- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sure, Chris Clark and Brian Pothier were about 24 hours from one of the most anticipated NHL games of this decade, but they used the night before Game 7 of this Eastern Conference semifinal series to spend some time at their other job - fatherhood.

Some of the Washington Capitals players went to dinner. Some watched television. Some played video games. Clark and Pothier played street hockey with their kids, with the Pothier family even mixing in a little soccer and a trip to the park as well.

These guys have been on the road at various points for the past eight months, but the travel is even more intensive once the playoffs begin.

“It was a lot of fun. It was nice to have some fun with them and take my mind off of things,” Clark said. “Not of off hockey, but at least off this series.”

Added Pothier: “[On Tuesday] I woke up my kid, and it was the first time I had been home in a couple of days and he was like, ‘Daddy, what is going on? Why do you come home and then leave and come home again so much? Why are you doing that?’ I had to explain it to him, and it didn’t always translate.”

This was a much-hyped showdown between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, the game’s two most marketed superstars, and a bushel of young talent on each side. The series exceeded expectations with overtime games and incredible individual performances.

For the players, Tuesday night was a chance to get away from the hysteria for one evening before, for some of them, what would be the biggest game of their career.

“I don’t think you can ever be ready and not nervous or anxious about Game 7s,” Pothier said. “We all have our routines and we try to stick to them, but there is definitely a little more focus in the room today. You can see the wheels are turning and people are thinking about what they need to do to be successful.”

A couple of the players, Tyler Sloan and Jay Beagle, wanted to watch their other teammates, the Hershey Bears, play Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in Game 7 of American Hockey League series, but the Internet connection in their hotel room was too slow.

The Bears won 3-0 to advance to the Eastern Conference final of the Calder Cup playoffs.

“We listened to game online there in the hotel room, and for them to win was a big sigh of relief,” Beagle said. “I just got away from everything [after that]. Had a lot of food and then walked around a bit, trying to get my head away from the game, and then I tried to get to bed early.”

Hockey players can be superstitious or tied to a rigid routine at the least. Guys talked about eating at specific places or specific meals - anything to try and keep some level of normalcy.

“I’ve been through it once before this year, and I didn’t sleep that well the first time. I slept better this time but not great. That’s what naps are for,” Caps forward David Steckel said. “I do the same things. I try not to think too much about hockey away from the rink. You go through the same mindset as you would for Game 1. I am a bit of a TV show guy, so I just watched my usual shows.”

Which of course begs the question, what television shows might an NHL player such as Steckel be watching?

” ‘The Mentalist’ - it is a pretty good show, pretty funny,” he said. “I would recommend it.”

• Corey Masisak can be reached at cmasisak@washingtontimes.com.

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