A trip to Hershey is always a good use of a day’s time - the travel time isn’t bad, the city is a treat in the middle of Pennsylvania and Giant Center is an absolute palace.
As Maryland beat writer Patrick Stevens knows, my road trips usually include a trip to Sonic, and this was no different.
But more importantly, the pertinent Capitals stuff. Here’s the story that ran in Wednesday’s newspaper on Pothier reaching yet another milestone in his suddenly rapid recovery from post-concussion symptoms.
Pothier had been out of action since Jan. 3, 2008, but has improved drastically thanks to a pair of glasses he got back in December. He played for the Bears on Saturday and Sunday and will suit up for them again Wednesday night.
I’ve got some extra material from Pothier, young defenseman Karl Alzner and Hershey coach Bob Woods that didn’t make it into print. All had some interesting things to say about the weekend, the comeback and the developing relationship between the 31-year-old veteran and the 20-year-old rookie:
Pothier described his feelings stepping onto the ice as “a combination of nerves, butterflies, I was anxious; it was a little bit of fear.”
“The first game, it definitely took a little bit to get the rust off. But I was really happy with the way the game developed. I didn’t play too much, and the coaches put me in good situations to try to feel the puck and feel comfortable. The second game was a hundred times better.”
“The thing is, once I got hit, once I got in some confrontations, it was a huge difference. The second game [the concussion] wasn’t really in my mind. I went back to get pucks and put myself in some situations that I could’ve got hit for sure. The more I play the more comfortable I get.”
The first “substantial” hit Pothier received came courtesy of former NHL enforcer Ryan Hollweg.
“I was skating around the net and [Ryan] Hollweg came flying down his side of the wing, and he tried to finish his check on me,” Pothier said. “I made a pass, and then he hit me and I sorta landed on him. It was a good collision and I felt fine, felt great. That was the one hit that I guess you could say sorta gave me some confidence that stuff was still working pretty good.”
Things were working pretty good over the weekend for Pothier, who got about three or four more minutes of extra ice time Sunday against Lake Erie. Woods said Pothier communicated to the staff whenever he needed some more time to rest before returning to a game.
“The most important thing for him, he’s waited 14 months. He doesn’t wanna make the step too quick,” Woods said. “And again, we’re here to help him and get him better as soon as possible. He knows his body better than anybody, and when he’s ready he’ll let us know.”
As part of his home life, Pothier is back to being a “full-blown dad” and his wife and children are set to enjoy a few days in Hershey after seeing him play Wednesday against the Springfield Falcons.
As part of his hockey life, Pothier has taken Alzner under his wing. The two roomed together on the road last weekend, sharing bits of wisdom with each other about everything from the game to stuff off the ice to stories about Pothier’s previous stints in the AHL.
“He walked me through quite a few things, even some things with the NHLPA and just kinda reassuring me about the way I play and stuff like that,” Alzner said. “It’s great - now that he’s down here, I’m the one that gets to walk him through a few things, just the routines and all this. I got to room with him, and that was just an awesome experience. … He’s awesome. I’m happy that he’s back playing - and with us.”
When the team was in Toronto, Pothier got a little nostalgic about the good ol’ days of the AHL
“He was looking at the stats and he couldn’t believe on Lake Erie there’s only one player with 100 penalty minutes,” Alzner said. “He said he couldn’t believe it because back when he was playing there would be at least six guys with 100 penalty minutes. So he thought that was funny. It’s just cool to hear how things have been changing, and he’s been around for it.”
The influence Pothier’s had on Alzner is another positive development. He helped mentor Alzner when the two were with the Caps (even though Pothier was unable to play) earlier this season.
“If you get to know Brian, he’s a pretty good guy,” Woods said. “He’s a great guy, he’s been around and is just an easy guy to talk to. For a young guy like Karl, I’m sure he was the guy that he could go to. And I think that’s important. When you’re an older player, that’s part of your job is mentoring the younger guys, being somebody to talk to and give ‘em some advice. And Brian’s the perfect guy for that.”
And there’s little doubt Pothier sees the same special talent in Alzner that led the Caps to draft him - and keep him at the trading deadline last week despite interest from other clubs.
“He’s a special kid. For a 20-year-old, he’s very mature. He sees things - his perspective isn’t a 20-year-old’s perspective,” Pothier said. “He understands what needs to happen, he understands how to play a simple game, and he understands what’s gonna make him successful. He’s willing to do what it takes, too, and that’s the thing about him. He’s just a phenomenal kid, a really good person, and he’s gonna be an exceptional player with the Caps for many, many years.”
And, of course, Alzner hopes at some point to play in the District with Pothier.
“That would be awesome. It would be ideal. But I don’t know if that’s gonna happen this season anymore,” Alzner said. “But he’s gonna go up, and it’s gonna be good for him to get back into the swing. I haven’t experienced it, but I can just imagine being away for so long. …
“He was good - for his first game back. In the second game, you could just tell he was just that much better than pretty much everybody out there. It doesn’t seem like it’s gonna be that hard of a transition for him.”
- Stephen Whyno