Their blistered hands told only half the story of what the Capitals did on Wednesday when they took to the Potomac River for their first team-building exercise of the 2015-16 season, which begins on Saturday night at Verizon Center against the New Jersey Devils (7 p.m., CSN).
Players were broken into three groups – Team USA, Team Canada and Team World – for their own form of International Rowing Championships.
Team Canada cruised to a boat-length victory over Team USA, with the Alex Ovechkin-led Team World far behind.
But, as you might expect, there were some post-race disputes.
“I got traded,” said Justin Williams, a proud native of Cobourg, Ontario. “Team USA didn’t have enough players. I have a green card so they anointed me the traitor. Listen, I wasn’t happy about it, so I sabotaged the USA boat so they finished second.”
Each of the three boats was given a local coxswain with rowing experience but Canadian Brooks Laich said it was tough to give direction to hockey players who don’t know the difference between a bow and a stern.
“Rowing is a pretty intricate sport and it requires teamwork,” said Laich, a native of Wawota, Saskatchewan. “If you’re not in synch you will completely struggle.
“I’ll give props to the Americans, they were a formidable opponent. Let’s just say we had one opponent we were worried about and it wasn’t Team World. We never even looked to our left.”
Andre Burakovsky, who was born in Austria and raised in Sweden, said rowing simply “is not our thing.”
“I think U.S. and Canada did this before,” he said, also sporting blistered hands. “We had trouble keeping the boat straight. We had good rowers on the left and bad ones on the right. I don’t think any of us was really good.”
Team building is nothing new to Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who last season took his players to the Marine Corps’ Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington and then to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, before the start of the season.
Williams, a 15-year veteran, said he’s been part of every team building exercise imaginable, from bowling and curling to rope courses and shooting shotguns.
“If you want to be a tight-knit family you’ve got to work hard for the guys you care about,” Williams said.
As for sabotaging the Americans, Laich said Williams will be compensated.
“We submitted an application,” he said, “and his medal is coming in the mail.”
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