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Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky recreate 'Step Brothers' for team photo

Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky recreate 'Step Brothers' for team photo

Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky are very close friends.

The two Capitals forwards have an unlikely bond that transcends language.

On Monday, the friendship between the 35-year-old NHL veteran and 22-year-old Austrian dynamo was on display at Capitals team picture day at Kettler Ice Plex.

Team picture day is a special one for Justin Williams. After all, its' where the man formerly known as "Mr. Game 7" became an internet sensation thanks to what we can only describe as the best "bed head" in the history of modern photography.

While Williams' hair wasn't nearly as unkempt as in seasons' past, Burakovsky joined him in on the fun with double the bed head for a photo straight from the "Step Brothers" movie poster.

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The conversation that convinced Todd Reirden his hockey future was behind the bench

The conversation that convinced Todd Reirden his hockey future was behind the bench

In the fall of 2004, Todd Reirden had a conversation that would change the course of his hockey career.

Reirden’s first season with the Houston Aeros of the AHL was not going the way he had hoped. A three-inch tear in his oblique meant that not only could he not play, but he could not practice or skate. He could not do much in the way of physical activity for the next six weeks other than let the injury heal.

That’s when Houston head coach Todd McLellan called Reirden into his office.

“There was a couple different conversations where we talked about leadership and the role that I was going to have on the team and where he was going to put me in the locker room and how he was going to utilize me as an extension of the coaching staff and that's what good leaders and captains or assistant captains of the team do,” Reirden said. “At the time, I really hadn't connected the dots on where he was going with it.”

This conversation, however, was different.

McLellan asked Reirden to look at video and help out the coaching staff develop the players. What had only previously been hinted at was suddenly coming into focus for Reirden. He, a player, was being asked to take on more of a coaching role with the team.

“He was still a player,” McLellan said. “We’re probably pushing him out of a player position and into a coaching spot.”

“I guess at that point I probably should have stopped playing hockey,” Reirden said. “Once a coach tells you that, it’s maybe a good time to start thinking about being a coach.”

Things had not come easy for Reirden over the course of his playing career. For every star NHL player like an Alex Ovechkin or a Nicklas Backstrom, there are several more player like Reirden who have to claw their way from the bottom all the way up just for a chance to reach the NHL. Once they get there, their career at the highest level is brief and over before most players may realize it.

Reirden climbed the ladder playing in the ECHL, AHL and IHL all before he finally got an opportunity to play in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers. Reirden career saw him play for Edmonton, St. Louis, Atlanta and finally Phoenix.

The 2004-05 lockout came at the wrong time for Reirden who was at the tail-end of his NHL career, though he had not yet realized it. After playing in only seven games for the Phoenix Coyotes the year before, a 33-year-old Reirden signed with the Minnesota Wild and was sent to the AHL during the lockout.

While Reirden was hoping to make it back to the NHL, McLellan had planned for Reirden to stay and had pushed the organization to sign him.

“A lot of the American League teams, International League teams didn't want to have players like myself there because all they were doing was blocking development of young players,” Reirden said. ‘[McLellan] felt the value of having someone like myself around to be able to just serve as a role model in terms of character in terms of how hard I worked on the ice, off the ice.”

But it went beyond just being a role model or an on-ice leader.

Once Reirden joined the team, McLellan saw the way Reirden understood the game and the way he communicated with other players. He saw coaching potential in Reirden and decided that his true value was not on the blue line as a defenseman, but as an extension of the coaching staff.

“There are some great instinctive players that are hall of famers that might not be real good coaches because they might not be able to get their point across or have the necessary explanation technique,” McLellan said, “Where there’s some others -- and often they’re grinders that have to rely on hockey IQ and the ability to share thoughts and ideas and poke and prod -- that end up being good coaches.”

At first, Reirden helped with video. The team did not have a video coach so Reirden would help cut video and watch with the team and players. Reirden focused primarily on helping the younger players.

“You could tell he loved the game,” said former teammate, Matt Foy, who was 21 years old during his season with Reirden. “He was a leader, but he had fun with it. He was an easy guy to talk to, very easy player to talk to. Loved yapping guys, telling them different stories and stuff. He was almost like a big brother at that time to me.”

“He wasn't one of those hard veterans who would lean on you and expect you to do something that you're not capable of doing. He was really, really supportive and a friend.”

After a while, Reirden’s role on the team began to grow.

“Eventually [McLellan] started bouncing things off me,” Reirden said. “I think he also learned and grew a little bit himself because he would ask me things. What do you think I should say to the players today? How did that come across, that meeting? That's how it started with him was simple questions like that where he was getting a pulse of the room through me and trusted that what he said stayed between he and I.

“I started then to read off of him and when I saw something that maybe he didn't ask me about, I would come to him and say I think this would have been the time where you could be a little firmer on the team. Right now, the guys are uptight a little bit, maybe if you could interject something different, a different sort of meeting today that would come at things from a different angle. He took what I said to heart and it was, I think, a really good working relationship between an older veteran player and a young, up-and-coming coach.”

But eventually, injuries heal and Reirden was back on the ice. Suddenly the extension of the coaching staff had to suit up with his teammates again. Eventually, Reirden had to go back into the locker room, a sacred place among hockey teams where what is said among teammates stays among teammates and he still had to be accepted as a member of the team.

“It was something where I wanted to help [my teammates],” Reirden said, “But I also wanted to still be a player so to be able to combine that player-coach type of role, not that I was every listed as that by any means, but I think that's how some of my teammates felt about me so I wanted them to still have trust that we could still talk about things that they knew weren't going to necessarily get back to the head coach but they could still open up to me. So it was a fine line I think that I had to go through there.”

“He was more of a player than he was a coach in my eyes,” Foy said. “It's not like I'd watch what I'd say around Todd because he'd go rat me out to the coach. He was a friend. I don't think any of us looked on him as like oh, we've got to watch what we say. He was more of our teammate.”

Reirden helped the Aeros improve by 12 wins and 18 points in the 2004-05 season. The season ended in disappointment as Houston was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, but more importantly for Reirden, it completely changed the trajectory of his career. Though he could not bring himself to quit playing just yet, he knew his future in hockey was behind the bench.

“Once I got over the fact of when someone's telling you that you're not maybe as good a player as you may have thought you were at that time,” Reirden said, “It was actually a great transition into helping me understand the next phase of my life and how I could use this game that's been amazing to myself and my family and allowed us so many amazing experiences and opportunities to how I could possibly continue working in the game of hockey.”

Reirden got his first official coaching job in 2007 when he was hired as an assistant coach at his alma mater Bowling Green State University. Just as he did as a player, Reirden climbed the ranks to the NHL. He started as an assistant in college, became an assistant in the AHL for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and took over as head coach when Dan Bylsma was promoted to be the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009. In 2010, Bylsma added Reirden to his staff in the NHL and was hired by the Caps in 2014 where he helped lead the team to its first Stanley Cup in 2018 and is now the head coach.

“He understood the time that it was going to take daily, monthly, yearly to climb the ladder and he was willing to stick it out,” McLellan said. “There’s not many former players that are willing to do that. Give him credit.”

As a coach, Reirden is known for his ability to communicate with players and help each one with a specific, individual development plan. He credits the lessons he learned in Houston for getting him this far and specifically, one conversation in particular for starting his coaching career.

“Every day is a chance for me to grow and get better and get used to responsibilities as a head coach,” Reirden said. “So it's been a lot of fun and definitely a challenge, but something I love and wouldn't trade places with anybody in the world for.”

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Capitals mailbag: Is it time for T.J. Oshie to worry about his future?

Capitals mailbag: Is it time for T.J. Oshie to worry about his future?

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the Dec. 12 edition below.

Have a Caps question you want answered for next week’s mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com

Please note some questions have been edited for clarity.

Edie R writes: Knowing that T.J. Oshie has a family history of Alzheimer’s and so is already predisposed to getting the disease himself, how can he continue to put himself in a situation where he can be concussed? While I love watching him play, I find myself holding my breath a bit every time he’s on the ice, waiting for him to get hurt again and knowing what it could mean for his future and that of his family.

Oshie was asked Monday if he was concerned over the long-term effects concussions can have after suffering his fifth.

This is what he said, “Not really. I don't know. I feel like when I go out there, if I get concerned about what's going to happen to me, I'm not going to play at the top of my game. Doesn't really concern me. I just kind of roll with the punches every day and if it does, it does. Hopefully, it doesn't.”

I can’t speak for Oshie or how concerned he may or may not be or if his father having Alzheimer’s makes him more worried about the long-term effects of repeated brain trauma. What I can say is that every professional athlete in every sport is conscious of the fact that they are putting themselves at risk. For most, they accept that risk. We live in a transitional time in that we are learning more about concussions and their effects so perhaps they are not something players like Oshie considered when they first started playing, but he knows better than most what it’s like to suffer a concussion and I am sure he is well aware of what the long-term effects can be. He, for now, has decided to accept those risks to continue playing hockey. That’s his choice to make and it is one I am sure he has not taken lightly.

Nathan S writes: Do players get evaluated by independent neurologists after concussions? Getting fully recovered from concussions is estimated by some experts to take three months yet it seems players like Oshie and Wilson are rushing to get back and help the team (laudable but maybe dangerous) following their concussions.

There is no requirement by the NHL that players get evaluated by neurologists after suffering a concussion. I looked at the Caps’ medical staff directory and they list two athletic trainers, a massage therapist a head team physician, an orthopedic surgeon, two internists, two emergency physicians, an ophthalmologist and a dentist.

No neurologist.

That does not mean the players don’t see one or consult one. That does not mean the team doctors don’t consult one. That does not mean the players rush back without proper medical care when it comes to brain injuries. It simply means they are not required to see a neurologist. To be honest, I don’t know what sort of treatment the players get when it comes to brain injuries and good luck getting anyone in the sport of hockey which groups everything as either “upper body injury” or “lower body injury” to give you any specifics when it comes medical treatment.

I wouldn’t get too married to a specific timeline when it comes to concussions. We are still learning a lot about concussions and many doctors will tell you there is no set timeline for how long it takes to recover and it varies by person and by how many concussions someone has suffered in the past. I don’t think we will ever get to a point where we will say, “Player X suffered a concussion so he will be out three months” the same way we can put specific timelines on broken bones or torn muscles. It’s just not that black and white.

I am all in on Vrana. I love his skill, I love his work ethic. He is always among the last players to leave the ice every practice. He is constantly working to improve his game and it shows in his play. He needs to cut down on the turnovers a bit. In the past, his mistakes have affected his ice time, but now it seems that he has built up some trust with the coaches and his ice time has shot up over two minutes per game as compared to last season.

What will help his point totals is how many assists he also tends to produce. When I looked up his stats to answer this question, I was surprised at just how even the goals and assists totals were. In his first season he had three goals and three assists, 13 and 14 in his second and now sits at nine and nine. Considering how much of a sniper he is, you don’t really think of him as a player who piles up the assists, but clearly he is as good setting up his teammates as he is scoring.

I see Vrana as a Viktor Arvidsson type of player, someone who is a great compliment to a top-six, but not a dominating star a team can build around. I see him as a 25-30 goal scorer who should regularly hover around the 60-point mark.

As for your second question, let’s start with the defense. For those who read the weekly prospect report, you’ll know I follow the prospects pretty closely. Because of that, I am not surprised at all about Bowey. He was tremendous in juniors and great in Hershey. His NHL debut last season left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths, but it is unfair to judge him by that. Bowey was recalled due to an injury to Matt Niskanen, was put into the lineup immediately in his first day in the NHL as the Caps were on the second game of a back-to-back and were on the road in Philadelphia for the Flyers’ home-opener. There was a lot working against Bowey in that game.
Bowey is a solid two-way defenseman who has really turned the corner this season defensively and who has hit a Dmitrij Jaskin level of bad luck when it comes to offense. The goals are coming.

Siegenthaler has been as advertised. He is an Orpik type of physical, defensive player, but much more mobile and someone the Caps thought enough of to trade up in the draft to get. He has been exactly The surprise to me has been how well both players have played together. I thought the third defensive pair would be a clear weakness for the Caps all season with Bowey, Siegenthaler, Orpik, and Djoos all rotating in. That has not been the case thus far.

I have been a bit surprised by Travis Boyd. On a team with as much offensive talent as the Caps boast, the fact that he has been able to stand out is impressive, especially with the limited time the fourth line gets and especially given all the bad luck he has had this year and last with poorly timed injuries and illnesses. The fact that he has been able to step in rather seamlessly and be productive is a good sign for him. Washington seems to have something going on the fourth line with Boyd, Nic Dowd, and Jaskin.

It’s getting pretty tough to evaluate how anyone in Hershey is playing given how much the Bears as a team are struggling. Plus, you also have to factor in that half the time he is playing in front of a goalie who is making the jump from Europe to North America and there are growing pains that come with that.

It is not a surprise to see Siegenthaler get some time this season given how good he looked in training camp and the preseason. Johansen did not leave the same kind of impression. He wasn’t bad, but when competing against a bunch of juniors and AHL players, he did not look like a player ready for the next level just yet.

What also hurts Johansen is the Caps’ depth. Washington has seven defensemen on the roster now, plus Orpik who is making his way back from injury. That’s eight guys ahead of him right now. He needs to just focus on his game in Hershey and try to make an impression next year in camp. Heading into this season, it never occurred to me that Siegenthaler would be a guy who stuck around. Obviously, injuries have helped with that, but the reason he is on the roster now is how he played in camp.

Thanks for all your questions!

If you have a question you want to be read and answered in next week’s mailbag, send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

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