Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Three years ago a reporter approached Boyd Gordon and asked whether he would sit for an interview.

“Sure,” the center replied, and that was the end of his part of the conversation. Every other response was a nod of the head, if that.

Last year there was marked improvement. “Sure” became “Sure, be glad to.” End of conversation.

Not to make fun of the 23-year-old Washington Capitals forward, because he has earned his place in the NHL. But as teammates have said, anyone sitting beside him on a trip to the West Coast better bring some reading materials.

“He reminds me of me when I was in his position, coming up here, going back to the minors,” captain Chris Clark said. “I didn’t say anything to anybody, even when the coaches were talking to me. He’s come a long way even from last year.”

Talking is the least of it. Gordon was one of several players battling for the few open forward spots during training camp. He earned the job because he was willing to do the grunt work — play hard-nosed defense; kill penalties; take and win key draws; center the important, albeit unglamorous, shut-down line; or play wing — and he did it better than anybody else.

“He’s quietly very tough,” general manager George McPhee said, soon aware of what he said. “He’s a good quiet Canadian kid, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said with a grin.

Gordon is plus-8 defensively, tops on the team and a huge compliment because he is often guarding the opposition’s best firepower. He is plus-7 in his last nine games and has contributed a goal and three assists, which is helping him keep his job.

“He’s playing more than 16 minutes a game now, and if you’re a center playing that much, you’ve got to contribute offensively,” coach Glen Hanlon said.

A year or so ago, one club official noted Gordon was playing defense so well that he didn’t care whether the center ever scored.

“He’s been our unsung hero for the first half of the year,” defenseman Brian Pothier said. “The first thing I notice is him winning faceoffs, giving us possession so we can establish our forecheck. He plays a regular shift, kills penalties, blocks shots, a lot of stuff that’s really important to us that many people don’t notice.”

So why is he little more than a rumor to some fans?

“It’s a matter of what people want to watch on ‘SportsCenter,’ ” Pothier said. “Nobody wants to see Gordo lifting sticks or pulling pucks out of piles. That’s not much fun to watch. They want to see [Alex] Ovechkin dancing around after he scores another goal. For sure, Gordo doesn’t get enough credit.”

That comes from his background. He played four years of junior hockey in Red Deer, Alberta, for owner and coach Brent Sutter, one of the six infamous NHL-playing brothers from Viking, Alberta. The Sutters were raised believing toughness was better than finesse and teamwork and sacrifice for the cause were all important. They have tried to pass that message along.

“Brent had a receptive student in Gordo,” Hanlon said.

Gordon won a Memorial Cup, junior hockey’s top prize, with Red Deer in 2001 and a Calder Cup with Hershey last summer. His work this season has been a key factor in the Caps’ slow but steady current run, which includes seven wins in nine games.

“I’m just trying to get my foot in the door here,” Gordon said.

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