- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2008

“It ain’t nothing but a party, nothing but a house party.”

The Show Stoppers classic party tune could be the Washington Capitals’ theme song for this year.

That’s how Caps coach Bruce Boudreau described what it was like when he took over the job on Nov. 22, replacing the fired Glen Hanlon.

“If you are a 10-year-old and going to a house party, you sure like to know there is someone in there that you know in the beginning,” said Boudreau, who had coached many of the young Caps players while in Hershey in the American Hockey League. “It was the same here. I was glad I knew somebody when I came in.”

One of the faces he was glad to see was that of Mike Green’s, the 22-year-old defenseman who is one of the Caps’ “Young Guns” the group of four young players, including Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin that the team is promoting as its core of future stars.

Ovechkin has garnered international attention with his spectacular play and his league-leading 46 goals, but the buzz is growing as well for Green, who has scored an impressive 30 points, with 14 goals the most among NHL defensemen and 16 assists. Two of those goals have been game-winners in overtime, which has earned him the nickname “Game Over.”

Though he has outstanding offensive numbers, Green certainly has a defensive mentality. He is a mixed martial arts fan.

“I like UFC a lot,” he said. “Anytime there is a UFC fight, I am going to watch it. I want to go to Vegas for one. I haven’t been to one yet, just watched them on TV. It is a pretty rough sport, and it is tough how they train, the mental part is tough. I have a lot of respect for them. I like it. I do a little bit of it. It’s fun.”

It has been fun on the ice for the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Green since Boudreau, his coach from his days in Hershey, arrived. Under Hanlon, Green played more than 20 minutes only twice in the Caps first 21 games. Since Boudreau took over, Green has played more than 20 minutes in 32 straight games.

“He had a sense of confidence in me,” Green said. “We were together in the playoffs, winning the [2006 Calder] Cup. A lot of guys here who have gained a lot of confidence since he has been here because of the way he is as a coach. He is so knowledgeable, and you believe what he tells you. When you believe, good things happen.”

Better things are likely going to happen for Green, according to Boudreau.

“I tell Mike I want him to be who you are,” Boudreau said. “I am in your corner, and just go out there and play. I know how good you are. I think he has a lot of confidence in the fact that I have a lot of confidence in him. He is only 22, and you don’t see how good defensemen are until they are 26 or 27. Mike will learn a lot in the next three years, and he will be a lot better player for it.”

The question is, will Caps fans be watching him get better in the home team uniform or as an opposing player?

Green fits in well with the Caps plan, both on and off the ice, with his play and his connection with fans. A group of fans has emerged at Verizon Center known as “Gang Green,” declaring their allegiance to the defenseman.

“I was just asked to give permission for them to make shirts,” Green said. “They can go right ahead and make as many as they want. It’s good to see fans supporting the players.”

But, like Ovechkin before he signed his record-setting $123 million contract, Green — one of the Caps’ first-round draft picks in 2004 and 29th overall — will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season.

Given his play of late, he surely will draw a lot of interest from suitors, putting the Caps in a position to have to match those offers if they want to keep this member of the “Young Guns” unless, like Ovechkin, management moves to lock in their star defenseman long-term before the end of the season.

Green, a Calgary native, likes being in the District and would like to stay awhile.

“I have not been approached yet,” he said. “I am hoping something can get done. We’ll see what they want to do. I hope to stay here and be part of what is happening here.”

The Carolina Hurricanes crashed the house party last night with a 2-1 win at Verizon Center, ending the Caps’ brief stay in first place in the Southeast Division. But the party may be just getting started, and Mike Green doesn’t want to leave early.

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