Beating New York Not a Job For a Rookie, But For Two

By now, you may have heard of Evgeny Kuznetsov. You may have heard of the White House and penicillin, as well. His heroics in Games 5 and 7 have positioned him as primed to transition from future starlet to full-fledged Gloria Gaynor before our very eyes.

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Kuz, the early years [via @Hockeyesque]

 He of many nicknames (“Kuzy” in Washington, “Kuzya” in his native Russia, “Yes, Headmaster” in my fan fiction), Kuznetsov was for years spoken of in whispers and legends: the Capitals’ most talented prospect since Ovechkin, since the One, also from the veiled fatherland, who waited for years to finally come to America and show himself. Though plenty successful in the KHL, Kuznetsov is now, in the NHL playoffs, blossoming under pressure, like a rose in a rice cooker.

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Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

But there are two rookies who will need to come out to play if the Capitals are to beat the Rangers: the other is 20-year old Andre Burakovsky, the Swedish winger. Continue reading

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Caps Game 6 Defense Due to Dummies, Not Doom

Caps Isles G6 2015Just in time for gay sev of the first round of playoffs, the PuckBuddys welcome back Jason Rogers: writer, world traveler, Sperm Whale and “Hockey’s Hemingway.” No really, that what it says at his Twitter page, which you should totally go and follow right now. 

While we couldn’t bring ourselves to revisiting Saturday’s game, we’re lucky Jason did. And now that we’ve got him doing Caps playoffs post-season analysis, we damn well better win this thing Monday night. Take it away, Jason!

The Capitals are not giving up goals because of any deficiency in their defensive scheme. They just have one bad habit: they suck, catastrophically, once or twice a game.

Disregarding the empty-netter potted at the end of the game, the New York Islanders scored two actual, contested, “how’s-your-mother” goals in Game 6.

The first, as scored by John Tavares and as noticed by Russian Machine, Japers’ Rink, Greg Wyshynski and Stevie Wonder, was the direct result of Brooks Orpik making a doo-doo-headed dummy play and trying to hulk smash the forward entering the zone.

Instead, he missed, removed himself from the play like John Wilkes Booth, and left defenseman John Carlson alone on an island like a exclusive resort. Continue reading

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Diplomatic Dispatches: The Beauty and Power of Swedish Hockey

NHL: APR 19 Round 1 - Game 3 - Capitals at Islanders

We, the hockey faithful, clearly are living in the Era of Ovechkin. Years from now, young fans will ask in awe whether you saw ‘The Great Eight’ play…much as I recall asking about ‘Mr. Hockey’ – the incomparable Gordie Howe. Both of them bold, brash…the hero who lifts his team to new heights.

But no team soars just by one star. Thus we in DC are privileged to also be witness to the Age of Backstrom – one Lars Nicklas Bäckström to be exact.

If you ever needed convincing of this, our current play-off series with the New York Islanders makes the case abundantly. In the dot, he’s quiet brilliance. During the PP, he’s the effortless conductor and composer of play. If there’s sustained fore-check and scoring possibilities, he does what’s needed to see the team gets it done.

And when you are just about to collapse waiting for that last-minute goal that keeps you in the game, or sets you over the top, quietly, like a Nordic snowfall, 19 will make it happen.

nicklasbackstromNick Backstrom, in his nine years with the Caps, has entered into the already crowded Swedish Hockey Hall of Heroes – standing, though often in the shadows, of legends as Henrik Lundqvist, Peter Forsberg, Henrik Zetterberg, the Zedin twins, and Niklas Kronwall, to name only a few. Just this year we saw him, without much comment, become the Capitals’ franchise leader in assists – 60 so far this season.

As Ovi exemplifies the best of Russian hockey, so does Nicky 19 show off the very best of what we might call the Swedish Style of Hockey. Elegant, speedy, cerebral, and always ready to help his teammates, Nicklas Backstrom is today the pre-eminent model of everything that’s best about Swedish hockey: he’s quick, powerful, and beautiful.

As part of our recent discussions with ambassadors of the Great Hockey Powers, we recently had the great luck to speak with His Excellency Björn Lyrvall, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Sweden to the U.S.

Amb. Lyrvall, to no-one’s surprise, has spent much of his career in high-profile assignments, from the former Soviet Union to present-day Russia, Bosnia, London and Brussels, among others.  He graciously took time with us to discuss another matter of great international importance – hockey. Continue reading

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Hall of Fame, Ride of Fame

Ovi’s Bus, Best Bus! 

Alex Ovechkin is destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame one day. Tuesday afternoon, outside of Verizon, his name was enshrined in the Ride of Fame, an honor bestowed upon other notable athletes such as Henrik Lundqvist, Reggie Jackson, Joe Namath Roger Maris, Joe Theisman and Walt Frazier.

Ovi Ride of Fame Induction

The Ride of Fame is a series of “mobile monuments,” basically double-decker tourist buses, that honor famous New Yorkers (mostly), from the sports world, music (LIZA has one!), movies (Richard Dreyfus), Broadway (Bernadette Peters), and other professions (Donald Trump and Rachel Ray). A contest was held for fans to be VIPs at the induction ceremony and a lucky few got the chance to roll with the captain. It’s a pretty sweet rig.

Dressed like a typical DC tourist in t-shirt and cutoff sweats, Ovi boards his bus for the first time.

Dressed like a typical DC tourist in t-shirt and cutoff sweats, Ovi boards his bus for the first time.

For the next month, Ovi One will be seen all over town from 9am and 11pm and it will have two routes. One will traverse the downtown and federal corridors, the Hill, Penn Quarter and Foggy Bottom.

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A second loop starts on the Hill and heads to Georgetown, up to Woodley Park and through DuPont. For a town that doesn’t allow billboards, this is some pretty clever outdoor advertising. Continue reading

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Hockey Pages: The Understatement of the Year by Sarina Bowen

twitter_avatarjeffI’ve had the great job of reviewing books that feature gay hockey players PuckBuddys since the fall of 2012. I can truly say every book I’ve presented here is one that I’ve loved, whether it’s a sweet romance, a coming out tale or a wildly fun story about a vampire hockey league. The Understatement of the Year by Sarina Bowen is not only a book that I love, it’s a book that grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go.

I read this book during a trip to Alabama to watch the Alabama/Auburn Iron Cup tournament in January. I started it during the plane trip and over the course of the weekend I ended up taking my iPad to the rink so I could read before the games started and during intermissions. Finally, I was late to dinner the last night I was there because I was so near the end and I had to finish it. I cried more than once reading it, too, because there are some passages that pull on the heart.

understatmentoftheyearUnderstatement is the third installment of Bowen’s Ivy Years series, but you don’t need to read the others to start this one (she confirms that fact in the interview coming up). The book focuses on Michael Graham and John Rikker. They were high school best friends, and secret lovers. One night they were out together and were jumped by homophobes. Rikker was beaten badly and Graham ran away. They never saw each other after that… until Rikker showed up at Harkness College as a walk-on to the school’s hockey team. Rikker was kicked out of his other college because he was gay. Harkness, however, was all about You Can Play and the coach was happy to bring him on because they had an opening.

Graham, however, is less than thrilled to see him. While Rikker had long since healed from the physical wounds, along with a lot of the psychological damage the attack caused, Graham relives the attacks nearly every night. And he’s crafted a facade around being straight because of what he’d seen happen to Rikker. That facade starts to crack the moment Rikker shows up. Continue reading

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Diplomatic Dispatches: Czech Style, Best Style!

Love him or hate him, Jagr is one of the all time greats

Love him or hate him, Jagr is one of the all time greats

Havlát. Eliáš. Hašek. Holík. The names are as familiar as sometimes their spelling seems foreign. These are just a few of the many great hockey players the Czech Republic has sent to the NHL – and this only since becoming it’s own distinct nation, separating from it’s brother state in 1993. Not bad for a nation of only 10 million.

Washington and the Czech Republic have had an unusually close relationship over the years – at least when it comes to what goes down on the ice. A surprising number of Czechs have spent time right here with the Capitals: Robert Lang, Martin Erat, Tomáš Vokoun, Petr Nedvěd among them.

But of course, there’s one name missing. One name arguably at the top of the list of all-time Czech greats – heck, one of the best players ever. And one name that stirs conflicting emotions for Caps fans like no other: Jaromír Jágr.

As part of our on-going interview series with ambassadors who represent the great hockey nations, today we take a moment to contemplate the many great things the Czech Republic has contributed to this greatest of games. And also, Jaromír Jágr.

Czech Ambassador Petr Gandalovič

Czech Ambassador Petr Gandalovič

We were scheduled to meet with His Excellency Petr Gandalovič, Czech Ambassador to the US, but it fell on a day when snow blew through DC, airplane schedules were snarled, and we weren’t able to meet with the Ambassador face-to-face.

He was gracious enough, however, to share some thoughts with us via email, which we share after the jump. Continue reading

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Smoke Show

A Smoke Break With Smokin’ Al

Comcast DCIt’s no secret we’re CSN fanboys. Even thought we’ll be at Sunday’s tilt versus the Flyers, we’re recording CSN broadcast of it. In addition to the action on the ice (prediction: Caps win, 3-1) , there will be something pretty special in the broadcast booth. CSN is marking Al Koken’s 30th season by cycling him around Verizon. From the Post:

During the broadcast, Koken will be featured in each of the four roles he has served throughout his three decades with the network. In the first period, he will work as the game analyst, his position for six seasons beginning in 1984. In the second period, Koken will transition to play-by-play announcer, a position he held during the 1995-96 season. Koken will assume his most familiar role as in-game reporter during the third period before hosting “Capitals Postgame Live” after the game.

al-koken_209Despite Al’s busy weekend schedule with Friday’s Caps game against the Ducks and Saturday night’s college hoops game, he carved out some time to do a Q&A with us about his years covering your Washington Capitals. We thank Al for his time, his service and for making us smarter hockey fans.

 Us: Growing up, who were some of the announcers and play by play guys on TV or radio guys that you liked? And did you try to emulate them once you got into broadcasting?

Al: I grew up in St. Louis. Fooled around as a backyard, shinny player but there was no formal hockey teams,etc. to really be a part of. Went to a few minor league games (St. Louis had the Blackhawks top minor league team  then, in 1967, we got one of the 6 NHL expansion teams. Scotty Bowman as the first coach and Hall of Fame broadcaster Dan Kelly as the play-by-play voice on KMOX radio.

Thanks to my Uncle Bill who had access to his companies season tix, I got to a good number of games. And figured out with some friends how to sneak into many others. But, most games were enjoyed on the radio with the incredible voice and calls of the GREAT Dan Kelly. One of the highlights of my career was being treated as a peer and called by my name by Dan when the Caps and Blues would play.

Us: What was your first year like at HTS? Was it an easy transition from what you were doing at WTOP?

It was tough. I knew the game as a fan , but that doesn’t cut it on TV. My first partner, Mike Fornes, was a great help. His rules were simple: when the puck was in play, it was his. When the puck was out of play, it was mine. That never happens any more today. And Brian Murray and his coaches were a HUGE help. They truly let me ask anything and helped me prep for the games with much better insight because of the access they gave me. Continue reading

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