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Capitals’ new faces change on the fly

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2009

For Brendan Morrison's four kids, it was all about the snow.

After Morrison spent eight years with the Vancouver Canucks, the Pacific Northwest lifestyle was all his young children knew. Last season the Morrison family spent time in Anaheim and Dallas, so when the playmaking center inked a contract with the Washington Capitals, a move back to a (somewhat) colder climate was a big hit.

"Our kids are young, so they're pretty resilient," Morrison said. "They were excited about the move as far as having a new experience and meeting new friends. Their biggest concern was if it was going to snow or not because they want snow in the winter."

While fans and media members focus on how new players mesh with linemates and attempt to live up to expectations on the ice, sometimes the biggest adjustment comes away from the rink.

For Morrison and Mike Knuble, the transition on the ice could be seamless. Knuble is likely to be the right wing on the top line where he will receive passes from Nicklas Backstrom and bang home rebounds from Alex Ovechkin. Morrison is expected to be the team's No. 2 center, which means a steady dose of feeding pucks to Alexander Semin (or possibly Knuble).

Away from the ice, both players had to find new places for their families to live and new schools for their kids. And then there are other logistical problems - some as simple as getting from the parking lot to the home locker room at Verizon Center.

"I think it is most difficult on the girlfriends and wives," Morrison said. "For a player, you come to a team and the routine doesn't change. It is the same routine, and you have 20 new friends right away. For your family and your wife, she's in a totally new environment and she's got to get the kids settled. All the activities and meeting new friends - that's probably the biggest part of the adjustment, but my family has been tremendous. So far everything has gone well."

Both players had some help from their new captain, Chris Clark. Shortly after both signed, Clark gave them a phone call. He wasn't just calling to say hello and welcome - Clark wanted to help with the transition.

"It makes it a lot easier if they know somebody or at least to have a contact, for the wives anyway, to talk about where to go, what schools, what cities - all that stuff," Clark said. "It is hard when you come to a new city, because you have no idea. Especially in D.C. - you can live in Maryland or you can live in Virginia. One of the first things I did was to call [Knuble and Morrison], and then we basically set up the wives so they could talk to each other."

Added Knuble: "You talk through the wives. The girls talk together a lot. It is always nice, and I've tried to do that with other guys at times - just offer some help or advice on the inside track about certain things."

Extending the welcome was important to Clark, not only because he is the captain but because he remembers what it was like to move to this area from Calgary for the start of the 2005-06 season.

"I knew [Jeff Halpern] from before, but there weren't many married or coupled guys at the time, so we were basically on our own for the first year here," Clark said.

Knuble not only needed to find a new home for his family, he was in the middle of purchasing an offseason residence in Michigan when he signed a two-year contract. Combine all of that with the fact that he only had about 12 hours between the time he knew he wasn't returning to the Flyers and when he inked his deal with Washington, and it was a whirlwind few weeks.

"It made for a really short summer. Mentally you have to change gears," he said. "It was a real quick change - almost like a trade. There wasn't any downtime to filter or really cut the cord."

One big advantage for Knuble and Morrison is their history together. They played together for two years in college at Michigan and have stayed friends since. Their stalls are next to each other in the dressing room at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

Another interesting bit of locker room geography has David Steckel three stalls down from Knuble. Steckel played college hockey at Ohio State, which could make for some interesting football banter once the calendar turns to November.

"I was warned in advance about Knuble from [former Flyers teammate R.J.] Umberger, so I knew what to expect from him," said Steckel, who played with Umberger at Ohio State. "They've actually been relatively quiet even though we're into football season. There's not much they can say at this point."

Note - The Caps assigned six players to Hershey of the American Hockey League, including top prospect John Carlson. The other five were forwards Francois Bouchard, Steve Pinizzotto and Andrew Joudrey, defenseman Patrick McNeill and goalie Jason Bacashihua.