- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Right wing Jaromir Jagr said yesterday he told Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson his groin injury is better and he's ready to go, "if you need me."

In case Jagr hasn't noticed, the Caps have scored seven goals in the six games he missed. In the last five, the Caps have scored four times but still managed to win two games 1-0.

"Jags appears to be ready so at least right now, he's playing," Wilson said, referring to tonight's game against the Thrashers in Atlanta. Wilson also said Ken Klee (groin) appears to be much improved but he would wait until today to see how the defenseman feels after an extensive workout.

The pleasant news on the injury front, coupled with an announcement from general manager George McPhee, made the Caps forget for a little while the fact they have lost three in a row and are once again four games below .500 (19-23-8).

McPhee said rookie defensemen Todd Rohloff and J.F. Fortin have both been added to the team roster for at least the remainder of this season. Both were brought up from Portland, Maine, on Jan. 8 for an extensive look and both passed muster.

The fact that both were impressive enough to stay allowed the club to trade veteran Joe Reekie to Chicago, which may be the start of a trend to make the team younger.

"They've added mobility and size to the blue line," said McPhee. "Fortin is certainly poised and skilled with the puck and we're real pleased to have a defenseman of that type. Rohloff is physically very strong and never gives up on a battle."

Rohloff, a graduate of Miami (Ohio) University, was picked up as a free agent two years ago. Fortin was picked 35th overall by the Caps in the 1997 draft.

For both players, it's a huge turnaround. Getting ready for training camp, Rohloff caught a skate in a rut, broke his leg and tore ligaments in an ankle. He missed all of training camp and only played six games this season before being called up.

"Two months ago I was in a deer stand sitting in a duck boat, recovering from surgery," Rohloff said. "I was hoping to get called up again this year for the playoffs but I never dreamed I'd be here to stay, I mean not this year. I dedicated the last 10 years of my life to this dream and finally it happened."

Fortin nearly gave up the sport when it appeared to be passing him by. He exhibited a high degree of skill but was in bad physical shape, leading to questions of his commitment. He hit bottom last season when he was re-assigned from Portland in the high minors to Richmond in the low minors, and was a healthy scratch there for 10 straight games.

"I changed 20 years of lifestyle in two summers," he said. "I changed my diet I love fast food so I had to learn to cut that out and cut down on drinking even though I was never a big drinker to begin with. I started going to the gym six days a week, three and a half to four hours a day, and hired a personal trainer. That's why I'm here."

Meanwhile, Ivan Ciernik, the left wing the Caps claimed off waivers from Ottawa, is starting out on top he'll be playing with Adam Oates and Jagr. McPhee believes Ciernik has the skills to be a better player and using the Slovak with Jagr might be just the factor to turn his career around.

And Wilson has also moved wing Dainius Zubrus to center between Peter Bondra and Ulf Dahlen. Wilson said he had been thinking about experimenting with the switch after learning that the hard-hitting Zubrus had played center some with both Philadelphia and Montreal.

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