as Steph Curry, Aaron Rodgers, Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Charles Barkley and Joe Pavelski — Oshie finished with 11 points, tying for 48th with NFL Hall of Famer Tim Brown and Golf Channel host Lisa Cornwell. 

But the Capitals' winger's score didn't really matter because Oshie was out on the Lake Tahoe golf course in Nevada just having fun with his family and continuing the epic celebration as a new Stanley Cup champion. Obviously, that meant playing and chugging a beer through his t-shirt as 'We Are The Champions' played.

His brother, Taylor, was his caddy, and at one point, Oshie borrowed his brother's beer helmet while putting. He sunk it, and it was amazing.

Yeah, Oshie had a great weekend. Here's a look at some other moments from his weekend on Lake Tahoe.


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Key Caps questions: How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?


Key Caps questions: How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: How will the Caps look different under new head coach Todd Reirden?

Tarik: It’s an important topic, but let’s not overthink this one. Since winning the Stanley Cup on June 7, the organization has pretty much telegraphed EXACTLY what it hopes will occur in 2018-19. Consider:

  • Todd Reirden was promoted after spending four years as Barry Trotz’s assistant, including the last two years as an associate coach with an expanded role. Reirden already knows everyone, from the players to the trainers and other support staff. He knows what buttons to push and when to push them. There’s a built-in comfort level and trust that should allow everyone to hit the ground running in September.
  • Four of Reirden’s assistants are holdovers, too. The one newcomer, Reid Cashman, is joining the group from Hershey and is a Reirden disciple. So, no adjustment period there, either.
  • Assuming restricted free agent Tom Wilson re-ups (and that would seem to be a very safe assumption), the Caps are bringing back 11 of the 12 forwards that were on the ice for Game 5 in Las Vegas. They’re also bringing back five of six defensemen. And the starting goaltender. Chemistry is a hard thing to explain and/or quantify. But you know when a team has it. And the Caps had it at the end of last year.

So if you look at what GM Brian MacLellan has been doing in recent weeks—and have been listening to what Reirden has been saying publicly—you can only come to one conclusion. The decision-makers feel they discovered the right mix of personnel and systems play at the end of the playoffs, from the defensive structure to special teams. In fact, they were first in goals per game, second-best on the power play and the fourth stingiest team in the postseason.

“Many of my [philosophies] were involved in how we were going to play, how our team was going to look, the identity that we had,” Reirden said on The Junkies recently, referring to last year’s game plan. “So, from a systems standpoint, I would say not much is going to change, at least initially, just because it seemed to work. …You’ll see much of the same.”

That doesn’t mean Reirden won’t make adjustments. He will because he’ll have to over the course of an 82-game regular season and, hopefully, another long postseason run. But it does underscore the fact that the foundation upon on which last year’s championship team was built is going to look awfully familiar. And that's clearly by design.

JJ:  The message from the Caps ever since Reirden was promoted to head coach has been one of consistency as they try to make a seamless transition to the new head coach. In that sense, we probably won't see many changes at all to start the season.

The Capitals just won the Stanley Cup and general manager Brian MacLellan worked to bring almost the exact same roster back for next season. Coming into the locker room saying there's a new sheriff in town and making drastic changes is not the way to go here

But that doesn't mean Reirden will do things the same way.

Reirden has coached at the college, AHL and NHL level. He has seen firsthand how Dan Bylsma won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and how Trotz did it in Washington. He also saw what didn't work.

Reirden got to this point by developing relationships with the players. He is much more of a players' coach than Trotz and that will be evident in training camp. I also expect there will be a much greater emphasis on development. Trotz famously said to the media that the NHL was not a development league, but a performance league. I expect Reirden to take a different approach.

After failing to win with veteran-laden teams, the Caps finally hoisted the Cup last season after getting significant contributions from young prospects such as Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey. Like it or not, the Caps' core will not last forever. Every year those players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson get another year older. I do not believe a coach who is as good at reaching players and developing them as Reirden is will be quite as reluctant to reach down onto the farm and sprinkle youth throughout his lineup whenever the team needs a spark.

It should not be lost on anyone that one of Reirden's new assistant coaches this year will be Reid Cashman, promoted from being an assistant with the Hershey Bears in the AHL. This is all good news for players like Lucas Johansen, Jonas Siegenthaler and Connor Hobbs, the team's three best defensive prospects who are hoping to have an impact at the NHL level sooner rather than later. The Caps roster is pretty loaded, but at the very least you can expect Reirden to have a hand in helping those players along at training camp.

Ultimately, the product on the ice is going to look almost exactly the same at the start of the season with the biggest changes coming off the ice. We won't see who Reirden is as an NHL coach, however, until we let the full 82-game season play out.