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Tom Wilson brings the Stanley Cup home for an emotional day in Toronto

Tom Wilson brings the Stanley Cup home for an emotional day in Toronto

TORONTO—Tom Wilson and the Stanley Cup made a number of stops on their tour of Toronto on Sunday, but there was never any doubting where the rugged Caps winger would take the trophy first.

The first stop, of course, was North Toronto Memorial Arena, the rink where it all started.

Wilson, who learned to play and love the game here as a 5-year-old, entered the charming old building to a standing ovation from the program’s current players, friends, family—including three generations of Wilsons—as well as a handful of former coaches and players.

For the Caps’ toughest player, it was just the beginning of an occasionally emotional day in his hometown.

Over the next three-plus hours, Wilson mingled, reconnected, posed for pictures with each of the youth teams, took a lap in the stands with the Cup and conducted an unintentionally hilarious Q & A with the youth players.

Before he started fielding questions, Wilson jokingly requested that the kids only ask softballs. The second kid who stepped to the mic musta missed the memo...much to the delight of everyone in the building.

“Why do you like fighting?” a boy asked Wilson, who had 13 fights last year, the second highest total in the NHL.

Wilson was ready with a quick answer.

“Just so everyone knows, I don’t think I got into one fight when I played for North Toronto,” he cracked. “Keep the gloves on. Play hockey. …You know what, I’ve just always been big on sticking up for my teammates. It’s part of the game still. It’s a five minute penalty and sometimes you gotta do it.”

Wilson also acknowledged that, as a youngster, he owned a black and gold Alex Ovechkin jersey and was a big fan of No. 8. While not exactly breaking news, it was something I hadn’t heard before.

Hundreds of kids attended, but just one was a special guest of Wilson’s: Brock from The Hospital for Sick Children, who overcame significant health issues thanks to the treatment he received at the world-renowned medical center. Sunday’s event benefitted the hospital’s SickKids Foundation.

Midway through the program, Toronto Mayor John Tory stopped by to congratulate Wilson. Tory also played his youth hockey at North Toronto Arena. After thanking Wilson for bringing the Cup home and partnering with the hospital for the event, Tory had some jokes.

“Did you actually play in this arena?” Tory asked Wilson, who nodded. “Well, I want you to know, so did I, which is why I’ve got the North Toronto jersey on. The only thing is, my career went terribly wrong somewhere and I ended up as the mayor of Toronto and you ended up on the Stanley Cup champions. So congratulations to you.”

Geoff Campbell, one of Wilson’s first coaches, said he’s never been surprised by the success Wilson has enjoyed as he’s moved up the ranks from AA to AA to junior to the NHL and now to world champion. That insatiable drive to be the best, according to Campbell, came built-in.

Wilson said the most humbling part of his day at NT Arena was seeing his poster on the wall, right next to the one honoring Hall of Famer Eric Lindros, who also grew up playing at the single-sheet facility.

Pete Wilson, Tom’s older brother, said he got choked up a couple of times watching Sunday’s event unfold just a few blocks from the family home.

“Seeing that banner up there, and seeing the community come out and support this event and support SickKids, it’s just so surreal,” he said. “I found myself getting choked up a couple of times because this was such a staple in our lives. I mean, we were here ALL the time. All three kids came through here. My dad coached here. My mom even coached here way back.”

As hectic as the day was at times, Tom Wilson did get a little alone time with the Cup, which he spent asking questions about its storied history.

After the celebration at North Toronto Arena, Wilson took the Cup down to the scenic Ontario Place marina, where he posed for the day’s most memorable photo.

Wilson’s unforgettable day didn’t end on the pier. But that photo did signal the end of what Wilson wanted to share with reporters.

Winning the championship marked the realization of a childhood dream, and now it was time for some private time with family and his closest friends, many of whom also donned white t-shirts emblazoned with, “We did it!”

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5 players who impressed in Capitals' win over St. Louis

5 players who impressed in Capitals' win over St. Louis

After a number of lackluster performances, the Capitals finally looked like their championship selves on Tuesday in a 4-0 blanking of St. Louis. Not only was it Washington’s first win of the preseason, but their first period goal gave the Caps their first lead of the preseason.

Here are five Caps who impressed in a very physical win over the Blues.

Pheonix Copley

Copley got the full game in what is expected to be his final appearance of the preseason and boy did he deliver. He was absolutely brilliant with a shutout, 42-save performance including not one, but two phenomenal highlight reel saves.

In the first period, both Caps defensemen got caught in the corner leaving all of the real estate in front of Copley wide open. After a quick pass, the netminder suddenly faced a 2-on-0, but he came up with the big save to rob Jordan Kyrou as he stretched out the glove.

Copley followed that up with another big save in the second period to deny Ryan O’Reilly. He first denied O’Reilly with the pad, but looked helpless on the rebound. O’Reilly tried to backhand the puck over Copley, but he kicked up his heel in desperation and somehow kicked the puck out.

Backup goalie was one of the few question marks facing the Caps this season. Copley came into camps as the man to beat, but he still had to earn the job or the Caps would look elsewhere for other options. He earned the job on Tuesday. Copley is going to be the backup and if he can continue to play like he did Tuesday, he’s going to be just fine.

Shane Gersich

One of the hardest parts of adjusting to the NHL is the speed of the game. That’s a lesson Gersich seemed to take to heart with his goal on Tuesday.

Riley Barber carried the puck into the offensive zone, but lost it on a sweep check from Colton Parayko. A trailing Gersich wasted no time in firing the loose puck on net where it beat Jake Allen to the top corner.

After getting in five games at the end of last season, there was some buzz surrounding Gersich heading into camp. Up until Tuesday, however, he was having a very quiet preseason. In St. Louis he looked like he was playing with more confidence and had a much more noticeable performance and impact because of it.

Liam O’Brien

Tuesday’s game was a feisty one. The Blues played a physical game that got downright nasty in the third period. While today’s NHL continues to get faster and more skilled, this game felt like an old-school slobber knocker.

That suited O’Brien just fine.

In the second period a puck trickled behind Copley and he laid back to cover it up. Pat Maroon skated in and gave Copley a jab to the back with his stick despite the fact that the puck was covered. A few minutes later, O’Brien made Maroon answer for it and the two dropped gloves in what can only be described as a heavyweight bought.

O’Brien gets extra points for that glove toss.

As the game went on and devolved, the Blues were determined to get the Caps out from in front of the net at any cost, but O’Brien was able to take the physical punishment and doled out about as much as he took.

It was an old-school style game and the old-school O’Brien fit right in.

Madison Bowey

Todd Reirden came out and said he needed to see more from Bowey and wanted him to play to his strengths. Specifically, he wanted him to be more physical in the defensive zone and more assertive in the offensive zone. Bowey checked both of those boxes on Tuesday.

Bowey was noticeably more physical in his own end. While that may have resulted in an ill-advised interference in the second period, it at least showed he was taking his head coach’s words to heart.

That was also evident in the offensive zone where Bowey was much more involved. He finished the game with three shots on goal and scored Washington’s third goal on the night, tipping in a pass from Ovechkin through goalie Chad Johnson.

Did he look like a top-four defenseman? No, but he showed there is an extra gear to his game we have not really seen yet and one he will have to reach if he hopes to take on the bigger role he hopes to have this season.

John Carlson

After a lower-body injury kept him out the first few days of camp, Carlson finally made his preseason debut Tuesday and it looked like there was no rust to his game at all.

The veteran defenseman had an impact on both ends, as he recorded two blocked shots and two takeaways. His defensive positioning was great and he even stopped a St. Louis breakaway by cutting off the breakout pass.

Offensively, Carlson had four total shot attempts, two of which went on net. He also set up a goal by Nathan Walker with the quick hands to send the puck back through the crease behind Jake Allen for the tap-in.

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The pressure is on for Madison Bowey to show he deserves more playing time

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USA Today

The pressure is on for Madison Bowey to show he deserves more playing time

Coming into training camp, we already knew who the Capitals’ seven defensemen were going to be this season. Among those seven is Madison Bowey who, with a new two-year, one-way contract, looks like a lock to make Washington’s roster.

In terms of playing time, however, Bowey still has a lot to prove and, according to Todd Reirden, he has not yet seen enough from him.

“We're going to put [Bowey] in opportunities where he can play minutes and play with different people and see where he's at,” Reirden said Sunday. “Obviously our three pairs we had last year worked well for us and we're fortunate to have all six of those guys back. That being said, he needs to make it a difficult decision for me on a nightly basis. That's in his hands. He needs to push me in that direction of making a change to that group because as of right now he wouldn't be.”

The Capitals’ top four on defense is set meaning Bowey will be competing for time on the third pairing with Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos. With only three preseason games left before the start of the regular season, that makes Tuesday critical for Bowey to show Reirden that he deserves not just to make the team, but to be a regular in the lineup.

“I've always been trying to be a guy that's hard to play against and making sure it's a tough night for the opponents,” Bowey said after Tuesday’s morning skate. “For myself, it's playing a two-way game and sticking to that. When I'm kind of throwing my weight around and being engaged and playing with urgency, I think that's when I'm at my best.”

The issue Reirden sees is that while there are strengths to Bowey’s game, they are not always prevalent on the ice in games.

“I think he's got to continue to allow the things that are difference makers in his game to show up,” Reirden said. “He's a big strong guy that can skate so he's got to be very difficult to play against in the defensive zone. And his skating ability up ice has got to be a factor in terms of adding to the offense when he gets the opportunity and trying to use his shot and his offensive instincts in zone. Those are the things he has in his toolbox that we need to see more on a regular basis.”

In addition to being a physical defenseman, Bowey also possesses strong offensive instincts. Yet, neither aspect of his game was all that evident last season when Bowey was still adjusting to the NHL. That sort of initial struggle is to be expected for many young players who tend to overthink the game. They need time to let the game become more instinctive.

But now, it is time to see improvement from Bowey in those areas.

“When I'm thinking and not just playing my game, that's when you can get into trouble,” he said. “When I'm just playing urgent, trusting my instincts and letting the game come to me, I think that's when I'm at my best.”

When talking about his expectations for him on Tuesday, Reirden described Bowey as a “veteran.” He’s not seen as a developing player anymore.

Clearly, the standard has been raised for Bowey. He needs to respond.

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