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Ovechkin brings smiles to special needs program


Ovechkin brings smiles to special needs program

On his bedroom wall in Glen Arm, Md., 9-year-old Cole Matulonis has a life-size Fathead of Capitals star Alex Ovechkin. When he plays hockey on video games, he is Ovechkin. Always.

So you can imagine the excitement of Matulonis, who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of 3, when Ovechkin stepped onto the ice Monday at Kettler to skate with members of the American Special Hockey Association (ASHA).

“He winked at me and gave me a high five,” Cole said. “I think he’s just amazing. I always wanted to meet him. He’s really nice and really funny. He was smiling a lot. I never thought I would see him in real life and be this close to him.”

“Ovechkin is Cole’s idol,” said his father, Don Matulonis, a mentor with the Baltimore Saints special needs hockey program that skates out of Reistertown (Md.) Sportsplex. “He loves him. He’s all he talks about. In his mind he’s going to be playing on a line with Ovechkin eventually with the Caps. So this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for him. It’s amazing.”

Working with special needs children is nothing new for Ovechkin.


On Saturday night, before the Capitals’ season opener against the Devils, Ovechkin was escorted onto the red carpet by Ann Schaab, an 11-year-old Caps fan with Down syndrome who asked Ovechkin on a date when they were on the ice for a similar event last season. Ovechkin granted Ann’s request by inviting her to dinner and a Caps game last season.

Ann Schaab was back on the ice on Monday as Ovechkin skated with more than 60 special needs players, then presented ASHA with a $29,646.81 check from Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation.

While that money will go a long way in purchasing equipment for special needs players, Capitals coach Barry Trotz said the time Ovechkin gave on Monday will go a lot further to the parents and children who took part in the event.

“I think that’s great,” said Trotz, whose 14-year-old son, Nolan, was born with Down syndrome. “I’m in that fight, if you will. I live that every day. He sees the beauty in kids with special needs. A lot of them don’t have a mean bone in their bodies. They just want to be loved and accepted and I think Ovi recognizes that and he gets a kick out of it. He still has a lot of joy in his game and he’s a big kid inside.”

Trotz and his wife, Kim, have three older children in addition to Nolan and Trotz said he appreciates the challenges parents face with raising special needs children.

“I’m gifted to have a wife that puts in a lot of those hours, because I could not put those hours in,” Trotz said. “You need a special person to do that. If you have more than one or two kids, that special needs child puts a lot of demands on the focus of that child.

“It’s hard for parents because your life changes totally. Your focus on what’s important in raising a child is a lot different. Some kids go to school, they come back, they go to sports, they dress themselves at a certain age. And some don’t. You’re doing that for them until they’re older and maybe all their life. That’s the hard part.

“Personally, when you get an event that Ovi is putting on, when kids get a chance to be out on the ice with their peers and having fun and have a big smile on their face, as a parent that brings a lot of warmth to the heart. So what Ovi’s doing is absolutely fantastic.”

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

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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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John Carlson will make his preseason debut Tuesday, but Devante Smith-Pelly will not


John Carlson will make his preseason debut Tuesday, but Devante Smith-Pelly will not

A lower-body injury kept defenseman John Carlson out of the first few days of training camp and has thus far kept him out of preseason action. On Tuesday, however, as the Capitals head to St. Louis to take on the Blues, Carlson will be in the lineup for his preseason debut.

Carlson was held out of Friday’s game as a precaution, but head coach Todd Reirden said he was “really close” at that point to returning. He will play with his normal partner Michal Kempny.

Carlson enters the season on a new eight-year contract that he signed in the offseason. This is a big year for him to prove to the team that his career year in 2017-18 (15 goals, 53 assists, 68 points, all career highs) was a reflection of his true value and not simply the result of a motivated player playing for his next contract.

While Carlson is set to make his debut, forward Devante Smith-Pelly still will be held from the lineup.

Tuesday’s game will be Washington’s fifth preseason game out of seven and Smith-Pelly has yet to play in any of them.

Reirden would not go into specifics as to why Smith-Pelly is not in the lineup. When asked Friday, Smith-Pelly called it a “coach’s decision” and said he was not dealing with any injury.

Reirden had no real update to offer on Monday regarding the winger’s status.

“It’s something that we’re going to continue to monitor every day and get him close to playing,” Reirden said.

While no one is expected to play every preseason game, Smith-Pelly is rapidly running out of time to get any playing time in before the start of the regular season. If he is not ready to play yet in the preseason, it is fair to wonder just how far away he may be from suiting up when the games actually start to matter.

Missing Tuesday’s game means there are only two chances left to get Smith-Pelly into the lineup with games on Friday and Sunday.

When asked how many games Smith-Pelly would need to prepare for the season, Reirden said, “Ideally, I'd like to have him ready for as many as possible. As soon as he's ready to play, he'll play.”