- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2007

While new impact players will join core stalwarts for practice today at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the biggest star of training camp for the Washington Capitals just might be the building itself.

One year after spending training camp in Ashburn, Va., in what could politely be deemed as controlled chaos, the Caps will have their first camp at Kettler — the $42.8 million facility that opened during last season, but the finishing touches weren’t ready until this summer.

“It is a great way to operate,” Caps general manager George McPhee said. “I think it is the best facility in the league. It makes everything that we do better.”

There will be 59 players on the ice today split into three groups. Because Kettler has two sheets of ice, two groups will practice for an hour, and then a third group will train for an hour while the other two scrimmage.

Gone are the days of huddling together around space heaters in cramped dressing rooms. In are the days of dressing in a spacious room fit with wide lockers and stereo sound.

“Everything with this facility is unbelievable,” captain Chris Clark said. “There are no excuses anymore. There is no more trying to find heat or stay warm during practice. This is way more than we need, so there are no excuses for us not to be prepared.”

One of the state-of-the-art highlights of the 20,000-square foot training center atop the Ballston Mall parking garage is a massive weight room. Many of the players returned to the area in the past few weeks and have been able to take advantage of not only the ice time but also the weight training.

There is also a pool with a treadmill built into the bottom in a room adjacent to the weight training center. Oh, and the weight room also offers a panoramic view of downtown Washington for good measure.

“Not to say that this is going to spoil us, but it is going to put us in better physical condition to go on the ice and compete,” goaltender OIie Kolzig said. “We’ve got a first-rate workout facility that guys can maintain their strength the entire year.”

Among the other tools at the team’s disposal is a theatre-style classroom for the coaches to do instructional presentations, a video room for players to watch previous games or practices and even break them down shift-by-shift, and hot and cold tubs to help recuperate after practice and rehabilitate from injuries

“Being 37, you cherish those hot tubs in the morning to get the body loosened up and riding the bike, and stretching on carpet,” Kolzig said. “These are things you take for granted, but last year we were kind of vagabonds as far as practice facilities go.”

Today will be the first practice for newcomers Nicklas Backstrom, Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti to join forces with Kolzig, Clark, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. There is more talent, more depth and with that, more expectations.

There are also plenty of questions to be resolved. There are eight defensemen on the roster who spent the majority of last season in the NHL. Add in Euro import and former Caps player Josef Boumedienne and first-round pick Karl Alzner, and there are 10 players for essentially seven spots.

Up front, there are eight players who should find a spot on the top three lines — Ovechkin, Semin, Nylander, Kozlov, Clark, Backstrom, Boyd Gordon and Matt Pettinger. Finding a ninth, determining who plays with whom and if any of the young players like Dave Steckel or Tomas Fleischmann deserve to break camp with the team for the first time is on the to-do list.

Washington is, barring injury, set in goal with Kolzig returning for his 19th season with the organization and 10th as the No. 1 guy in net. Brent Johnson enters his third season as Kolzig’s backup.

The Caps have a streak of three consecutive last-place finishes in the Southeast Division they would like to not maintain. There was plenty of talk about the playoffs at Media Day yesterday, but the trek toward the postseason begins today.

“It gives you some piece of mind,” Kolzig said. “It’s not that, ‘Eh, tonight’s going to be a long night, but get through it because there are better days ahead.’ ”

“These are the better days.”

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