- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2003

MONTREAL — He has been a Washington Capital only for a year and a week, but right wing Mike Grier quickly has become a player the team can count on.

Grier, 28, is one of those players who can do a little bit of everything. Take the Oct.1 preseason tie with Philadelphia during which the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder dealt out a couple of solid checks and produced a pair of odd-man rushes to the net.

Or the season-opening 6-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Oct.9, when Grier was a pest in front of the opposing net all night and was rewarded for his persistence with a goal. And in Monday’s road opener in Toronto, Grier started the play on which linemate Robert Lang scored the goal that forged a 2-2 tie.

But Grier, usually a gentlemanly player despite his physical style, also made a costly mistake with 2:45 left in regulation against the Maple Leafs, roughly elbowing Robert Reichel into the boards face first. Reichel collapsed, injured. Grier was suspended for Tuesday’s game in Montreal, forfeiting his game check of $9,066.66. Not that the rare mistake has soured the Caps on Grier, who will be back in the lineup when the road trip continues tomorrow in Dallas.

“Mike is everything we thought he was when we traded for him,” said Caps general manager George McPhee, who gave Edmonton second- and third-round picks in June’s draft for Grier on Oct.7, 2002. “He’s a solid, two-way forward and an excellent leader.”

Grier took the place of departed Ulf Dahlen on the checking line alongside Jeff Halpern and Steve Konowalchuk and registered a typical 32-point season if an atypical minus-14 defensive rating as the Caps returned to the playoffs after a one-year absence.

However, with coach Bruce Cassidy looking to revive the lagging production of Halpern and Konowalchuk by putting high-scoring Peter Bondra on their line this fall, Grier had to move. Initially, he teamed with Lang and Dainius Zubrus on the second line, but once 19-year-old Russian Alex Semin looked comfortable, Grier was switched again to provide some muscle on the first line for Jaromir Jagr, a five-time NHL scoring champion, and sweet-passing center Michael Nylander.

Grier didn’t complain although the switch put him on the unaccustomed left wing. But after Nylander broke his leg in practice Oct.2, Cassidy shuffled the lines again and moved Grier back with Lang and Zubrus.

“Mike’s so coachable,” Cassidy said. “He does whatever you ask. When his name’s called, he goes over the boards and does his job. Mike works hard every day. He says the right things on the bench. He listens and asks the right questions. He’s a smart player. He was minus-14 last year, but half of those minuses were because of bad line changes. And when you’re playing against the other team’s top line, you’ll be minus if you’re not scoring as much. Mike’s a grinder. His work ethic and his heart are his biggest assets.”

Grier, the son of Houston Texans scout Bobby Grier, doesn’t care where he plays as long as he plays. He has missed just 44 games during his seven NHL seasons. And Grier is a winner. His Boston University teams won two Hockey East titles and an NCAA championship, and his NHL teams have missed the playoffs just once.

“It’s a compliment when people say I’m coachable,” Grier said. “That comes from growing up as the son of a football coach. I’ve always understood what coaches are trying to do, and I just try to do whatever they ask. My game doesn’t change too much no matter who I’m playing with. I try to be physical, forecheck, play good defensive hockey and get my linemates the puck, but it took me awhile to get settled in last year. There’s a world of difference this year with me knowing the guys and the system. I’m a lot more comfortable.”

Note — The Capitals reassigned defenseman Jean-Francois Fortin to their American Hockey League affiliate in Portland, Maine. Fortin, who began the season in Portland, was called up after Brendan Witt suffered a facial injury last Saturday. Witt is slated to return for tomorrow’s game in Dallas.

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