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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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Key Caps questions: How will Samsonov look in his first season in North America?

Scout Pruski

Key Caps questions: How will Samsonov look in his first season in North America?

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

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses 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 Ilya Samsonov play in his first season in North America?

What else is there to say about Samsonov's time in the KHL? In the limited action he saw playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, he looked every bit the starting goalie the Caps hoped he would one day be when they drafted him in the first round of the 2015 draft. Now, finally, he is ready to start his North America career.

What makes the transition from Europe to North America difficult?

First, Samsonov is adjusting to a new country and a new language. Second, the workload in North America is much larger, even in practice.

"He probably saw more shots today than he saw in a month of practice in Russia and this was nothing," director of player development Steve Richmond said during development camp. "For me, that's the biggest thing for him is to learn how to practice in North America."

And then there's the rink size. The game is faster for goalies in North America because of the smaller rink. Scoring chances develop much more quickly and Samsonov will also be dealing with different angles. It also means dealing with a lot more traffic in front of the net. He is going to have to learn more how to track the puck through a screen and to react much more quickly.

I tried to watch Samsonov closely in development camp. His size definitely stood out. He takes up a lot of the net, but is still very athletic and very quick in and out of the butterfly. As big as he is, however, he seems to play very low to compensate for his size which leaves him vulnerable up high at times. He would make a handful of very good saves, then let in a soft one glove side or in the corners because he was playing too low.

Those areas of his game can be improved on with practice so long as you have the skill and Samsonov certainly has that.

Samsonov has been elite at every level he has played and there is no reason to think that won't continue in the AHL. Having said that, there is just too much he needs to adjust to expect him to be ready for the NHL at this point. He needs as much playing time as possible at the AHL level before he is ready. As long as that's where he spends the season, I expect him to put up similar numbers to the 2.31 GAA, .926 save percentage he managed last season in the KHL.

Other key Caps questions:

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Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

There are no signs of Alex Ovechkin slowing down heading into his first season after winning a Stanley Cup. Bovada just released their latest odds for the Hart Memorial Trophy (the NHL’s Most Valuable Player Award) and Ovechkin was tied with the third-best odds to win in all of the NHL at 10/1.

He was joined by two other Washington Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov both at 50/1 odds. 

Here are all the odds for the top 11 players:

Connor McDavid          10/3
Sidney Crosby              13/2
Auston Matthews        10/1
Alex Ovechkin               10/1
Jon Tavares                   10/1
Taylor Hall                     15/1
Nikita Kucherov            15/1
Nathan MacKinnon      15/1
Mark Scheifele              15/1
Anze Kopitar                  18/1
Evgeni Malkin                18/1

The only two players ahead of ‘The Great 8’ are the 21-year-old McDavid and dreaded rival Crosby.

Even with the immense amount of alcohol that has been consumed in the past two months, Ovechkin is still commanding respect in Vegas. It is hard not to when he turns around these intense offseason workouts. At 32, Ovechkin led the NHL in scoring with 49 goals a year ago, the seventh such time he has done so. 

Already the 2018 Conn Smythe winner has three MVP trophies to his name (one more than Crosby) and there is no telling what to expect now that the 11-time All-Star has a Stanley Cup title. 

In his 11 years in the league, Backstrom has never received any votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy. Kuznetsov only has done so once and that was in the 2015-16 season.