Caps take on college winter breakers

Caps take on college winter breakers
December 22, 2012, 9:30 am
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Former Capitals great Peter Bondra looks on at Kettler

It’s not every day you see the son of a Capitals legend and the son of a Capitals general manager skating on the same ice as a former Capitals captain.

Yet there they were on Friday morning, David Bondra passing the puck to Graham McPhee, who flicked a pass to Jeff Halpern, who fed it ahead to … Peter Bondra?

Friday morning’s informal scrimmage between a collection of current, former and possibly future Capitals and a group of D.C. area college players was more than just a pickup game of shinny.

It was a reminder of just how far hockey in this region has grown.

“What’s amazing is how many D-1 players are now coming out of DC,” said skating instructor Wendy Marco, who began coaching many of the college players who were on the ice Friday when they were in first grade and has worked with Halpern the past three years.

“The quality of players coming out of here is insane. You have guys from UConn, Princeton, Miami of Ohio. I feel like one proud mom.”

Friday’s game was organized by Marco and Halpern, with the help of a few powerful tweets from Caps defenseman John Carlson [@JohnCarlson74] inviting fans to come watch the game and enjoy free coffee and hot chocolate.

More than 100 fans showed up for the game and the NHL players in attendance – Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, Jay Beagle, Halpern and Carlson – signed autographs afterwards.

“Social media is unbelievable,” Chimera said with a laugh.

There was no checking in the scrimmage and lots of goals – the final score was 16-16 with the help of a timekeeper who kept stopping the clock to allow the college players home from winter break to tie it.

Afterward, 44-year-old Peter Bondra said he enjoyed the experience, but probably not as much as his son, David, a 20-year-old forward who plays for MichiganState.

“For the first 10 minutes I had some legs,” said Bondra, the Caps’ all-time leading goal scorer with  472. “After that it kind of faded away. When you skate twice a year it doesn’t help much. I need to skate daily to keep up with those guys.”

Chimera, who aside from a two-week stint in the Czech League has been skating with Carlson and Beagle three or four times a week at Kettler, said it was nice to finally play a game, which was watched by Capitals GM George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates.

“We’ve been out there [skating] with four or five guys at a time,” Chimera said. “It was nice to have a game. When a crowd is out there and the coach and GM are watching you pick up your pace.”

Laich, who recently returned from Switzerland, said he was impressed by Friday’s turnout.

“I haven’t seen the Caps fans for a while,” Laich said. “It’s nice to see. When I was away I was worried about the state of hockey around here; not only here but in general, and it’s nice to see we still have fans.”

Bondra, who endured two lockouts [1994-95, 2004-05] during his career with the Capitals, echoed the thoughts of many fans frustrated by the NHL’s work stoppage. His son, David, would have played in the outdoor rink at Michigan on Dec. 27 if there had been a Winter Classic.

“As a fan, of course people want to see the game,” Bondra said. “I’ve been there. I went through a couple lockouts. I missed a whole year and this is very tough. But sometimes it’s a business. The players are trying to stick together and I hope they find common ground and get a deal done.”