Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hockey n Heels 11/12/14

The Caps Hockey n Heels events are becoming an annual tradition. Tonight was my fourth event (read about the other events here and here and here). The Caps really put a lot of effort into the event and it showed. Everything was well-organized and fun. We were at Kettler for almost 4 hours!

I attended this year's event with friends and fellow die-hard fans Kristin and Catherine.

We started our evening by learning about the goalie glove and blocker from goalie Justin Peters. We got a chance to stand in goal, while former Caps defenseman Sylvain Côté shot foam pucks at us. He took it easy on us, and we were able to block most of the pucks he sent our way. Standing in front of the goal while someone is shooting pucks at you gives you a whole new appreciation for what goalies face every game. And this was without any traffic in front!

Next, we headed to the Caps training room for a conditioning/nutrition session with trainer Mark Nemish, Caps forward Michael Latta, former Caps player Alan May, and the Caps private chef. We were given a light work-out with the floor ladders and then listened to a talk about nutrition. The players are served breakfast and lunch at the practice facility, in addition to game-day and after-game meals.

Then it was time for our picture with player Tom Wilson. We had the option to wear some sample Winter Classic jerseys, which was exciting.

The last on-ice station was shooting the puck with Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt.This is the fourth time I've done a shooting station like this, but this time I tried something new. Schmidt mentioned that he is right-handed but he shoots left (that means his left hand is lower on the stick) and said he thought it was easier. I am right-handed and have always tried shooting right, but this time I switched it up. And I found that shooting left was actually more natural for me. So that was interesting.

Then we headed upstairs for some dinner before the Q&A with Barry Trotz.

I definitely enjoyed this session the most. Coach Trotz was so interesting and willing to answer our questions. I am always so impressed with the quality of questions that the other fans ask - it's clear that most attendees are students of the game. Coach Trotz fielded questions about his impressions of the team/city/fans, his philosophy about benching players, his impression of the team's play thus far, and more that I can't remember.

I asked him how he uses advanced statistics (analytics, aka Corsi and Fenwick) and what he thinks about them. He gave a very thoughtful, detailed answer which I didn't record, so I won't be able to do it justice here. But he did touch on how they use them in video review to flag issues with particular players. He talked about how sometimes the numbers (which are ways of showing puck possession) aren't useful because of coaching tactics - for example, in game situations when they want the players to dump and change. He also mentioned that he is aware of the team's current numbers (which are much improved from previous years) and that they aren't reflected in their current record. He talked about how the goalies aren't used to the lesser number of shots on goal and also how the players aren't accustomed to playing with the puck as much and are making mistakes. It was very interesting. It's clear that he is really smart about the game.

Next, we head to the locker room at Kettler,where the equipment manager talked about all of the gear that he is ordering for the Winter Classic. He is clearly excited about all the neat things they are getting, not just the uniforms, helmets, gloves, hats, etc, but also small things like the staff tracksuits, towels, whistles, tape, all kinds of stuff. And of course, we got to poke around a little bit and check out all the players' gear.

Our last stop was a rules/strategy discussion with assistant coach Lane Lambert. He had a white board and drew up a lot of scenarios involving hybrid icing, off-sides, face-offs, set plays, line changes, proposed rule revisions, etc. Really interesting and great questions from the audience too.

It was another fun evening, and as usual, I have to thank the Caps and their staff for being so willing to put on these events. The players and coaches were so gracious and seemed excited to be there and see our enthusiasm for hockey.

You can see all of my photos from the evening here. All photos are copyrighted by me and may not be republished without permission. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Caps / Dreams for Kids 2/22/14

Zachary and I were so excited to participate in Dreams for Kids DC's Extreme Recess with the Caps again this year. You can read about last year's event here.

If you don't know already, Zachary is an almost 6 year old kindergartner with cerebral palsy. He has a lot of physical challenges in his life, but he is one feisty little guy and has made so much progress in the past 6 years. We try to expose Zachary to as many experiences as we can and keep his life as normal and typical as possible. But one activity that he doesn't get to do much is sports. That's why events like this are so special to him.

I told Zachary this morning that we were going to skate with the Caps at Kettler, and he was so excited! We made him a photo book of last year's event, so we looked that over beforehand to review what we'd be doing.

The set-up was a little different this year. The event started at 11:30, so we missed the Caps practice. We could have come earlier to watch, but we attend practice a lot, and I knew it was going to be a long day with a lot of waiting, so we skipped it this time.

When we arrived at Kettler, we checked in, got Zachary a t-shirt, and went upstairs, where they were serving pizza. We were able to watch Jason Chimera practicing on the ice with his little son and a few other players, so that was fun.

Then we met up with our volunteer Liz and headed downstairs to get our gear.

Zachary's walking is much more stable compared to last year, but his legs and ankles still aren't strong enough for skates, so he got to ride on a sled again. We are hopeful that one of these years he'll get to try this event on skates instead! Because he needs the sled, this is the only opportunity he'll get to go on the ice all year, and boy, was he ready.

We got to watch the Zamboni (actually, it's an Olympia-brand ice-resurfacer, if you want to be specific) before it was time to get on the ice. Zachary is just dying to ride on that sometime - he loves watching it so much!

Zachary and the other kids waited patiently to get on the ice. It was fun to see some familiar faces from last year, and also see some people that I've only met via social media.

Finally, they gave us the okay to go on the ice! Zachary was basically grinning from ear to ear for the next hour. He wanted to keep going, around and around the ice. He gave us all quite a work-out! He was always so annoyed anytime we stopped to pose for photos, which you'll see in his expressions. I don't think he recognizes the players out of their gear, so he didn't see what was so important that we needed to stop to take pictures!

Before the Caps players came over to our side of the ice, Zachary got the chance to "play" hockey with a few boys who were volunteering. They are clearly experienced hockey players, I'd guess they were maybe 11 or 12 years old. They were amazing with Zachary. I can't tell you how beneficial it is for Zachary to interact with typically developing peers. He was thrilled that they wanted to play with him and really enjoyed playing goalie with them. They were all having a good time. If their parents are somehow reading this, great job raising such good role models! I get a little emotional thinking about this, because kids can be intolerant and mean sometimes. It's just so nice to see these positive interactions.

After some more laps around the ice, Zachary got to meet some Caps players. I've said this before, but hockey players really are the nicest people. I have probably met 3/4 of the Caps team by now, and they are always so friendly. To see them interacting with all the kids was just great.

As we were going around the ice, Zachary noticed John Erskine's gloves laying there so he picked them up and put them on. He wore them for the rest of the time we were there. Thanks for being such a good sport about it, John!

We also met Jack Hillen, who's looking pretty good despite rehabbing a leg injury.

And Connor Carrick, who, at 19, is closer in age to Zachary than to me. I'm not going to think about that anymore. :)

Zachary was just fascinated with the gloves the whole time he had them on. Connor mentioned that the way he was twisting his wrists in the gloves was the same thing that Ovi does when he wants new gloves on the bench, ha!

And finally, we saw Joel Ward. Most of you must know by now that my husband's name is also Joel Ward and we all have Ward jerseys. My older son Benny and I first met "hockey Joel" at the Caps convention back in September and he was so great to us then. Now, Zachary has gotten to meet him too, so we need to figure out a way to get the two Joels to meet!

Those of you who know me well know that I don't usually ask for autographs for myself. I would rather the boys get the chance to collect them. But in this case, I made an exception and had Joel autograph my Ward jersey. I just couldn't pass up the chance!

The event was winding down at this point, so we took a few more laps and then left the ice. Zachary would have stayed out there all day though, if he was allowed to.

On our way out, we got a chance to say good-bye to our favorite Caps pup Ovie the Bulldog, who is moving to California soon. We'll miss seeing you outside practices and games, buddy!

It was a really fun day and I couldn't be more thankful to the Dreams for Kids organization and the Washington Capitals, whose community and philanthropic outreach is second to none. I'm proud to be a fan.

To see all the photos I took today, please check out my Google photos. All photos are copyrighted by me and may not be re-used without permission.

Thanks for reading!