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Capitals fulfill dream of wounded warrior


Capitals fulfill dream of wounded warrior

As a kid growing up in Billings, Montana, Bo Reichenbach had two dreams. One was to become a Navy Seal; the other to play in the NHL.

He never imagined one would lead to the other.

Less than three months after losing both his legs while serving in Afghanistan, Reichenbach suited up in his goalie gear, strapped himself into a sledge hockey sled and spent more than an hour stopping pucks from Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Chimera, Matt Hendricks, Jay Beagle and John Carlson at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

“They asked me if they needed to take it easy on me,” said Reichenbach, 24. “And I said, ‘No. Bring it on.’”

It is a mantra Reichenbach has been repeating for most of his life.

When he was 15 he left his home in Billings to pursue his dream of being an NHL goaltender, playing junior hockey for the Thunder Bay Wolverines. Four years later, in March of 2008, Reichenbach enlisted in the Navy.

That same year be became the father of a baby boy, Landon, and in May of 2010 he was promoted to Navy Seal and entrusted with some of the most dangerous missions in the military.

Reichenbach’s unit was deployed to Afghanistan on Jan. 3, 2012. Seven months into his tour, on July 17, his life was dramatically altered.

Reichenbach was walking with his five-man unit when one of his footsteps triggered the explosion of an undetected 20-pound non-metallic pressure plate buried underground.

The improvised explosive device [IED] threw Reichenbach high into the air and when he landed he knew the damage was severe.

“I hit the ground and was awake immediately,” Reichenbach recalled. “My left leg was completely gone; my right leg was damaged pretty bad. I just knew I had to stop the bleeding. I tried getting a tourniquet on and I couldn’t because my [right] arm was pretty mangled.

“My [hospital] corpsman was on me immediately. He tied tourniquets on all my limbs, put an IV in, gave me a little bit of medicine and had me feeling good. Twenty minutes later a helicopter picked us up and took us back to our base. They put me under and started surgeries.”

Within 12 hours of the explosion, Reichenbach was without his entire left leg and had his right leg amputated just below the knee. He also suffered structural damage to his right arm and suffered 40 percent hearing loss in one ear and 60 percent in the other.

In the days following his initial surgeries, an infection set into Reichenbach’s right leg and when he arrived at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda on July 22, the remainder of his right leg was removed.

Since the explosion, Reichenbach has undergone a total of 20 surgeries. During his recovery, his former hockey coach in Billings, Greg Smith, arranged for a few of the Capitals to stop in for a visit. Smith played parts of three seasons as a defenseman for the Caps from 1985-88 and when he asked if a couple of players could visit with Reichenbach, Hendricks and Carlson jumped at the opportunity.

“We’re big supporters of the military and everything they do for us,” said Hendricks, who is from Blaine, Minn. “They give us our freedom. They allow us to play hockey in the best country in the world, in our opinion.

“When a guy like Bo goes through what he went through, for Johnny and I to spend an hour or so with him at the hospital and lift his spirits, it’s the easiest thing for us because it lifts our spirits, too. Just looking at him and seeing where he is now and the road he’s on … he’s been back here for a little over two months now and he’s playing hockey.”

It was during that hospital visit that Hendricks invited Reichenbach to practice with the Capitals once he felt up to it. On Sept. 16, less than two months after the explosion, Reichenbach participated in the Navy 5-Miler on the National Mall and was the first across the line on a custom-made bicycle.

Three weeks ago he began walking on prosthetic legs and after trying sledge hockey three or four times, Reichenbach decided it was time to accept Hendricks’ invitation. His father, Donald, drove him to the Capitals’ practice rink in Arlington on Friday and for the next hour he took hundreds of pucks in the chest, face and arms.

“He’s a good goalie,” Beagle said. “I couldn’t believe how he could find the center of the net so fast. Every time you look up coming down on a drill he’s in the center of the net and in good position.”

“It was a blast being back on the ice,” Reichenbach said. “Having a chance to hang out with them really helps out with the recovery. It helps my mindset just to be around hockey again and being with good people, and these are real good guys.”

Reichenbach is expected to spend the next several months at the Walter Reed Wounded Warrior Unit, where he undergoes rehab four hours a day while learning how to walk again. Hendricks said just spending a few hours with veterans like Reichenbach puts his life into perspective.

“I think about all the injuries I’ve had in hockey and in one second he goes through more than I’ve ever gone through and ever will go through in my career,” Hendricks said. “It’s hard to grasp that but when you can meet these guys and listen to their stories it’s fantastic that they’re as positive as they are.”

Reichenbach says that although his life was forever changed on that July day, he has zero regrets.

“I wouldn’t change anything,” he said. “I’m happy. There are definitely some tough days dealing with some nerve pain, but I’ve been afforded a lot of opportunities and this is a new challenge for me. I’m excited and I’ve got to push forward.”

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Prospect Joe Snively was cheering outside Capital One Arena when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup

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Prospect Joe Snively was cheering outside Capital One Arena when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup

There were many incredible aspects to the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup run, but one of the best was how fans took over the streets in the Stanley Cup Final. Little did we know that a future Cap was among the faithful outside of Capital One Arena.

Forward prospect and Herndon, Va. native Joe Snively was signed as a college free agent in March 2019. He is an alum of the Little Capitals local youth hockey program and, not surprisingly given his background, he grew up as a Caps fan.

For all Washington fans, June 7, 2018, is a day that will never be forgotten as it was the day the team won its first Stanley Cup. We all have our own story of where we were that day and how we watched. Snively is no different.

“I was downtown DC outside the arena watching on the big screen,” he told Mike Vogel in an interview at the team’s development camp.

“It was a great feeling,” Snively continued. “At that time I didn’t know I’d have the opportunity to sign with the Capitals and it was an amazing feeling. I’ve been a Caps fan ever since I started watching hockey and it was great to see them after all those years in the playoffs to win the Cup. It was amazing.”

The Alex Ovechkin era is important to Washington hockey not just because he brought the city a Cup, but because of the increased interest at the youth level. Interest early on should increase the sport and the team’s popularity. That, in turn, should lead to more youth participation which should lead to a more competitive youth program and homegrown talent entering professional hockey. The increased interest from that should further boost hockey in the region thus repeating the cycle.

Snively is just the first example.

It kind of makes you wonder how many other future Caps were in that crowd watching the team win the Cup.


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20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can the power play get back to an elite level?

20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can the power play get back to an elite level?

The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2. 

But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.  

With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for the next three weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.   

The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today we look at a power play that dipped out of the top 10 last season. Can a unit that has been so consistent for so long get back to that top level? 

This comes back to tactics more than personnel. The same players are back who have been part of this unit for years. Alex Ovechkin is the ultimate weapon in the left face-off circle, John Carlson mans the point, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov do their thing on the half wall and below the net and T.J. Oshie is the trigger man in the slot. 

Those five players all had 227 minutes of power-play time last year or more. Ovechkin had 17 goals which is about standard for the best ever. Kuznetsov came next with eight goals and 13 assists. Backstrom had four goals, but 17 assists. Carlson had two goals and 27 assists. 

Oshie missed 13 games so his numbers are a little down, but in the games he did play he still hit six goals and eight assists. Tom Wilson was Oshie’s primary replacement in that bumper position and he had three goals. 

Not too bad for Blaine Forsythe’s group. He’s the assistant coach who has run the power play the past five years. You can’t argue with the track record. Unfortunately, the expectations for Washington’s power play are massive given that talent level and it’s fair to say it fell short at 12thoverall in the NHL at 20.8 percent.

Again, 49-for-236 isn’t bad. It’s just the talent level says it should be better. The Capitals were seventh in 2017-18 (22.5 percent), fourth in 2016-17 (23.1 percent), fifth in 2015-16 (21.9 percent), first in 2014-15 (25.3 percent), tied for first in 2013-14 (23.4 percent) and first again in 2012-13 (26.8 percent). The last time Washington finished outside the top 10 on the power play was in 2011-12 when it cratered to 18th (16.7 percent). 

There are a few issues that could be tweaked. The Capitals managed just 236 power-play chances. That tied for 16thin the league. To even break into the top 10 in that category they’d need 16 more penalties drawn. 

Only three times after Oct. 22 did they score two power-play goals in the same game and never more than that. How does that even happen? They had two or more power-play goals four times in the first eight games alone, including four on opening night. After that? It was one and done, 

Kuznetsov is one of the best in the game at getting the puck into the offensive zone. Fans loathe it, but the drop pass – or “the slingshot” – has become an effective way, when used properly, to get the puck into the offensive zone on the power play. It just didn’t seem to work all that well for Washington last year. 

One wonders if Forsythe will make some tweaks there. Kuznetsov was often the player on the receiving end of the drop passes, which can keep the penalty kill off balance, but can also waste precious seconds when it doesn’t work. Then you have to regroup and try again. 

It’s not going away, though – even for those who want to slingshot the drop pass to the moon. It’s used all over the league. Some teams like to use two players as options when coming up ice using the slingshot. That’s easier to defend in some ways, but it also gives your team a certain level of unpredictability. 

Maybe teams have just become better at defending the Capitals on the PK simply because they have had the same personnel and coaching for years now. Opposing coaching staffs have hours of video on this group to break down and analyze. 

But there’s no reason to change too much. That Ovechkin one-timer is the ultimate weapon and you don’t want to stifle the creativity of players like Backstrom or Kuznetsov.

Maybe quicker unit changes would help keep players fresh. Ovechkin is almost always going to be out there for the full two minutes and it would be silly to take that shot off the ice. But developing a more reliable second group might help, too. 

Last year’s “second” unit by ice time was Lars Eller, Jakub Vrana, Wilson, Brett Connolly and Dmitry Orlov/Matt Niskanen. Connolly is gone via free agency. Niskanen is gone via trade. One wonders why Andre Burakovsky was hardly used (18:25), but he’s gone, too, in a trade. 

Will be interesting to see if Forsythe can come up with a more reliable second group centered around Ovechkin, Eller and Vrana, who deserves more power-play time even if he’s buried on this roster, and Wilson as the big body in the middle. Richard Panik was fifth on the Arizona Coyotes in power-play minutes last season (146:16) so maybe he has a role there. 

The very best Washington power plays in recent years had secondary players like Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams around before the salary cap cleaved that depth. The Capitals were still a very good power play in 2018-19, but they could use more of that. These are minor changes that could get them back toward the very top of the league and helps take pressure off its 5-on-5 play.