- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

The players at the Washington Capitals’ training camp are crawling all over each other in the tight quarters at Ashburn Ice House, but it could have been worse. It could have been a lot worse.

“Don’t forget, we had rookie camp [in July] up in Hershey, so we’ve already seen the kids,” general manager George McPhee said. “If they were here, you wouldn’t be able to move.”

No argument there. About 35 drafted rookies and invited free agents were at the Hershey camp. Add them to the 49 players in this camp and it really would have been cramped.

The Caps are waiting for completion of their $43 million training facility atop a parking garage next to Ballston Common Mall in Arlington. It was scheduled to be finished in late August. Instead, it won’t be ready for another five weeks. Had it been on time, the Caps would have had room for 80-plus players in camp.

“Actually this isn’t such a bad thing for the coaches because they can get the numbers down in a hurry and a camp this size is much more manageable,” McPhee said.

The majority of the players, with the exception of a few veteran free agents, at Ashburn Ice House played in Washington last season or for Hershey in the American Hockey League. That means little time is wasted skating around awestruck rookies, and prospects can get right to the business at hand.

“We’re not trying to find slots for people. We pretty much have a good understanding of who can do what,” coach Glen Hanlon said. “My philosophy is the players we had last year get a running start. Their slots are theirs for them to lose. There are a couple slots that are open for competition, and what we’re saying to them is, ‘Come in, give us an NHL-like camp and you’ll go from being a projected AHL player to an NHLer. We’ll make the right decision, and you’ll play in the league.’ We’re hoping somebody will force us to make moves. That is always a positive.”

“Based on performance, you hope you’re forced to keep 25,” McPhee said, citing a figure two above the league maximum. “You don’t know about roster size until the end of camp usually. You should have a pretty good idea of who’s going to be here, but you’re always hoping for a surprise, somebody you didn’t count on. We’ve got some players on the bubble, and we want to see here whether we can count of them for the long haul or if they need a little more time in Hershey.”

Based on yesterday’s scrimmage, it will be a competitive camp. Two teams went through about an hour of scrimmaging with almost no scoring — a plus for the goalies and defense, a minus for the shooters.

“Lots of the things we’ve been working on are designed to help the defense,” Hanlon said. “If we had had a 10-9 game, I’d really be concerned. It looked good today.”

Notes — Alex Ovechkin celebrated his 21st birthday yesterday with his family in their Virginia home, but not before right wing Matt Bradley nailed the reigning NHL Rookie of the Year in the kisser with a cream pie as about 500 fans applauded gleefully at the Ice House. Ovechkin is wearing new skates this season that will make him stand out even more — Vector 10.0 models made by CCM. There are chrome-like plates on the sides that reflect light as he skates. … The stands at Ashburn are generally full but hold less than half the 1,200 who could jam into Piney Orchard in Odenton, Md. … Defensemen Bryan Muir and Jamie Heward and forwards Chris Clark and Dainius Zubrus, all of whom had offseason surgery, are being held out of contact drills. … Defenseman Jakub Cutta, who played well for Calder Cup champion Hershey and was offered a qualifying offer, has instead signed with a team in Europe.