- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Life was grand for Jason Doig in the fall of 1995. The rookie had made Winnipeg’s roster as an 18-year-old offensive-minded defenseman. His future seemed limitless.

Of course, life often doesn’t turn out as planned. Doig was sent back to juniors after 15 games. The Jets moved to Phoenix the next year, and over the next six seasons Doig played in just 23 more NHL games while bouncing to the New York Rangers and then to Ottawa.

“I wasn’t expecting to make the Jets when I was 18,” Doig said. “I was in awe the whole time I was there. After that, I had a lot of setbacks. I always trained hard and came into camp in shape. Unfortunately, I had an injury every year. I probably had my best year in Grand Rapids [in 2001-2002 under current Caps coach Bruce Cassidy], but just when Ottawa was going to call me up at the end of the year, I got hurt after I had been healthy all year.”

Doig never made it onto the ice with the Senators, so when Washington signed him as a free agent last September, it was one of those transactions that few notice. After all, the Caps were deep on the blue line with veterans Sergei Gonchar, Calle Johansson, Brendan Witt, Ken Klee and Sylvain Cote. Also, J.F. Fortin, Todd Rohloff, Nolan Yonkman, Dean Melanson and Jakub Cutta had spent time in Washington in 2001-2002.

A year later, at 26, Doig is a lock to make the Caps. Johansson, Klee, Cote, Rohloff and Melanson are gone. Fortin, Yonkman and Cutta are behind Doig on the organizational depth chart after he proved to be a solid performer in 61 games — including all six in the playoffs — following his recall from Portland of the American Hockey League on Dec.3.

“Last year was a great year for me,” said Doig, who led the Caps with 108 penalty minutes while producing eight points and a minus-3 defensive rating. “I must have been doing something right at Portland, and when the opportunity here presented itself, I made the best of it.”

So much so that like three-time All-Star Gonchar and feisty ninth-year Capitals player Witt, the 6-foot-3, 228-pound Doig is merely in search of a regular partner, not a job. Doig will be part of Washington’s third defensive pair, perhaps teaming again with Joel Kwiatkowski.

“Jason was a really good find for us,” Caps general manager George McPhee said. “He’s better defensively than we had thought. He’s a big man and very strong. Jason really reads the rush well and he works down low very well. He can knock people out from in front of the net and he moves the puck quickly.”

The evolution from an offensive-minded approach to a more traditional Langway-esque style took years for Doig to accept. The idea he belongs in the third pair playing 14 minutes a game, instead of in one of the top two tandems, is now easier to swallow.

“I was supposed to be a top-five pick, but I fell to the second round because no one thought that I could play defense,” Doig said. “In juniors, I had never been asked to focus on defense. My dad and people around hockey told me that I wasn’t going to make it as an offensive defenseman and that I should use my size to become a physical, stay-at-home defenseman.

“But part of me didn’t want to accept that. Scoring was fun. I didn’t want to let go of it. I didn’t totally accept the role until I got traded to Ottawa and spent that year in Grand Rapids playing for Bruce. He worked with me to create a solid base on defense to help me get back to the NHL. And then he got the job with the Caps and here I am.”

Not that he’s breathing easy after taking such a rocky road to a steady NHL job. Doig, who’s married with a child and another on the way, hasn’t bought a house like most of his teammates. He’s still renting.

Notes — It wasn’t the fairest of tests since most of the firepower was on one side, but the White team beat the Black 7-2 in last night’s intrasquad scrimmage at Piney Orchard. Peter Bondra scored twice to lead the way. The game was tied 1-1 after the first period largely because of the fine goaltending of prospect Maxime Ouellet, but after he was replaced by Maxime Daigneault midway through the second period, the White’s offense took over. Kip Miller and linemate Jaromir Jagr also scored for the White as did Steve Konowalchuk, Sergei Gonchar and prospect Owen Fussey. Robert Lang and Brian Sutherby scored the Black goals. Goalie Olie Kolzig and forwards Jeff Halpern, Alexander Semin and Dainius Zubrus were all scratched with groin injuries. …

The Caps plan to trim their roster from 46 to 36 today. The preseason opener against Pittsburgh in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., was postponed from tonight to Sunday because of Hurricane Isabel. Washington will now open its eight-game slate tomorrow in Detroit before facing Philadelphia on Saturday in London, Ontario.

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