When Tyler Sloan was recalled from Hershey of the American Hockey League, he didn’t think he would be with the Washington Capitals for more than a few days.
Added to the roster Oct. 20 when Shaone Morrisonn was injured, Sloan got sent back to the Bears at the end of the month. But there were more injuries to Washington’s defense, and he returned a week later.
Now Sloan, an undrafted free agent who spent six seasons bouncing around the AHL and ECHL before getting his chance with the Caps, has 18 games of NHL experience and has been a key member of the team’s revamped blue line.
“I wouldn’t say I’m settled in because nothing is for sure yet,” Sloan said. “I am still on a call-up. I feel comfortable and I’ve played a bigger role with the injuries we’ve had, but I don’t think I’ll ever quite feel settled in because there is always that bit of uncertainty.”
In those 18 games, Sloan has a goal and three assists. He is averaging 16:27 of ice time, but that number is deceptive because he played less than 11 minutes in four of his first six games.
Since injuries began to weaken the Caps’ defense, Sloan has been forced into a larger role. He has logged at least 18 minutes in eight of the past 12 contests and missed that threshold by 10 seconds or less in two other games.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing surprises me anymore,” coach Bruce Boudreau said about the length of Sloan’s tenure. “You know what? Other than a couple of games, he’s been very good. To me, he’s proved that he can play here, and that’s good. It is surprising because at the beginning of the season I wouldn’t have said Tyler would be here for six weeks and beyond.”
While he might not feel secure about his long-term grasp of a roster spot, Sloan has settled into the area and his new NHL lifestyle. He lives with fellow defenseman Sami Lepisto in an apartment near the team’s practice facility in Arlington.
Two of their neighbors are the other half of the Hershey rearguard quartet - Karl Alzner and Bryan Helmer. While Helmer is the oldest and has the most NHL experience, Sloan has been with the team the longest this season.
“We like Vapiano for dinner,” Sloan said. “It is good with the fresh pasta. We like going to The Front Page for lunch.”
Sampling local restaurants can be fun, but it also can be expensive. For players who aren’t sure how long they will get to draw an NHL paycheck, there is an alternative.
“We actually cook dinner at our place,” Sloan said. “It is better than eating out all the time. We have a full kitchen, so we put it to good use.”
The four newcomers decided to rotate who plays chef for the evening. When it was Sloan’s turn to craft a dinner, he made salmon with baked potatoes, broccoli and salad - and there was even apple pie for dessert.
“We take turns. I cooked once, and Bryan cooked [Wednesday] night - a great meal,” Sloan said. “We’re hoping to get a Finnish meal [from Lepisto] next time.”
When Sloan was in Arlington last year for training camp, he had a chance to check out a few of the memorials in the District. Since he has returned to the team and the area, the Caps’ rigorous schedule hasn’t left him much time for sightseeing.
On a couple of off days, in fact, Sloan has had to make the drive north to Hershey, Pa.
“I’ve gone back to Hershey just to get some more clothes or get my mail and see the guys,” Sloan said. “Soon, though, I’d like to take a day and check everything out.”