Cupids Undie Run (71)

Cupid’s Undie Run 2016

Down in DC, locals put the hilarity in charity. Runners participated in a 1 mile fun run to raise money for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. Photos: Mark Van Bergh

Photos courtesy Washington Capitals
Photos courtesy Washington Capitals

The Washington Capitals Talk Valentine’s Day

Players told On Tap their best gifts ever received, the best give to give and their favorite Valentine’s Day memories.

#77 T.J. Oshie
On Valentine’s Day & Best Gift
I proposed in early February and married my wife on February 5th. So that’s our special day/Valentine’s.  Valentine’s Day these days is more for our little girl, spoiling her and such.  But dinner and movie, maybe a spa day is good gift to give.

#90 Marcus Johansson
On Valentine’s Day & Best Gift
Never really celebrated Valentine’s Day in Sweden – sounds like an interesting holiday.  I got a box of chocolates once here – who doesn’t like chocolate, so I’d say chocolates is the best gift!

#19 Nicklas Backstrom
On Best Gift 
I’ve got to come up with something good this year (since I don’t have plans) – Oshie’s dinner and a movie idea sound good to me though!

#88 Nate Schmidt
On Best Gift
An old high school girlfriend gave me this awesome tempur-pedic bed pillow—still have it from my junior year of high school. Super comfy!

#25 Jason Chimera
On Valentine’s Day
Every day is Valentine’s Day with my wife—I don’t need one day to show her love—I show her she’s special every day.

#27 Karl Alzner
On Best Gift
My wife (then girlfriend) gave me a huge 2 foot tall Valentine’s Day card—I still have it to this day.

#46 Michael Latta
On Valentine’s Day
I’m single. I’m open to suggestions. I spent last Valentine’s Day at a bar lol.

#10 Mike Richards
On Best Gift to Give
Flowers and chocolates. You can’t go wrong with those!

#9 Dmitry Orlov
On Best Gift to Give
Flowers!  I always have flowers for my girlfriend.

#31 Phillip Grubauer
On Best Gift
A surprise visit from my girlfriend from Germany.

#49 Stanislav Galiev
On Best Gift to Give
A great dinner – food is the way to a woman’s heart.

#65 Andre Burakovsky
On Best Gift to Give
Currently single, but I used to always do flowers, always.

#92 Evgeny Kuznetsov
On Valentine’s Day
I play hockey—love my wife—she knows!

#2 Matt Niskanen
On Best Gift
Can’t go wrong with a dinner and a movie!

#21 Brooks Laich
On Best Gift
My fiancé (now wife) had just bought a new home that day and it was empty with just boxes, she surprised me on our first Valentine’s Day in the new place with candles and a romantic dinner. There was no furniture, just us in an empty house sharing a special dinner together. That’s my best memory.

#78 Braden Holtby
On Valentine’s Day
We’re on the road a lot, so we spend most holidays away from our families traveling.  We usually only get Christmas off as far as holidays go.  So, flowers are the way to go for me and we celebrate in our own way when I get back.  My wife is very understanding.

Nate Schmidt
Photo courtesy Washington Capitals

Midseason Report with Nate Schmidt

Something very special is happening with the Washington Capitals this season. The team has been on fire since its first game, and is on pace for an astounding 120 points or more by season’s end.

While excited about the team’s prospects heading to the playoffs, the fan base has also reason to be leery after experiencing heartbreaking finishes year after year.

However, there is a wholly different feeling for this Capitals team. They play shutdown defensive hockey seemingly at will, they intimidating opponents with size and snarl. Opponents fall behind a couple goals and seem resigned to defeat because goaltender Braden Holtby has been that good.

Capitals teams in recent years have always been an offensive threat, but fans seem unanimous in the consensus that this is the most cohesive, complete unit they have seen. Ever.

“We’re a team that’s not taking anything for granted right now,” says defenseman Nate Schmidt. “We have an unbelievable group in the lockerroom. It’s a real team-first mentality.”

In his third year with Washington, Schmidt has really come into his own and established himself as a regular in the lineup. He personifies the depth, character, and resiliency of this team, filling in more than capably while veterans John Carlson and Brooks Orpik have missed significant time with injuries.

Schmidt was signed as a free agent by the Capitals in April 2013 after shining at the collegiate level at the University of Minnesota. After spending his first couple of seasons in and out of the lineup, Schmidt has stepped up his game and impressed fans so much that many consider him a top-four defenseman, even after Carlson and Orpik return for regular duty.

“I talked with Coach [Barry] Trotz about what it takes to be an everyday player, and having the confidence to go and make the plays I know I could make,” Schmidt says. He also praised assistant coach Todd Reirden for being helpful with polishing his overall game. This is Reirden’s first year with the Caps, but he spent the four previous seasons as an assistant with the rival Pittsburgh Penguins where he worked closely with their defensemen and power-play unit, including current Capitals Orpik and Matt Niskanen.

Reirden, a former player himself, has helped Schmidt stay positive while stressing the finer points of being a solid defenseman. “He’s worked with some really good defensemen over the years,” Schmidt tells On Tap. “And he’s really pushed me along and helped me find my niche.”

Bench boss Trotz has brought a disciplined structure to the team in just his second year as coach that has not been seen in Washington in recent memory. He has been able to develop young prospects like Schmidt and his defense partner Dmitry Orlov while getting the mainstays and veteran newcomers like T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams to buy into the system.

Perhaps foremost, Trotz has gotten superstar and team captain Alex Ovechkin to lead the other players in becoming one of the better teams in hockey at two-way play, meaning they skate and forecheck relentlessly to be just as effective on defense as they are on offense.

Ovechkin is still putting up his usual spectacular numbers, and attained an esteemed and extremely rare feat when he recorded his 500th career goal on January 10 against the Ottawa Senators. Personal achievements aside, Ovechkin and his teammates are well-aware that records and the regular season is meaningless once the playoffs arrive.

As of mid-January, the Capitals were a league-best 34-8-3 with 71 points. The next closest team was the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference with 64 points, and they had just surged up standings with a hot streak. The Capitals were picked by many experts before the season to make it to the Stanley Cup finals, and that pick seems legitimate so far.

Most importantly, throughout their trouncing of opponents this year, this Capitals team has evoked an air of confidence that is unmistakable. They wholeheartedly recognize and believe that they are an elite force; that they are a team that is immune to the gaffes and pratfalls that have plagued Capitals teams of the past.

“We enjoy being around each other each and every day,” Schmidt said. “We have something special brewing here. I think the goal is to bring some hardware back to DC.”

Hardware in individual categories seems inevitable this year, as Trotz, Holtby and Ovechkin are all early favorites for awards.

However, the ultimate hardware, of course, is the Stanley Cup. After all the years of anguish and despair, the soul-crushing defeats and hollow endings, the thoroughness with which this team dispatches foes simply cannot be ignored.

These Capitals are simply radiant. Moreover, they are on a mission to reach the Stanley Cup finals.

To learn more about the Capitals visit  www.capitals.nhl.com and follow them on Twitter (@washcaps) and Facebook (@WashingtonCapitals.)


Ovie Nets 500

It is only fitting that in the middle of what could be the most successful regular season in the history of the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin reached a momentous milestone.  On January 10, the captain ripped a shot past Ottawa goaltender Andrew Hammond to score the 500th goal of his extraordinary career.

Ovechkin became the first Russian-born player to reach the

500-goal mark, and the 43rd player overall. The Great Eight was also the fifth-fastest ever to hit 500, having gotten there in his 801st game. Only Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, and Mario Lemieux – all Hall of Famers – reached the plateau faster.

The Capitals are enjoying a tremendous regular season, having led the NHL in points as of mid-January. The team is hungry for playoff success after years of early exits, and fans and experts feel this team could legitimately challenge for the Stanley Cup. That Ovechkin was able to record his 500th goal only adds to the mystique the Capitals team is building this year.

Ovechkin also notched his 501st goal later that night against Ottawa, and later that week was awarded a golden stick in a brief ceremony at the Verizon Center. Having achieved so many individual goals already, expect Ovechkin’s intensity to only increase as the team ramps up its chase for the Cup.

Ovechkin leads the NHL in power-play and game-winning goals and points since entering the NHL at the beginning of the 2005-2006 season.

Photo courtesy Washington Capitals

Military Bowl
Photo: Glenn A Miller

Here Come the Clydesdales

Get ready for some football, along with lots of fun activities and events, all surrounding and celebrating the 2015 Military Bowl in Annapolis. Presented by Northrop Grumman, this year’s Bowl, which benefits the USO, takes place on Monday, December 28 at 2:30 p.m. at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. But for some fans, the Military Bowl Parade, beginning at 11 a.m. that day, is just as much of an attraction. That’s because some very famous horses are once again leading the way.

For the third year in a row, the world famous Budweiser Clydesdales will headline the parade, which starts at the Annapolis City Dock. Steve Beck, President and Executive Director of the Military Bowl, said that the Clydesdales are now an integral part of the Bowl experience.

“Having the Clydesdales is just awesome,” he said. “The Clydesdales have their own following and they definitely are an attraction. For instance, prior to our first Military Bowl Parade in 2013, we were contacted by a woman whose father lived in the region, had served in the Marines, and on his bucket list of things to do was see the Clydesdales. With help from our partners at Katcef Brothers Inc., we arranged a special experience for him to meet the Clydesdales up close and personal. You have no idea how much we enjoy this aspect of the Bowl, to be able to do those things.”

First bred for farm work in Clydesdale, Scotland, over 300 years ago, the horses became associated with Budweiser in 1933. Scott Smith, from Budweiser’s Clydesdale team, explained how they became the public face of the company, courtesy of its owners, the Busch family.

“The Budweiser Clydesdales were a gift from August Busch Jr. to his father August Busch Sr., to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition,” Smith said. “Being brilliant marketers and lifelong horsemen, a team was dispatched to travel to visit Washington, DC and New York City to deliver ceremonial cases of post-Prohibition Budweiser.”

Since then, the horses have become synonymous with Budweiser, regularly appearing around the country at various sporting and community events. There are several “hitches” or teams of the horses that travel around, and Smith said that the company has one of the largest Clydesdale breeding programs in the world, producing 35-45 foals a year.

While the Clydesdales are a big part of the Military Bowl experience, it wouldn’t be a Bowl without the football game, which this year is Navy vs. Pittsburgh.

Steve Beck said that’s what sets the Military Bowl apart from other Bowl games, its commitment to America’s Armed Forces.

“Our game has a mission that we deeply believe in: to support and honor our nation’s military,” he said. “It is evident in everything we do, throughout the year. We are committed to doing anything we can for these brave men and women.”

To that end, the Bowl created Tickets for Troops, which, since 2008 has provided more than 25,000 free tickets to troops and their families through a partnership with the USO.

“Every year,” Beck said, “we have an allotment of complimentary tickets set aside for our nation’s servicemen and servicewomen. They are distributed through USO-Metro at local military bases in early December and we welcome these men and women to join us on game day. Additional information is available at www.militarybowl.org/militarytickets.

Profits from the Bowl also go to the troops, in the form of donations to the USO. So this December 28, get set for football and fun, and a special appearance from the famous horses referred to as the “Gentle Giants,” all for a good cause.

The Military Bowl kicks off on Monday, December 28, 2015 at 2:30 p.m. at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. Tailgate opens at 9 a.m. Parade starts at the City Dock at 11 a.m. Pub Crawl and Gallery Walk the night before. More info atwww.militarybowl.org.

Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium: 550 Taylor Ave., Annapolis, MD; www.militarybowl.org

Players Pay It Forward
Photos courtesy Washington Capitals

Players Pay It Forward

The holiday season is upon us and if you’re looking to give back this holiday season, charity is a wonderful way to do so. In this spirit of giving, On Tap caught up with the Caps and the Wizards to find out what charitable organizations our favorite local players and teams support.

The Washington Capitals 

#88 Nate Schmidt
Defending the Blueline. This organization helps give military kids the opportunity to participate in the game of hockey. They provide things like free equipment, hockey camps and financial assistance. www.defendingtheblueline.org

#25 Jason Chimera
Make-A-Wish Foundation. The team has supported this organization for a long time.www.wish.org.

#77 T.J. Oshie
I support March of Dimes. They are dedicated to fighting premature birth. I also have supported the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which is a great event that raises awareness and funds for Alzheimer’a research. www.marchofdimes.org and www.act.alz.org

#4 Taylor Chorney
Team 25 – Shjon Podein Children’s Foundation. This organization is special to me and is dedicated to helping sick children who need it most. They offer assistance to a lot of different organizations. www.givemn.org

#8 Alex Ovechkin
I support the the American Special Hockey Association. This foundation supports players with develop­mental disa­bilities and gives people of all ages and abilities a chance to learn and grow by playing hockey. Also, Make-A-Wish Foundation. They help grant the wishes of children diagnosed with a serious medical conditions.www.americanspecialhockey.org and www.wish.org.

#43 Tom Wilson
I support Teammates for Kids, which does a lot to help kids.  A big part of what they do is support children’s health, education and help offer sports and recreation opportunities to inner city children. www.teammatesforkids.com

#46 Michael Latta
Make-A-Wish Foundation. Monumental has been a great supporter of this organization for many years. www.wish.org

The Washington Wizards
#3, Bradley Beal
I’m big on making awareness of children who are sick, kids in hospitals. That’s what I like to do – buy Christmas gifts for them, for the families who might not be able to be afford gifts. And on Thanksgiving we’ll have food drives for less fortunate families. Those are the main ones I participate in.

#13, Marcin Gortat
I do a lot of things with the Polish military. I send different kids from Poland to the United States to be able to see games – pretty much families who lost a father or mother in Afghanistan or Iraq. I’m sending military kids to camps visiting different bases, doing basketball camps in the base. I interact with the soldiers. At the end of the summer I always have a celebrity game with my celebrities versus members of the Polish Army and we usually have 14,000-15,000 people in the stands. And I have my foundation, too — MG13 “Aim High.”

#22, Otto Porter
One big thing here in D.C. is the homeless. There are a lot of homeless here that need to be attended to, especially here in the Capital. It’s right here in our backyards and a lot of people don’t even realize it. I’m always donating things – clothes, shoes, whatever I can do to help.

#1, Jared Dudley
The big thing for me I’m always big on the Boys and Girls Club. I grew up with that since I was a little kid. At one point in time, my mom didn’t have any money and the Boys and Girls Club gave us Christmas presents so I’m huge into that. It’s giving to the community – the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA’s and hospitals.

#45, DeJuan Blair
Christmas and Thanksgiving are really important. On Christmas, I like to give the less fortunate presents, and on Thanksgiving, I’m giving food out. Those are the two biggest holidays for giving for me.

General Manager, Ernie Grunfeld
A lot of our players give out turkeys to hundreds of families. We have something called Family-to-Family where all of our players buy Christmas gifts for a specific family who doesn’t have it as good as they do. It’s TV’s and all kinds of toys and food to make a little holiday cheer for everybody. Almost all of our players do it and hand-deliver it to their homes.

 

Bradley Beal
Bradley Beal photo courtesy NBA photos

Shooting Star Bradley Beal

Bradley Beal, the Washington Wizards’ fourth-year shooting guard, leaned against the wall at the Verizon Center after an energetic mid-October practice and smiled like a man whose time has come – and for good reason.

The St. Louis native with the silky jump shot and soft-spoken demeanor is entering the final year of his contract feeling healthier than he has in several seasons, and Coach Randy Wittman is looking to him to help lead the team deep into the NBA playoffs. Beal said he is completely healthy after suffering debilitating wrist, leg and toe injuries last season.

“I feel really good,” the six-foot-three-inch guard told On Tap. “I can say that of all my years in the league, I feel the healthiest at this point in terms of my body, energy-wise and everything. I’m just trying to keep it that way.”

The emerging team leader, who helped guide the Wizards to a season opening win against the Orlando Magic, has another reason to smile: He’s no longer the youngest player on the squad. Wizards rookie guard/forward Kelly Oubre Jr. – only 19-years-old – now holds that distinction

“It’s pretty cool not to be the young guy on the team anymore,” said Beal, 23, with a grin. “And it’s also pretty cool to be able to accept a leadership role. I’m doing everything I can to try to lead this team.”

Of course, Beal won’t have to do that alone. His backcourt partner John Wall – the Wizards All-Star point guard – is also healthy and eager to help push the Wizards beyond their post-season sticking point, which for the last two seasons has been the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Washington posted a 46-36 record last season, accruing the franchise’s most victories since its 1978-79 campaign. The Wizards swept the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs last season only to be bounced by the Atlanta Hawks in six games in the semi-finals.

The team will miss future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce (now with the L.A. Clippers) at the small forward position, but third-year player Otto Porter – a Georgetown University alum and hometown favorite – has gained experience and savvy at that spot as his minutes have increased over the past two seasons. The off-season acquisition of Jared Dudley, Gary Neal and Alan Anderson will also solidify Washington at the forward position, while the return of veteran big men Nene and Marcin Gortat give the team a strong, athletic inside game.

Despite the disappointing outcome against the Hawks in last season’s playoff loss, Beal offered a glimpse of what he’s capable of. He scored a playoff career-high 28 points with a sprained ankle during the first game of the series. Then, in Game 4, Beal scored 34 points – yet another playoff personal best. Everyone knows Beal can score; now he wants to prove himself on defense. And how is he preparing himself to do that?

“I’m just constantly working on guarding guys who are smaller and quicker than me,” Beal explained. “I’m guarding John (Wall) in practice, guarding guys who are really good who are going to push me to defend. Honestly, it’s a mental thing, you have to be able to want to play defense and want to get involved and defend somebody. As much as I can, that’s what I’m trying to do – trying to guard the best players on each team and trying to shut them down.”

Wall, who dazzled an exhibition crowd in the pre-season practice by swishing a half-court shot followed by a bank shot while seated on the bench, also seemed in high spirits after the Wizards practice. The sixth-year veteran said he’s optimistic about the team’s chances and he, too, is focused on defense.

“The offense is going to have ups and downs,” Wall told On Tap. “You’re gonna make shots, you’re gonna be playing well and move the ball, but when we’re not, then we have to keep our defense at a high intensity and a high level. Coaches want us to get back to giving the ball more pressure than we usually do and do a better job of getting deflections and causing turnovers.”

Wall also said the acquisition of skilled players helps give starters like himself and Beal a chance to recharge and avoid injury.

“Our bench is deeper now, so that helps us out a lot,” Wall added. “When those guys are playing well we can sit out and let them keep rolling.”

Wall wants to help Beal and other Wizards succeed so they, too, can earn the big bucks that will make them want to remain in Washington. Beal is in the final year of a contract that will pay him more than $4 million this season, and the Wizards are expected to sign him to a longer deal by next summer. But they have not offered him enough money to compel him to sign on the dotted line just yet. Wall said he wants to help his teammates all the way to the bank, and the way to do that is by winning games.

“I’m going to help them get paid like we did in the past,” said Wall, who signed a five-year $80 million deal in 2013. “They (Beal and others seeking more money) can look and see how we did it and they will be perfectly fine. Come in and play your role and take open shots and you can find yourself getting into the contract without worrying.”

Beal told On Tap he’s leaving the contract negotiations to his agent and Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunwald. But he made it clear he’d like to keep hanging his jersey in the nation’s capital.

“I love it here,” said Beal, who lives in the Maryland suburbs. “I never get bored here; there is always something to do. I’m kind of a low-key guy but whenever I can, I come to the city and hang out and walk down F Street or U Street and have some fun.”

The Wizards star also threw some love to the city’s fans.

“The fans are awesome,” Beal said. “They have gotten better each and every year and we constantly feed off their energy and support. I think we have some of the best fans in the world, and as long as they continue to support us we’re going to continue to be a good team.”

Catch the Wizards’ home  opener Saturday, Oct. 31 against the New York Knicks. Tipoff is 7 p.m.

Verizon Center: 601 F St. NW, DC; 202-628-3200;  www.nba.com search Wizards

CapitalsRockTheRedCarpet (22)

Capitals Rock the Red Carpet at Verizon Center

The Washington Capitals launched their 2015-16 regular-season home opener with a special red carpet event at Verizon Center. Fans enjoyed an up close and personal experiences with players, while getting autographs, photos and more. Photos: Alex Benedetto

John Walton
John Walton Washington Capitals Radio Announcer

Capitals Radio Voice John Walton

One of John Walton’s most memorable occasions as a broadcaster came when he had to lend Bruce Boudreau his pants. Literally, the pants off his body.

The coach of the Hershey Bears at the time, Boudreau forgot to bring his suit pants to the stadium for a game against Bridgeport. The year was 2006 and Walton was the play-by-play radio broadcaster for the Bears, the minor league affiliate of the Washington Capitals. Walton was called down to the locker-room 20 minutes before game-time to find Boudreau dressed in a shirt, tie, suit jacket and his boxers. The animated coach was spitting mad while his players tucked their chins down trying to conceal their laughter.

The Bears won the game. But the real question, did the superstitious Boudreau keep Walton’s pants? “My waistline is a little different than Bruce’s,” the Capitals radio play-by-play announcer said with a laugh. “Bruce said he couldn’t yell at the refs because he had to suck it in too much. Superstition ends with a size 34.”

That is probably one of the more humorous recollections for Walton, though the memories he’s accumulated over the years as a broadcaster are as plentiful as they are diverse.

Back in 1996, Walton’s first radio broadcast for baseball’s Cincinnati Reds was tragically cut short when the home-plate umpire, John McSherry, was stricken by a massive heart attack on the field seven pitches into opening day. McSherry died an hour later at a local hospital. “That gave me some perspective,” Walton said. “I think I maintain a pretty even-keel professionally. I get excited during the games, sure, but I try to keep a big-picture perspective.”

Walton grew up in Ohio where his father taught at Miami University. He would eventually attend Miami himself in 1991 and was immediately taken with hockey. “I was hooked right away. My first memories are growing up in the coldest climates with frozen ponds.”

Miami had a terrific division one hockey team and Walton already had the itch to do broadcast work, so calling the games was a natural fit. Eventually broadcasting would take him to the Hershey Bears, where he became closely affiliated with several key figures in recent Capitals history, including ex-coach Boudreau and players like Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Braden Holtby, Mike Green and Eric Fehr.

Walton will be entering his fifth season as the radio play-by-play voice for the Capitals this year. He also serves as the team’s director of broadcasting, overseeing the 12-station Washington Capitals Radio Network. He likes the chances of this Capitals squad this season, and is impressed with the job coach Barry Trotz did in his first season with the team.

In the offseason, the Capitals added T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, both gifted scoring wingers, but lost Green, Fehr, Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward, who was a favorite of Walton.

The changes are already making an impact, The Hockey News picked the Capitals to reach the Stanley Cup finals this year against Boudreau’s Anaheim Ducks. “I think the expectations are pretty high,” Walton said. “You’ve got one of the most respected coaches in the game. They acquired an Olympic hero in T.J. Oshie. They got Williams. Holtby is a year wiser. I’m excited, I’ll tell you that.”

While Walton knows all the Capitals well, he has a particular affinity for Holtby, having watched the goalie work his way up through Hershey to become one of the top goalies in the league.

Walton lists among his most memorable moments the time when captain Alex Ovechkin scored four goals in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. A couple of other fond memories were created by Ward, the first of which was his overtime goal in game 7 in 2012 to beat the Boston Bruins, then the defending Stanley Cup champions. Another Ward moment came this past spring when he scored with just 1.3 seconds left to stun the New York Rangers in game one of their series. “I literally had one foot out the door to go to the bathroom before overtime.”

DC is home now for Walton and his family. He treasures his profession in a sport that is in his blood. Even though it sounds like a dream job, Walton is on the road half the season with the team when they travel, and he is constantly studying and talking with broadcasting greats like Michael “Doc” Emrick and listening to sporting events of any type to polish his own game.

“The story can be told a thousand ways and we need to weave together a tapestry for a single broadcast,” Walton said. “Being a storyteller for an NHL team is special.”

To learn more about John Walton visit www.capitalsvoice.monumentalnetwork.com.

Catch John calling play-by-play for the Capitals at the season opener on Oct. 10 at 7 p.m against the New Jersey Devils.

Verizon Center: 601 F St. NW, DC; 202-628-3200; www.capitals.nhl.com
Justin Williams
Justin Williams Photo credit: Washington Capitals Hockey

Mr. Game 7 Justin Williams

Last season featured a host of pleasant developments for a Washington Capitals team that is favored to reach the Stanley Cup finals this time around. Despite ending their 2015 playoff run early, management hopes to improve upon their regular season success. The goal, to march deep into the playoffs behind new additions T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, both forwards. Williams in particular is renowned for elevating his game in the postseason.

Coach Barry Trotz brought immediate stability in his first year behind the bench. He did not hesitate to commit to Braden Holtby as his number one goaltender, and Holtby rewarded his faith by becoming one of the league’s top netminders.

Defenseman Brooks Orpik was his usual fearsome self in his first season with the Capitals, and Matt Niskanen brought skill and a good two-way game to the blueline.

Captain Alex Ovechkin continued at a superstar pace scoring 53 goals; Nicklas Backstrom again put up a boatload of points as the most underrated player in the league; John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Marcus Johansson and rookies Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov were all key contributors as well.

But once again, Washington faces questions about its ability to get it done in the playoffs.

Enter Williams, a crafty veteran winger who is considered one of the greatest clutch performers in NHL history. Yes, Williams is that good under pressure. He shares a playoff record with former Edmonton Oilers great Glenn Anderson for the most Game 7 goals in NHL history with seven, and has the record outright for most Game 7 points with 14. He won the Conn Smythe trophy for most valuable player in the 2014 Stanley Cup finals with the Los Angeles Kings. He has won three Stanley Cups overall, two with the Kings and one with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.

The Capitals improved their playoff outlook significantly by signing Williams, who has been dubbed “Mr. Game 7.”

It was Williams’ first time testing unrestricted free agency, and he had several suitors, including the Kings. “You look at the city, and also what the team needs and how close they are to winning a championship, which is very important,” Williams said in choosing Washington.

“At the end of the day, it was important to be in a city that is good for my family and a team where I believe I could fit in and a team that is close to winning.”

Despite his elite playoff achievements, Williams said he is just trying to fit in with his new teammates. He even expressed a certain degree of weariness in discussing his past playoff performances, stressing that each year is different and the focus has to be on getting to the postseason in the first place.

“The hardest part is getting into the playoffs,” said Williams, who knows this all too well after playing for two teams that did not make the playoffs the year after winning the Stanley Cup – the Kings last season and the Hurricanes in 2007.

Williams still allowed a view into how he approaches pivotal matches. “When your back is against the wall you’ve got to find ways to bring your best. You don’t want to err on the side of caution. You want to go out there and get it and make an impact. You don’t want to be thinking ‘I don’t want to make a mistake.’ You want to be thinking ‘I want to do something positive for this team.’”

Oshie has also experienced recent success on a big stage. In the 2014 Winter Olympics, he was the key performer in the American’s 3-2 victory over Russia in the preliminary round, converting four of six shootout attempts. Oshie, who was traded for in a deal that sent Troy Brouwer to St. Louis, is known as an intense competitor and clutch performer.

Together with Williams, the two newcomers bring a special attitude to Washington. Williams is also known as a tenacious player who thrives on puck possession.

Washington will spend the first part of the season adjusting to its new roster. The team lost key players Brouwer, Mike Green, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr and John Erskine in the offseason.

The Capitals have an impressive mix of grit and talent up front, and the defense corps is an experienced, mobile unit. With another standout season from Holtby and the additions of Williams and Oshie, it’s not hard to see why many pundits are picking the Caps to finally burst through and reach the finals.

“It’s get in first, then worry about what you’re going to do once you’re there,” said Williams. “There’s a lot of teams that could possibly win and we’re certainly one of them.”

Don’t miss the Capitals’ season opener on Saturday October 10 against the New Jersey Devils at 7 p.m.

Verizon Center: 601 F St. NW, DC; 202-628-3200;  www.capitals.nhl.com
Man Cave
ESPN 980 The Drive: Steve Czaban (L) Chris Cooley (M) Al Galdi (R)

It’s All About the Man Cave

Talking with Steve Czaban of ESPN 980 The Drive

Steve Czaban has 25 years of experience in sports talk radio. He hosts a national show on Yahoo sports radio every morning from 6 – 10 a.m. with Scott Linn and a local show every afternoon from 4 – 7 p.m. with Chris Cooley and Al Galdi. He blends national and local sports and pop culture content in a seamless fashion. If you are looking for corporate shtick and boring sports talk then Steve Czaban is not for you. The “Czabe” is candid, upfront, and honest.

In addition to sports, the “Czabe” is just as likely to kick off discussions incorporating pop culture, lawn maintenance, backyard grills and trips to Las Vegas. He is passionate about his local sports teams but just as likely to reference Seinfeld and Family Guy while on the air. On Tap caught up with the “Czabe” about his TV set-up, the football field in his backyard, RG3 and the Redskins’ chances this upcoming season.

On Tap: Why do you need three TVs in your man cave?
Steve Czaban: There’s no other way to live, if you went to a sports bar and they didn’t have TVs with different games on, you would be outraged. So why would you not have your home set up with more than one TV if you’re a sports fan? A couple of TVs right next to each other is no great luxury. TVs have gotten so cheap, the barrier to it is that people think it’s indulgent, crazy and obsessive, but it just makes sense. I decided to do it primarily for the NFL, but quickly found that watching college football was just as enjoyable. Then, I found out that watching different sporting events was just as good. There’s so much downtime in every sport that it’s not hard to keep up with three things.

OT: I heard you built a football field in your backyard. Why did you decide to do that?
SC: It’s funny because when you have a little bit of land, sometimes you think ‘this isn’t what I’m going to do.’ I have a fairly flat piece of property with 10 acres. Now I can build a football field. People think it’s a crazy expense. It did cost some money to move the dirt and reseed the area, but just a couple hundred dollars of field paint and a field painter, and nine hours of work each fall. It’s cool and looks awesome. Chris Cooley helped me paint the Redskins logo and taught me how to grid it out.

OT: How do you prepare differently for your local and national shows?
SC: As far as the personalities, on the morning show, I’ve worked with them a little longer so I know them really well. I’m still getting to know Cooley and Galdi and we get better every day. We’re coming up on two years now and you start to develop with every week that goes by. Because of the experience, we play a little more aggressively on the national morning show. The tempo and aggressiveness with what we do in the afternoon will begin to ramp up and match the morning show.

OT: What are your thoughts on RG3 for this year?
SC: We’ve got all of our chips on him. If he’s not good, then all those picks we used to go get him are going to be wiped away. This is going to be a telling year, either he gets traction and figures it out and becomes a legitimate pro-style quarterback or it’s going to be a season where he’s injured and plays like he did last year and then you are going to have to move on. It’s high stakes.

OT: What are the chances of the Redskins finishing the season with a .500 record?
SC: There’s always a chance; everyone always thinks we’ve got a shot to be 8 – 8 and if things break right then we can be 10 – 6. And that’s the beauty of the NFL. I don’t know though, I’m pessimistic.

The Drive with Steve Czaban, Chris Cooley and Al Galdi airs every weekday afternoon from 4 – 7 p.m. on ESPN 980. August 5 will mark their two year anniversary. You can catch the Czabe’s morning show on Yahoo sports radio, or stream it at   www.yahoosportsradio.com.  

Meet ESPN 980’s Chris Paul and Jason Reid of The Man Cave 

A new sports radio show, The Man Cave, hit the ESPN 980 airwaves in March and has since been breaking the boundaries of sports talk during the morning commute.
The show is hosted by two big personalities, Chris Paul and Jason Reid. Paul, a veteran of the radio world, co-hosted the Donnie Simpson show on WPGC for 16 years and the Tom Joyner Morning Show the past six. Reid started his journalism career with the Los Angeles Times and in 2010 became the Redskins beat reporter, then was promoted to a sports columnist position in 2011. Both care about the integrity of sports and the importance of the male lifestyle, which is what a man cave is all about.
The concept behind the show is simple: Listening in is like escaping from the real world, creating a sort of “man cave away from home.” A “man cave” is a place where guys can go to escape the pressures of the outside world – whether it is a job, family or other responsibilities – and have a place that is just their own. The hosts are happy to have a show that can act as an alternative.
“No one ever says they are going to their man cave to do work,” Paul said. “They go to relax and watch sports.”
Both hosts agree that the purpose of their show is to entertain their audience. With four hours to cover, the men want to be a program where people go to learn about sports, but other topics as well. Reid says, “[We] use sports as a jumping off point to go off other things in a man’s life.”
They discuss real issues that guys deal with. Recent topics include the dangers of sleep apnea and domestic violence. The idea is, while “you are busy laughing and we slip in real life stuff,” said Paul.
The guys aren’t leaving women out either. There have been discussions on how men can be a better significant other or father.
When asked what makes their show different, Paul and Reid agree that it is all about mindset. “I’m a journalist and Chris is a comedian, so the perspective of our show is pretty unique,” Reid said.
It is uncommon for a sports show to be hosted by African-Americans that have never played professional sports, but the men don’t let that faze them. “Doesn’t matter what color you are, we go through the same things in life,” Paul said.
As for their relationships with sports, the men have different points of view. Paul is a die-hard Redskins fan and describes the relationship like “being in love with a woman who treats you bad, but comes back in the fall to break [your heart] all over again.” Being a journalist, Reid chooses to be diplomatic about his team preferences. “I don’t root for a team, I root for very good stories [and] good people who have overcome something.”
Of course the men have their own “man caves.” Reid’s is complete with a wet bar and flat screen. Paul is in the process of remodeling and hopes to have it finished in time for the beginning of the NFL season.
Paul’s dream item is still a fantasy. He wants a massage table with a flat screen on the floor, so he can relax, “face down, [while] watching the Redskins.” Reid simply wants a pool table, which he hopes to have soon.
Listen to The Man Cave from Monday to Friday from 6 to 10 a.m. on ESPN 980 and learn more at www.espn980.com
Outfit Your Man Cave and Look Good Doing It
Bars By Bud
For nearly 38 years, Bars by Bud has specialized in building custom, handmade bars. Their showroom has an eclectic personality with everything from showroom bar designs and bar stools to mirrors, cabinets, lighting and foot rails. Besides the inventive bars, guys can find cool man cave stuff like Jockey Boxes, the sweet little coolers that allow you to dispense beer, keg-style, anytime, without electricity. $65. AP. Bars by Bud: 2812-D Merrilee Dr., Fairfax, VA; 703-573-1010; www.bbbmepham.com
Floyd’s 99 Barbershop
Known as the original rock ‘n’ roll barbershop, Floyd’s is all about bringing rock ‘n’ roll to hair styling. Inside you’ll find walls plastered with music posters, photos, flat screens and more. A true dude spot, Floyd’s is part experience, part hair styling. Whether you want a buzz cut, color work or designs, they’ve got you covered. A general “Floyd’s Cut” starts at $24. Need dude-worthy grooming products? Try their shampoo and conditioner $14.99 each or molding paste and styling cream $15.99 each. Products sold in-store only. AP, CC. Floyd’s 99 Barbershop: 8296 Glass Alley #130, Fairfax, VA; 703-639-0090; www.floydsbarbershop.com
Great Gatherings
With locations in Annapolis, Gainesville and, most recently, the Mosaic District, Great Gatherings is like man cave heaven. Carrying a wide variety of decor genres from classic and rustic to urban and contemporary, this might be the Mecca of man caves. With a wide selection of gaming tables, furniture and novelties, you won’t have any troubling personalizing your space. We liked the “Drinking Tower Game,” an adult version of Jenga for $19.95. Also cool, the wall signs. We liked one noting, “What Happens in the Man Cave Stays in the Man Cave,” priced at a reasonable $29.95. If you’re looking for something a little more original, check out the iconic “Ali Over Liston” poster for only $295. CC. Great Gatherings: Mosaic District 2920 District Ave., Fairfax, VA; 571-234-8100;www.greatgatherings.com
The Great Republic
A celebration of iconic American living, The Great Republic offers premium US made products at the posh new CityCenterDC. Expect a broad price range across a variety of products from antique collectibles to eclectic, re-inspired vintage decor. Certainly, guys are sure to drool over items like the fully restored 1946 Indian Chief Motorcycle and authentic 1845 US Wall Map, but they will also find an array of items for the everyday man. We like the Homemade Gin Kit priced under $60 and the “You Earned It” bottle opener for $30. For only 10 bucks you can get Duke Cannon’s Big Ass Brick of Soap and smell like accomplishment, everyday. AM. The Great Republic at CityCenterDC: 973 Palmer Alley, NW, DC; 202-682-1812;www.great-republic.com