- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2001

The Washington Capitals tonight start a season that is being greeted with unrestrained enthusiasm by players and management alike in a city that could use something to cheer about in the wake of the terrorists attack last month.

The Caps, who open against the New Jersey Devils at MCI Center, feel there could be something special about this season if everybody plays up to his potential and there are no unforeseen developments, such as a run of devastating injuries.

There was no hesitation in identifying a player who could make the season special: a right wing named Jaromir Jagr.

"There was something special in the air even before training camp when we had record numbers of veterans show up to work out," said general manager George McPhee, the man credited with pulling off the July 11 trade with Pittsburgh that brought the five-time NHL scoring champion to Washington for three prospects and $4.9 million. "We promised the team at the end of last season that we'd find some more offense. We got lucky and got the best player in the world."

Said wing Peter Bondra, who has been bubbling with enthusiasm for weeks: "There is something in the air that I cannot explain. There was excitement after the trade, and it's different now. The media is talking more about our team; the fans are, too. Before we didn't get as much attention."

The addition of the 11-year veteran of the Penguins' high-octane offense should open things up for everybody as opponents struggle to contain him. But Bondra said he isn't just excited about having somebody share the scoring load.

"I never felt that way and I hope Jaromir doesn't feel that way," Bondra said. "Everybody has to do his own thing. We have a great goalie [Olie Kolzig], we have a good team and we know it. You just have to make sure you work with the coaches, do what's expected. But there definitely is something different about all this."

Washington does have a good team, a club with veterans at all positions and deep as any Caps club ever. To say it was modeled after the talent-rich New Jersey team, in that respect, would not be out of the question. The Caps are certainly improved.

"That's your goal, to improve every year as a group and as individuals, and most of the players have," coach Ron Wilson said. "I think there's excitement at having a player like Jaromir and the excitement about where people [rate] us."

Said center Adam Oates: "Are we excited? Absolutely, no question. From ownership to management to players, to the fans who showed where they stood by buying tickets. We picked up the best player in the world, and didn't give up anything [current] to get him. We're excited, yes."

Defenseman Sergei Gonchar: "Jagr is obviously a big thing, the best player in the world. But at the same time we're getting more experienced, all of us, and we have more confidence in ourselves. That is a big thing, a huge thing the confidence and we're pumped up."

Meanwhile, the Washington players hope to honor, with their play and their uniforms, the victims of the attack on the Pentagon.

Kolzig, the All-Star who will be in goal for the Caps tonight, plans to wear a new helmet that depicts the Pentagon in tribute to those who died in the attack there Sept. 11.

"It's going to be pretty much like the one I have, except on the side where I have the Capitol building and monument, there's going to be the Pentagon with the memorial ribbon underneath it," the former Vezina Trophy winner said.

He carries it one step further: He plans to auction the helmet off at the end of the season, "and hopefully by the end of the year there will be a big enough bid that it will be a worthy donation to the disaster relief fund."

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