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Ovechkin brings smiles to special needs program

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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.

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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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Despite re-aggravating injury at Worlds, Lars Eller healthy heading to training camp

Despite re-aggravating injury at Worlds, Lars Eller healthy heading to training camp

ARLINGTON, Va. — A lower-body injury limited Lars Eller in the playoffs and cut his World Championship short after just three games, but it is not going to limit him heading into training camp.

“I’m over that,” Eller told NBC Sports Washington. “Taken good care of that and it’s not an issue right now.”

Eller was at MedStar Captials Iceplex on Thursday taking part in an informal skate with several teammates who have begun to trickle back to Washington as the start of training camp approaches. Eller took part in all drills, the scrimmage and the conditioning skate seemingly without issue.

The lower-body injury was not enough to keep him out of the playoffs last season, but he did take several maintenance days.

“I've been battling something,” Eller said in April at the team’s breakdown day. “Something that's been bugging me. A little bit of rest these next couple of weeks. Just have to take care of it. It doesn't require surgery, it's nothing serious, just with some rest over time, it will be fine, I believe.”

Despite the need for rest, Eller elected to play for Denmark in the IIHF World Championship soon after.

“Giving it some time, I felt I was healthy enough to go and play,” Eller siad. “I still kind of wanted to play and help my country and after some time, I felt good enough to say, OK, I'm going to do this.”

Initially, Eller did not appear limited at all with four points in his first game. By the third game, however, he was forced to withdraw from the tournament.

Despite a report from Denmark claiming Eller had an agreement in place to play in only three games, he said the decision was made to leave the tournament after he re-aggravated the injury.

“Reaggravated it and we just shut it down after those three games and really took time to properly rehab and build my program around that for the first many weeks and get treatment, try to make sure it doesn't come back to bite me,” Eller said.

Leaving Worlds has given Eller plenty of time to heal which is good because he will face a new challenge this year.

Gone are Brett Connolly who was a mainstay on Eller’s line which means Eller will have to get used to some different linemates in the upcoming season.

“It's going to be different,” Eller said. “Both [Connolly and Andre Burakovsky are] two guys I probably spent the most time here with the last three years. We had some really good success all three of us at times. That's going to be a new challenge. I have a good feeling about the guys I'm likely going to play with. It's just a new challenge, but I feel good about it.”

The first step to adjusting to a new line? Getting healthy. A lengthy summer seems to have helped with that.

Though unfortunate, the early playoff exit gave Washington a long offseason in which players like Eller could focus on rest and rehab. That is time Eller tried to take advantage of before the grind of another season and what he hopes will be another long postseason run.

“A little longer than last year,” he said of the summer. “All the time I needed to get away and also get the body right for the season.”

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Caps Goal of the Year Bracket: Dowd's Alley-Oop to Hagelin vs Connolly Curl-and-Drag

Caps Goal of the Year Bracket: Dowd's Alley-Oop to Hagelin vs Connolly Curl-and-Drag

With less than a month before training camp opens in mid-September, we are taking one last look back at the 2018-19 season as we dive into the best goals of last year. We compiled our bracket based on the cumulative rankings of our Capitals team, from reporters to producers and everyone in between, and now is your turn to help us determine the best Capitals goal of 2018-19. Below is a Slack conversation between the members of our Capitals content team.

jmurph: Day 4 of our bracket brings us two goals from the third line. Our 4 seed is Nic Dowd's long-distance backhand flip to spring Carl Hagelin for a breakaway up against our 13-seeded Brett Connolly curl-and-drag past the Senators. Where do we start today?

JJ Regan: This is a tough one. I love a good curl and drag, but the pass is a beauty. A good pass to launch a breakaway is tough, but to do it with an alley-oop backhand? That's pretty sweet.

jmurph: Spoiler alert, this is not the only Dowd backhand sauce flip in our bracket but this one was the more impressive one I think

It may be that I have a soft spot for Brett Connolly, but I love the curl and drag. A confident Connolly was one of my favorite things to watch about the Caps

Ryan Billie: No brainer for me (which is good). I've been in love with that Dowd pass since that game... was a thing of beauty.

Rob Carlin: This is like a 5-12 or 7-10 matchup. I’d say Hags is the favorite. But it’s hard to say who will win. That Conno curl & drag was a beauty

bmcnally: If this was just Dowd casually flipping a puck up ice and letting one of the fastest players in the league skate onto it I'd be a little less impressed. Instead I'm sitting here laughing at the skill level of this whole play. You can see him look up and ID what's happening and basically puts it tape-to-tape on a backhand.

jmurph: A backhand that he lifted over 4 players mind you

Ryan Billie: Nope... nope... nope... that pass from Dowd. This is a 5-12 matchup that turns out to be a dog game because the Dowd pass WAS SICK.

bmcnally: And it's a great finish by Hagelin, too, at full speed.

JJ Regan: It's a Hail Mary that hits the receiver in stride.

Rob Carlin: I agree. The pass was insane. And they got Hags for plays just like this one. But close your eyes and imagine that curl & drag was —— Ovi. We’d be showing that on a loop in our brains.

mvioli: Connolly’s curl and drag was pretty, great patience. But how often do you see a successful alley-oop in hockey? Dowd to Hags has to win.

jmurph: We're gonna see it again in a few days!

JJ Regan: I think that's what does it for me. Curl and drags are awesome, but we see those. These passes? You just don't see them all that often.

Rob Carlin: I agree the Dowd play was sick. Might win the whole thing (if the other Dowd sauce doesn’t win). I’m just saying the Conno goal got a tough draw. It would win most matchups

Ryan Billie: I really like the curl and drag. But the Hags goal also was a game winner... does that carry any extra weight?

jmurph: Context? C'mon Billie

bmcnally: Yeah definitely don't want to undersell Connolly here. That's an amazing use of the curl and drag and a snipe to finish. I just can't get over that Nic Dowd is apparently just GOOD at these kind of passes and not lucky.

mvioli: Exactly. I agree with Rob that Conno got a tough draw here, but that Dowd pass was just too good.

Rob Carlin: As someone who is clearly carrying extra weight myself, I agree the game winning aspect plays into this! Big play in a big moment.

So we all agree.....

Ryan Billie: ^^^

Rob Carlin: Dowd

jmurph: It's summer weight, it doesn't count

Ryan Billie: DOWWWWWD

mvioli: Definitely Dowd

JJ Regan: Dowd.

bmcnally: Dowd

jmurph: Sorry Conno, but it's Dowd

Rob Carlin: But good luck in Florida!

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