- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2008

As Mike Green puts it, he “loves his gadgets.”

Whether it is a new phone or computer, a new Cadillac Escalade complete with Washington Capitals-red rims or a fishing boat for his summers at home in Calgary, Green is enjoying life and reaping the benefits of his status as one of the best young defensemen in the NHL.

“I just got my new place [in Northern Virginia] and I realized I have a TV in every room, including the bathrooms,” the 22-year-old said.

But despite all the new toys at Green’s disposal, there was one thing he has done since signing a four-year, $21 million contract July 1 that is most important to him.

“I was able to pay off my mom and dad’s house,” he said.

Green fits the playboy-athlete mold, but that’s not an accurate portrait of a kid who grew up in a tough Calgary neighborhood.

Many hockey players are sons of privilege, but Green is not among them. It’s an expensive sport to play as a youth, that’s why Green appreciates his parents’ efforts.

“They had to sacrifice so much,” Green said. “My parents had to work every day, but they made sure I was at the rink. They would sacrifice whatever they were doing, even if it was getting off work early to take me to the gym and waiting there the whole time.

“I remember my mom would wait outside in the van while I was in the gym for two hours. Then I’d go to hockey practice and then she’d cook me dinner. It was like that almost every day.”

Members of the Caps organization have no worries about how Green will react to his newfound wealth because of his upbringing and grounded personality. Green’s path to stardom began last season when he arrived at training camp in much better shape than the year before. He started to soar once Bruce Boudreau became coach.

“Last year or the year before, his parents wrote me and my wife a letter thanking us,” Boudreau said. “That’s the kind of people he comes from. When you come from good stock, you become good stock. That doesn’t change. Money - nothing changes it - you become the same person.”

Boudreau had coached him in the American Hockey League with Hershey, and he trusted more playing time in Green’s hands. He responded by leading NHL defenseman in goals with 18 and finished seventh with 56 points.

Green is an atypical offensive defenseman. He enjoys carrying the puck, which often leads to exhilarating rushes from one end of the ice to the other. His stick-handling and creativity rivals that of Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, while his vision and passing ability is equivalent of a playmaking pivot like Nicklas Backstrom.

Sure, Ovechkin is the face of this franchise and Backstrom will serve as his sidekick for the next decade. But Green’s ascension could be the biggest reason why the Caps are primed to contend for the Stanley Cup in the coming seasons.

“He’s got a unique style,” Caps defenseman Tom Poti said. “A lot of offensive defenseman like to join the rush late, but he’s a guy that likes to lead it. He reminds of me watching tapes of [Hall of Fame defenseman] Paul Coffey, a guy who likes to lead the rush instead of joining it. He has all of the same tools.”

Coffey’s father, Paul, likens Green to his son in a Hockey News Yearbook feature. The story also mentions how Hall of Fame defenseman Bobby Orr’s father, Douglas, saw his son’s skills in Coffey.

“I was in shock when I read it,” Green said. “I was speechless and just very humbled to have them say that. Those are the two players I looked up to when I was young and to have their dads say that is just humbling and amazing.”

Although Green has proven his offensive prowess, he could improve in the defensive zone.

“It is just experience,” Boudreau said. “Defense is a hard position to master. It is why the great ones can last. The older you get on defense, so much of it is playing with angles. The longer he plays in this league, the more he’ll understand that and the more experience he’ll get and he’ll become a better player.”

While Green has been everywhere in his first two preseason games, Boudreau would like him to rein it in a little.

“A defenseman shouldn’t be your best forechecker,” he said.

But Green said he’s trying to play his way into game shape and will calm down once the season starts.

One adjustment for Green this season could be living on his own. He had his own apartment last season near the team’s practice facility in Arlington, but now he’s not living in the same building as his good friend, Caps center Brooks Laich.

“I got out of that building to get away from him,” Green joked.

Added Laich: “We’re still only about three minutes apart now. Last year it was just five floors. If he gets bored, he can come over to my house. … He’s a fun-loving guy and he enjoys the game and the camaraderie with the guys. He’s my boy. We hang out a lot on the road - get supper, stuff like that. He fits in great in the locker room and obviously the Caps want to have him around for a long time.”

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