- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Washington Capitals right wing Jaromir Jagr and his injured ankle made it through practice yesterday.

"I survived," he commented dryly.

Also working out yesterday was left wing Peter Bondra, who has missed three games with a virus and hadn't drilled with the Caps this year. Between them they have accounted for 33 of the club's 107 goals this season.

"It hurts, but I wanted to practice," Jagr said of the ankle he sprained late in the second period of Saturday night's 2-2 tie against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Ice at that facility has been deemed among the worst in the league by players for years. It appeared to be particularly brutal Saturday after a college basketball game was played there that afternoon. Workers were still converting the arena to an ice rink less than 90 minutes before the game began.

Jagr was coming down the right side of the rink and was starting to turn in toward the goal when his right skate went one way and his left skate stayed in place, caught in a rut. He limped off and returned for the third period but skated just one shift before calling it a night.

"Even with the pain I wanted to go through the practice because [today] I don't think it will be any better and I would have to practice," he said. "But if I skate a little bit it's always better than nothing."

Bondra has been out since the Buffalo game Dec.30. Club officials say his problem may be that he works too hard, never giving his body a chance to rest and recuperate. Because of that, it is thought, viruses hit him harder than they might some others.

Washington has been off since Saturday night and begins the second half with a pair of key Southeast Division games this weekend. The team is in Raleigh, N.C., against Carolina on Friday night and plays host to surprising Florida on Saturday.

Eminger heads north

The Caps yesterday returned their top pick in last June's draft, defenseman Steve Eminger, 19, to his junior team in Kitchener, Ontario. Eminger and two other Caps picks, defenseman Nathan Paetsch and center Boyd Gordon, competed for Canada in the World Junior Championships for the past two weeks in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Russia defeated Canada 3-2 in the gold medal game.

Eminger made the Caps coming out of training camp at age 19 but played in only 17 games during the first half (two assists, minus-3 defensively). It was a chance for the coaching staff to tutor him individually while he prepared for the world tournament.

"It's pretty disappointing," Eminger said yesterday as he packed his gear for the trip back to Kitchener. "This is where I think everybody would want to be, and it's where I would like to be. But being sent back isn't the end of the world. I was here for two months. I got a lot of experience, and the guys taught me a lot."

It does make clear that the Caps are at least satisfied for the moment with the defensemen they have on hand. Washington started training camp with 11 defenders with experience, plus Eminger.

"He's earned some valuable experience here and at the world junior tournament," general manager George McPhee said. "Now it's time for him to log a lot of minutes. To do the right thing for his development, he has to play a lot. We're sending him to a real good team; it has a chance to win a national championship. It was the right thing to do."

Caps and kids

The Caps will make their annual visit to the Children's National Medical Center this afternoon. The players and staff will spend time with patients in the atrium before visiting floors of the facility to greet other patients.

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