Josef Boumedienne has spent the past three years on a hockey odyssey, and he hopes this training camp with the Washington Capitals will be the journey’s end.
After splitting the 2003-04 season between the Caps and the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League, Boumedienne made five stops with four European teams in three leagues in the next three seasons.
This summer Boumedienne, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound defenseman from Stockholm, signed a one-year, $500,000 contract with the Caps and is one of six players fighting for the final three blue line spots on the roster.
“I’m pumped. I’m very excited about being back,” Boumedienne said. “I missed every day being in North America. My family really enjoyed our life here. It is the best hockey in the world, and this is where you want to be.”
After the 2003-04 season, Boumedienne signed a one-month contract with Brynas of the Swedish Elite League. He still had a contract with the Caps, and like many NHL players, found a short-term solution when the lockout began.
Once it became clear that a more permanent situation was needed, Boumedienne moved on to Karpat of the Finnish Elite League, where there were some familiar faces — including new Washington center Michael Nylander.
“I’ve known Michael for 20 years. I used to play with his kids,” Boumedienne said. “We grew up about five minutes from each other, and we’ve known each other for a long time.”
He had ankle surgery that summer, and the next season he signed with Zurich of the Swiss League, in part because the team afforded him an out clause so that he could sign with an NHL team by Dec. 1. Another injury ended hope of a return to North America, and he finished the 2005-06 campaign with Sodertalje back in Sweden.
Boumedienne had groin surgery before last season, when he returned to Karpat, but was limited to only 18 regular season games.
“I always based my decision on what was the best place for me to play to get back to North America,” Boumedienne said. “I haven’t really been healthy in a stretch where I could feel comfortable that I was in good enough shape to come over here. My one main goal and focus was to come over here like I did in the first place seven years ago and stay over here.”
Playing with Nylander wasn’t the only memorable experience during Boumedienne’s time in Europe. He enjoyed two playoff runs with Karpat, and had the chance to play in the inaugural European Champions Cup in 2005, which pitted the previous year’s league champions from the six best leagues in Europe.
Boumedienne’s Karpat squad lost in the final to Omsk, the Russian champions. Jaromir Jagr scored the game-winner in overtime. When he was with Brynas, Boumedienne got an up-close look at his country’s next great phenom, Nicklas Backstrom.
“He played on the junior team when I was there, but he did come up and skate with us and played in a few games,” Boumedienne said. “For sure, he was unbelievable. He was only 16 at the time and he looked even younger probably. The rules in Sweden say you have to play with a full cage until you turn 18, and he came up and just dominated with his full cage on.”
Now that Boumedienne is back in North America and with the Caps, he’s going to rely on his offensive skills to stay. He always has been considered a smooth-skating, offensive-minded defenseman, and the Caps went into this offseason hoping to add some offensive juice from the blue line.
“We’re all excited because of the rule changes to see how things are going to work out for him,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said. “We need some people to run the power play — not run it but power play types, and that is Boomer’s specialty. We didn’t bring him here to be a shutdown defenseman. We brought him to create some offense and move the puck.”