- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2009

Karl Alzner had planned a trip to Manhattan during the NHL All-Star break, but he also knew he might need to get a refund on that ticket.

Sure enough, Alzner will be spending the Washington Capitals‘ All-Star break with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League instead. The Caps returned Alzner to the Bears on Wednesday along with fellow defenseman Bryan Helmer and goaltender Daren Machesney.

“It’d be nice to get a break,” Alzner said before the Caps’ 3-2 loss Tuesday in Ottawa. “It wears on you after a while. It becomes a really big grind, but they’ve got to do what’s best for them, and if it is sending me down, then it is sending me down.”

Because the Caps have no games for five days, sending Alzner and Helmer to Hershey will give the Bears two players to help their blue line for the final two games before that league’s All-Star break. Whether either player will return to Washington for Tuesday’s game in Boston remains to be seen.

Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn is likely to be back after missing four games with an unspecified lower-body injury. Defenseman Tom Poti also could return after being absent for the past 14 contests with a groin injury. To return, Poti will have to be removed from long-term injured reserve, which would put the Caps back in the salary cap crunch they were in at the beginning of the season, when Alzner’s $1.76 million salary didn’t fit.

Helmer had expected for days he would be sent to Hershey when the break arrived. He will have additional duties after the Bears’ next two games.

He not only was named to the Canadian roster of the AHL All-Star Game, but the 36-year-old Helmer also will serve as his squad’s captain in the contest. Toss in the 12 games he has played with the Caps - his first at the NHL level since 2003-04 - and it has been a nice few months for Helmer.

“It has been incredible,” Helmer said. “I never would have thought coming into the year that I would play in the NHL. Then to be picked to the AHL All-Star team and have the president of the league call you and ask if you want to be the captain - it has just been a great year.”

For players not named Alex Ovechkin, who will travel to Montreal for the All-Star festivities, the break is a chance to get away from the daily demands of hockey. The organization puts few restrictions on the players for the longest pause in a season that could span 10 months from training camp to the postseason.

“I’m going to go home and snow-blow the driveway,” center Brooks Laich said of his trip to Wawota, Saskatchewan.

Defenseman Jeff Schultz and wing Eric Fehr are planning to do some golfing during a trip to Jacksonville, Fla. - and that means a tee time on the famed course at TPC Sawgrass.

“It gives the guys a chance to relax,” said center David Steckel, who will return to his home just outside Columbus, Ohio. “You don’t have to think about anything for a couple of days, and it can rejuvenate us for the second half of the season.”

Coach Bruce Boudreau just missed being named the assistant coach of the Eastern Conference All-Star squad when his team lost Jan. 10 to Montreal.

Instead, he will stay in the area and continue to work for a few days before leaving for his induction to the AHL Hall of Fame on Monday afternoon in Worcester, Mass. His guidelines for the players during their break were pretty simple.

“Don’t get arrested, come back with your mind refreshed and be ready to play,” Boudreau said. “If it takes three or four days away from the game to get that scenario, then get it.”

Center Nicklas Backstrom was named to the sophomore squad for the YoungStars game, scheduled for Saturday in Montreal, but he declined the invitation Wednesday. Last season Backstrom played in the game, which is little more than a fast-paced three-on-three exhibition.

“I am grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in the YoungStars Game last year,” Backstrom said in a statement released by the Caps. “This year I felt like it made more sense for me to give someone else that opportunity and use this time to rest and prepare for the second half of the season with the Washington Capitals. I can assure Caps fans that I’m not injured and will be ready to go Tuesday in Boston.”

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