Tyler Sloan‘s father, Fred, drove 36 hours from the family’s home in Calgary, Alberta, to Hershey, Pa., to spend a few days watching his son play in the American Hockey League.
As it turned out, Fred Sloan had to leave his car in Hershey and take an emergency flight home - and he probably couldn’t be happier about it. His son was called up by the Washington Capitals and will make his NHL debut Tuesday night in Calgary against the Flames.
“I didn’t think it would be this soon that I would get the call-up, but I’m ecstatic, and to get to play in Calgary is incredible,” Tyler Sloan said after practice Monday. “To get this opportunity and be in Calgary - it is [like a] storybook.”
It has been a long journey for Sloan, a 27-year-old defenseman who was never drafted. He has spent seven seasons playing for five teams between the AHL and the ECHL.
His ascension through Washington’s organizational depth chart has been a rapid one. He had just completed the 2005-06 season with Las Vegas of the ECHL when Hershey general manager Doug Yingst gave him a call.
The Bears were desperately short on defensemen and needed help in their Eastern Conference final matchup with Portland in the Calder Cup playoffs. Sloan was on a golf course when his coach with Las Vegas, Glen Gulutzan, called him to say Yingst might be providing the defenseman with a new opportunity.
“That was all she wrote. I got the call from Doug and hopped on the next plane and flew in that night,” Sloan said. “I practiced the next day, but my equipment didn’t show up, so I practiced in Colin Forbes’ skates.”
Sloan played in the final two games of that series and got to stick around to see the Bears capture the Calder Cup. Yingst signed him to an AHL contract for the 2006-07 season, and after two productive years with Hershey, Caps general manager George McPhee inked him to an NHL deal this summer.
“We had heard good things about him, and we were in an emergency situation,” said Bruce Boudreau, who was then the head man for the Bears. “I was sitting there wondering why someone would give up on a 6-foot-3 guy that could be your fastest skater. We thought this guy was a great project, and we signed him the next year. He had a stellar year.”
Sloan said he is a physical defenseman who likes to make the simple play, crediting his father for his above-average skating ability.
“My dad has been a power-skating instructor for 30 years. He’s still doing it in Calgary,” Sloan said. “He taught Jamie Hunt, a guy who used to be here, how to skate. It is something that I am always working on. I am always trying to work on it in the summer, and I think it is my greatest strength.”
Boudreau said he won’t wait to put Sloan in the lineup, so expect to see him in uniform Tuesday night skating alongside another Calgary native playing at the Saddledome for the first time, Jeff Schultz. Sloan and Schultz played together some for Hershey, so that could help his transition.
“Maybe I will be like Tom Poti [was for me] and he will be like myself - I can kind of be the leader of the two out there,” Schultz said.
Notes - Sergei Fedorov skated on the top line at practice Monday, with Nicklas Backstrom centering the second unit. …
Donald Brashear skated but will be a game-time decision against the Flames. …
Both Viktor Kozlov (knee) and Poti (groin) will be with the team during the three-game road trip. Kozlov hopes to skate Tuesday morning and play at some point during the trip. …
Mike Green, the third Calgary native on the roster, bought a suite for the game and expects to have 30 people in it and more friends in the seats. …
The Caps signed goalie Braden Holtby, a 2008 fourth-round pick, to a three-year, entry-level contract.