Grading the Captials' celebratory techniques, adjusting to life without the Sedins and feeling old thanks to Charlie McAvoy. More tales and notes from the second day of the NHL's player media tour.
CHICAGO — As someone with a teensy bit of experience in public Stanley Cup parties, Tyler Seguin is perhaps singularly qualified to pass judgment on the most recent champion’s beer-chugging, keg-standing, fountain-swimming, Queen-belting, mid-June celebration spree. Seven years after Seguin and his former Bruins teammates famously rampaged through their city, a similar scene unfolded around the Washington D.C. area, courtesy of captain Alex Ovechkin—and the victorious, delirious, crapulous Capitals.
So, how did they grade in comparison?
“If we were an A-plus, they were an A,” says Seguin, now entering his sixth season with Dallas. “They were more public about it. We had a good time, but they were definitely more on Twitter. It was fun to see. I thought it was great. They had fun. They earned it.”
No objections, your honor. It took 13 NHL seasons and nine disappointingly early playoff exits for Ovechkin to hoist Lord Stanley’s silver chalice, which he barely let out of sight for the next several weeks. And so he made splash angels along the Georgetown waterfront, slugged tall boys at a Nationals baseball game, paraded down Constitution Avenue and cussed to his heart's content. The Capitals delivered the city’s first major pro sports title in a quarter-century. Then they raged, deservedly so, for what seemed like almost that long.
“I feel little bad for our wives,” center Evgeny Kuznetsov says. “They was home, waiting for us, but we still celebrating together, you know? My parents, everyone. Every morning, cup of coffee, ‘Hey I’ve got to go with the team’ … Finally, after like 10 days, okay, I’m out of here.”
Soon the Capitals will be back together again—minus backup goalie Philipp Grubauer and fourth-liner Jay Beagle, offseason departures to Colorado and Vancouver, respectively—seeking to match rivals Pittsburgh as the only consecutive title winners in the salary cap era. The defense officially begins Oct. 3 against Boston. Speaking at the league’s player media tour, held this week at the Marriott in downtown Chicago, Kuznetsov already understands what challenges this will bring.
“As long as you think about that, oh I’m so cool, we so cool, we won the Cup, it will be tough next year,” he says. “You have to forget and focus. Now everyone, the fans, the people, the league going to expect us to play better and better. And if we going to play bad, everyone going to [have] pressure. You have to understand, regroup already and focus. Everyone going to expect us to play well right away, and we have to play better.”
It is a time-honored practice for hockey players to warm up with other sports, from the spirited rounds of H-O-R-S-E that the Philadelphia Flyers host before every home game to the two-touch soccer circles commonplace on every roster. Over the past two summers, it seems, a new activity has swept across the NHL and entered the rotation: spikeball.
For the uninitiated, spikeball is a two-on-two game that effectively employs volleyball rules with a small trampoline-like surface instead of a net. (Okay, just read this. Or watch this. It’s easier.) Turns out that hockey players are hooked. Canadiens winger Max Domi battles his trainer before their workout sessions. Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin entered a charity tournament in Raleigh this summer. Florida’s Vincent Trocheck and Los Angeles’ Tyler Toffoli frequent their respective nearby beaches on off-days during the season.
“We’ve got it all down,” Trocheck says. “We’re professionals now.
And then there is the two-time reigning scoring leader, who swears by its high-intensity, full-body, 360-degree essence. “It’s a really good warmup,” Connor McDavid says. “You’re just moving around, get your hand-eye going, competitive juices flowing too. It’s a lot of fun.”
But could spikeball ever replace two-touch as the main warmup activity of choice?
“I don't think so,” McDavid says. “Two-touch has been around for too long and guys love the game too much to replace it. Spikeball might be too physical.”
LIFE WITHOUT THE SEDINS
At the end of two long days of interviews and photoshoots, Canucks forward Bo Horvat settled onto an L-shaped couch at the Marriott and began to reminisce about his departed friends. This season, for the first time in the 21st century, Vancouver will take the ice without Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who retired together on April 2. What will Horvat miss most about his twin Swedish teammates? Well, kicking back with them in settings almost exactly like this.
“I think just being in the room and talking to them before games,” he says. “I used to sit with them in the lounge before games and talk to them. We used to watch hockey games, just getting their takes on different teams and players. It was cool.”
The tradition unfolded almost every game night in the Canucks players lounge at Rogers Arena, where the Sedins and Horvat could catch the first two periods of the East Coast NHL slate before beginning pregame preparations themselves. For Horvat, born 15 years after the Sedins, it was like attending a master’s class with multiple professors … if the professors occasionally placed friendly wagers with each other on the outcomes of the games.
“Just grab a cup of coffee and a couple snacks,” Horvat says. “I’d ask them questions, what they thought of different players and how they thought about them. They were good to just watch on a day to day basis, either in the gym or on the ice, how hard they work.”
Famously selected one pick apart in the 1999 draft, the Sedins left the NHL with 2,111 combined points in 2,636 regular-season games, 149 points in 207 playoff appearances, two scoring titles, six All-Star games and an overflowing amount of respect that Horvat—among others—must now fill for the rebuilding Canucks.
“It’s going to be tough,” Horvat says. “I don't think anyone can ever fill their shoes. You want to be like that. You want to leave your mark and have such an impact on the organization as they did, which is going to be extremely tough. I don't know if it’ll ever happen again, but to see the success they had makes you want to work that much harder.”
CHARLIE MCAVOY IS HERE TO AGE YOU
Two and a half weeks ago, when the Bruins rolled through Springfield, Mass., for their annual Fan Fest, defenseman Charlie McAvoy was confronted with an ... unusual autograph request.
“I signed a three-week-old baby, right on his little Bruins onesie,” McAvoy says. “He was holding the baby in front of me and it was kicking its legs and stuff, as I was trying to sign it.”
If the 20-year-old defenseman, heir apparent to Zdeno Chara as the face of the Boston blue line, felt ancient in that moment, imagine how everyone else attending Thursday afternoon’s Winter Classic news conference felt when McAvoy declared that he had “grown up” watching the outdoor affair.
“I had two people come up to me right away and say, ‘To hear you say you grew up watching the Winter Classic really f----- me up,’” McAvoy says. “The thing is that I did. The first one was in 2008, Buffalo. I was 10 years old. So that’s, what, fifth grade? I f------ grew up watching the Winter Classic. It was to the point where I don’t remember the first one at all.”
Hailing from Long Beach, N.Y., McAvoy cheered when the Rangers toppled Philadelphia at Citizens Bank Park in 2012, thanks to goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s dramatic penalty-shot save with 19.6 seconds remaining. And now, next New Year’s Day, McAvoy will march into Notre Dame Stadium with the Bruins to face host Chicago in the 2019 installment. He can hardly wait.
“It’s going to be freaking sick,” McAvoy says. “I’ve always thought it was the coolest thing. They’re iconic. That’s a dream come true too.”
A week after McAvoy scribbled his John Hancock onto some Pampers pairs, four members of the Kings ventured to Dodger Stadium for batting practice and ceremonial first pitches. Among them was Toffoli, a noted baseball fan who counts hirsute third basemen Justin Turner as one of his close athlete friends.
“We definitely try to pick each other’s brains and see how each other is doing,” says Toffoli of Turner, who rebounded from multiple injuries to bat .402 with a 1.213 OPS in August to win NL player of the month honors. “I feel like we both know when we’re doing well and not doing well. It’s just standard sports talk. He’s such an interesting guy and interesting talent where he worked hard to get where he is and he’s achieved some extremely exciting things with the Dodgers. I’m excited to see them and him make it to the next step.”
Through Friday, the Dodgers trailed Colorado by .5 games for the NL West lead and St. Louis by 1 game for the second NL Wild Card spot.
Among the three dozen or so players who blitzed through media obligations this week, Domi and Ducks defenseman Josh Manson were uniquely positioned as legacy participants, both sons of former NHL players—and pugilistic ones, no less. With 333 regular-season fights to his career card, Tie Domi has staked claim to a virtually unbreakable record, while Dave Manson was hardly some slouch with more than 100 brawls and almost 2,800 penalty minutes.
So yes, of course, both Max and Josh have watched their dads spar on YouTube.
“To see a guy at that height and stature manhandle guys who are 6’5”, 6’6” … he enjoyed it,” Domi says. “That’s the coolest part. I’ve got the utmost respect for my old man.”
“When I was younger I used to watch them all,” Manson says. “I’d watch them just to pick things apart, learn little things that he did. It’s so instinctual. When you get in a fight, you can learn a lot of things, but it’s also very instinctual. Everybody has a plan until they punched in the nose. I think he heard that somewhere.”
Manson was 10 years old and Domi was 11 when their respective fathers retired, meaning that both still cling to fond memories of dashing around NHL locker rooms as tykes. Domi, who was traded from Arizona to Montreal this offseason, used to mimic his idols by hopping into the cold tub and softening his hands by dipping them in paraffin wax. Manson recalls playing bubble hockey at the rink in Toronto with then-Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin.
“Being brought up around a dressing room helps you acclimate to a dressing room when you get older,” says Manson, who averaged 20:21 of ice time in 80 games for Anaheim last season. “Subconsciously for sure there were things that I didn’t even realize, and now I know how to hold my own and act in a dressing room.”
More importantly, though: Could Dave or Tie, as their prime selves, beat up the present versions of their sons?
“I’m saying no because I want to get him going,” Domi says. “No, he can’t.”
Then he smiles, winks, and nods.