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Pheonix Copley prepares to justify the Caps’ faith in him as backup goalie

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Pheonix Copley prepares to justify the Caps’ faith in him as backup goalie

There is a lot of buzz over prospect goalie Ilya Samsonov and his first season in North America, but there’s another netminder in the system who is expected to get more NHL playing time in 2018-19 and that is Pheonix Copley.

Copley, 26, will enter training camp as the frontrunner to replace Philipp Grubauer as Braden Holtby’s backup in the NHL.

“I'm really excited,” Copley told NBC Sports Washington after an informal skate at MedStar Iceplex. “Obviously, that's the opportunity you want.”

Copley’s numbers in Hershey were not great last season (.896 save percentage, 2.91 GAA) as he had still not recovered from the groin injury that had ended his prior season. Before the injury, however, Copley has managed an impressive AHL career.

Copley told NBC Sports Washington that he feels good physically for the start of this season, which is good news for the Caps considering he has big skates to fill.

Grubauer established himself as a starting caliber goalie with his strong play as Holtby’s backup. In 2017-18, the German netminder managed a .923 save percentage and 2.35 GAA. He proved critical to the team’s success as Holtby struggled in the back half of the season due in large part to fatigue. Having a goalie as good as Grubauer to back him up allowed the team some flexibility in net.

After playing in 24 postseason games and with a shorter offseason to recover, the pressure is on for Copley to show he can be as dependable a backup as Grubauer was.

“Grubi's a great goalie and a great guy and I spent a lot of time with him,” Copley said. “But anytime you go into a season and in training camp, there's a spot you want. As a goalie, it's naturally a pressure position so it's really no different than any other year, just a different league.”

The transition from AHL to NHL can be a difficult one not just because of the quality of play, but because of the workload.

In Hershey, Copley could expect to play in around 40 games. In the NHL, he will get closer to 20.

“My first-year pro, I kind of went through that in the American League. It's the same kind of situations as you face elsewhere in pro hockey, it's just a different league this time. I'm sure the pressure and the speed, everything amps up, but really it's no different, the challenges. It's just, you've got to be that much more mentally strong and that much more ready to face your challenges.”

Adjusting to fewer games is the challenge Washington wants to avoid with Samsonov and is ultimately why the backup job is Copley’s for the taking.

In his first season in North America, the most important thing for Samsonov is to get as much playing time as possible. That will help both his transition to the North American game and his development as a goalie. Playing in 40 to 50 games in the AHL will ultimately be much better for him than riding the bench behind Holtby and getting only 15-20 games of experience, even if it is at the NHL level.

But Copley is not just a placeholder, he will have to perform.

The Capitals are the defending Stanley Cup champions and they have their sights set on a repeat. Grubauer was critical in helping Washington win the Metropolitan Division and getting Holtby rest for the playoffs. The Caps will need a similar contribution from Copley if they hope to repeat.

The backup job looks like Copley’s to win heading into training camp, but it is also his to lose.

“There's good goalies here,” Copley said, “So I'm just going to come and work hard every day and do my best and every time I get a chance, try and give the team a chance to win every time I'm out there.”


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Capitals vs. Hurricanes preseason Game 4: Time, TV Channel, Live stream, how to watch

USA Today

Capitals vs. Hurricanes preseason Game 4: Time, TV Channel, Live stream, how to watch

The preseason continues after the Capitals' loss in Montreal last night. They are hoping to gain some momentum and dominate at tonight's game.

Even without the home advantage, they hope to take home a win as they face the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Hurricanes are one of the four teams the Capitals will face in preseason play, along with the Bruins, Canadiens and Blues.

The Capitals and Hurricanes will meet once again, next Friday at Capital One Arena. But first, it's time to get back on the ice for Game 4 of the seven-game preseason schedule.



What: Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh, North Carolina

When: Friday, September, 21, 7:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Capitals-Hurricanes preseason game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Hurricanes preseason on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7


7:00 PM: Washington Capitals: My Day with the Cup (R)
7:30 PM: NHL Preseason: Capitals @ Carolina Hurricanes 
10:00 PM: Caps Postgame Live (LIVE)



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Brooks Orpik is the Caps’ ultimate role model for ‘how to be a true professional'

USA Today

Brooks Orpik is the Caps’ ultimate role model for ‘how to be a true professional'

When training camp began, all eyes were on the stars like Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Braden Holtby. The eyes of all the young defensemen, however, were on Brooks Orpik.

Orpik, who will turn 38 on Wednesday, now enters his 17th professional season and fifth with the Washington Capitals. Once a staple on the top four, Orpik has seen his minutes and his on-ice role decrease with age. His role off the ice, however, remains as large as ever.

“All defensemen can come to him, all players will come to him on any number of issues and he's there for them,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “But more often than not, some of the players don't go to him and they just watch him and try to replicate some of the things he's doing.”

The impact that has on the locker room was enough that the Caps sought to re-sign Orpik even after trading him in the offseason.

Orpik and his $5.5 million cap hit was sent to the Colorado Avalanche as part of the Philipp Grubauer trade. Once the Avalanche bought Orpik out of his contract, the Caps jumped at the chance to re-sign him.

Why re-sign a player you just traded and risk the ire of the NHL? Because the impact he has on the team is worth it, especially for the younger players.

This year’s blue line for Washington will feature youngsters like Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey, who will both be in their second NHL seasons. Training camp also features several other young defensemen vying for a possible call-up like Jonas Siegenthaler, Lucas Johansen and Connor Hobbs.

Giving those players a chance to work with Orpik and see what it takes to be a true professional at the NHL level is invaluable.

“He's a true pro,” Bowey said. “I think anytime you have a guy like that in your locker room to look up to, it makes everyone's job a lot easier. I know he's a guy that I've leaned on a lot in my young career so far and is a guy that I'll continue to lean on. The way his presence is on the room, it's definitely recognizable and something that we all noticed.”

For his part, Orpik was adamant in that he does not feel his role has changed at all and is not approaching this season any differently. He is preparing this season to be a player, not a mentor.

But then again, he shouldn’t change anything because it is in how he trains, how he prepares, how he carries himself that he has become a role model.

“I remember when I was a younger guy, [Darius Kasparaitis] was there my first year,” Orpik said. “You catch yourself kind of just staring at these guys, watching these guys. I'm not naive, I know guys are constantly watching you.”

If he is going to be a mentor, he is determined to make sure it is going to be by example.

Said Reirden, “He's a great role model for how to be a true professional.”