There’s an ill-placed column in one of the alternate locker rooms at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. It cuts off the corner of the room and makes one or two players have to deal with it while getting ready.
Andrew Gordon recalled with a laugh having that spot during his first training camp with the Caps. He was almost in the same position Tuesday, but his entire career is in a different spot. Gordon’s a veteran now, and he’s a regular member of the Anaheim Ducks – finally getting the legitimate NHL chance he never got here in Washington.
“Putting together a hockey team’s like putting together a puzzle – you’ve got to find the right pieces. And if they didn’t have a place for me, it’s best for me to go elsewhere,” Gordon said Tuesday, hours before taking on his former team for the first time. “It’s a puzzle and if my piece of the puzzle didn’t fit into the picture that they were trying to build, I understand completely.”
It didn’t fit, Hershey Bears coach Mark French said, in part because there wasn’t really a spot for him with the Caps. He excelled at the American Hockey League level, being over a point-a-game player last season and putting up 71 in 79 games in 2009-10.
But his cups of coffee with the Caps were more like talls than grandes, as he played 12 games with Washington over the course of three seasons.
“It takes a little while to get acclimatized to this speed and to this level of play,” Gordon said. “When you get called up for one or two games and go back down and you go back up again, it’s tough to really get yourself settled in.”
So when it became apparent that he couldn’t be a regular with the Caps, Gordon went to the Ducks’ organization. And he made sure in training camp that he wouldn’t be spending the early part of the season with their minor league affiliate in Syracuse.
“Gordo’s a worker. The one thing that he did – he came into our training camp and earned an opportunity,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. “He was our best young player in training camp and maintained that through all of it.”
Gordon has just one assists in 11 games, something Carlyle partially blamed on himself and his staff putting the 25-year-old natural right wing on the left side. But that move – which the coach said would likely be reversed Tuesday to just “let him play” – was designed to help out 19-year-old rookie Devante Smith-Pelly. That’s because Carlyle called Gordon a “veteran” who could handle the situation.
Gordon doesn’t have to play top-six minutes on a Ducks team featuring Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. But that might even be better for him in a third-line checking role.
“He fits into a certain role and when he gets into that role, he’s a great player,” ex-teammate Karl Alzner said. “The nice thing about him is he’s also versatile. He’s one of the hardest-working guys in the league, and that’s what you need on your third line.”
To Gordon, Kettler and the Arlington area will always feel a bit like home because “It was all I ever knew for four years and X amount of summer camps leading up to my pro career,” he said. But Hershey is where the forward’s pro career flourished, under the watchful eye of French.
“He came into the Washington organization when it as pretty deep,” French said. “You knew he hungered for the opportunity.”
French – and Alzner – admitted there was always a bit of an unknown about Gordon being a full-time NHL player but each guy saw the tools there.
“I always felt I could think the game at the speed I needed to,” Gordon said. “I always felt like I could skate, I could shoot the puck hard – I can do all these little things. It’s a matter of just making sure I brought my mental game and all the aspects together and the same time.”
That came together this preseason as Gordon earned his chance. He’s still waiting for a goal this season, but his niche is carved out in Anaheim.
Understanding he would like to get some better luck offensively, Gordon has accepted his role and doesn’t plan on changing a lot now that’ he’s made the show.
“Numbers aren’t really coming easy, but it’s a good league. It’s tough to score in this league. This is why the best players in the world are here,” he said. “I’m just trying to work and play a simple game and do the things that got me here, and that’s what I think will keep me here.”