It was at the end of a long day of meetings and on-ice drills, but the energy level inside Kettler Capitals Iceplex had reached a crescendo.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz had divided the rink into thirds for a 3-on-3 tournament among the Capitals’ 34 prospects and the championship game had ended in a scoreless tie through regulation. Watching from his perch above the ice, Trotz ordered the game to continue until someone scored.
One overtime spilled into the next and players’ legs grew weary. Shots sailed wide and fans began wondering when an outcome might be decided. That’s when Zach Sanford weaved around two players and snapped a shot off the post and in.
While the Team Red celebrated like school children, the Caps’ coaching staff nodded in approval.
“Zach Sanford, I’m impressed with him and his development from last year to this year,” Trotz said at the conclusion of last week’s development camp.
“I guess the one guy, Sanford, I was impressed by during the drills,” Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said. “I like what he’s done.”
The Capitals’ 2013 NHL draft yielded forward Andre Burakovsky (23rd overall) and defensemen Madison Bowey (53rd overall) and Tyler Lewington (204th overall), each of whom is expected to play full-time in the NHL or AHL next season.
But the Capitals also felt strongly enough about Sanford to cobble their 84th, 114th and 127th selections and trade them to the Winnipeg Jets for the chance to take Sanford 61st overall.
Since then Sanford has put seven pounds of muscle (from 190 pounds to 197) onto his imposing 6-foot-3 frame and after three development camps with the Capitals, his skill level is starting to show through.
“I think coming in this year I was a lot more confident that I could get better and pay a little more attention to what’s going to around me,” Sanford said.
“He’s got a lot going for him,” Caps assistant coach Todd Reirden said. “Strong, big body, great hands.”
Sanford, 20, plans on returning to Boston College for a second season with the Eagles. As a freshman last season he played in all 38 games for BC, managing seven goals and 17 assists for 24 points and a plus-10 rating.
“The coaches are great, the school is great,” said Sanford, who is from Auburn, N.H., and played high school hockey at nearby PinkertonAcademy. “The one big thing is it’s helped me mature a lot. Staying home and going to high school (then) staying away from home and having to do a lot more for myself, it helped me with managing my time better. It’s helped me mature a lot.”
Sanford said Boston College has given him the academic assistance to handle the responsibilities of class work and a busy practice and travel schedule. Reirden said collegiate players often come to development camps a little stronger than their junior hockey counterparts because they spend more time in the gym and less time playing games. Generally speaking, U.S. college players can play half the number of games as junior league players.
Sanford said he noticed a difference in this year’s scrimmages.
“I’m a lot bigger and stronger,” he said. “More mature. My hockey IQ has gone up a lot the past few years and I think that makes a big difference.”
Sanford said he’s also seen more involvement from Capitals fans in each of the three development camps he’s attended. Saturday’s Fan Fest scrimmage drew more than 2,500 fans and MacLellan said he would consider moving it to a bigger venue, maybe even the 10,500-seat GiantCenter in Hershey.
“It was great,” Sanford said. “This year was the best year out of the last three I’ve been here. There’s always people around asking for pictures and autographs. That makes it a lot more fun than just playing in front of empty stands.”