For most NHL veterans, preseason games are tune-up tilts. They’re a chance to wriggle free of some summertime cobwebs and get back into fighting trim for the upcoming campaign. But at some point in their NHL careers, each of those vets played in his first preseason game.
It’s a memorable experience for most, a step up the ladder to the full-time NHL employment they’ve all yearned for since their youth. But it can be a nerve-wracking night, too.
With five Washington players set to see action in their first NHL preseason games tonight, we chatted up a few folks around the Caps locker room and asked them to reminisce about their own NHL preseason debuts.
Caps LW Aaron Volpatti
“I think the first one was against Edmonton when I played in Vancouver. The nerves are there and once you get the first shift out of the way it’s kind of just like another game. You’re more nervous in warm-up than you are in the game. You’re just kind of cruising around and you see everyone. Once things get going you just settle in.”
Caps C Jay Beagle
“I remember the atmosphere of the preseason for my first game. I just remember not being able to really breathe as I was going out onto the ice. It’s what you work your whole life for. To put on the Capitals jersey was a dream come true. It was special; something you obviously never forget. I think I’d juts tell the guys to breathe and go out there and do your best, but take it in and have fun, too. It’s a good experience. It’s a good learning experience and it’s a good time to show the organization and everyone what you bring.”
Caps D Karl Alzner
“I remember how nervous I was. Me and [Josh] Godfrey played together and we were D partners in the first game for both of us. I had a lot of nerves. I guess I thought it was going to be more intense than it was. Now I know what it’s like to be a returning guy playing in the preseason, and a lot of guys are just looking to knock the rust off. Although it’s still a tough game to play in, you need to know that you’ve just got to relax. I wish I knew the stuff I know now because I think I made it pretty tough on myself the first game. It’s still very fun. It’s the first time you get to go out on the ice in a big arena, so it’s pretty sweet.
“It was in Carolina and [Semyon Varlamov] was the goalie. He was unbelievable; made like 20 saves [in the first period]. Scott Walker was with Carolina then. After a flurry of like six shots in the last 15 seconds – and Varly stopped them all – I remember Walker skating off the ice. He looked back at Varly, stared at him and just shook his head. It’s a good memory.
“For me, I wanted to look serious and intense but inside I had a huge smile on my face.”
Caps coach Adam Oates
“It was in Flint, Michigan. We played Minnesota [with Detroit, in 1985]. It was a war. There were a lot of fights; [it was] tough hockey. I felt very small. I felt like I was a boy and they were men.”
How did you deal with that feeling?
“I just played. I just fought through that feeling.”
What do you say to these five guys tonight?
“I’ll probably talk to them during morning skate and say, ‘I know it’s not going to be easy. Just play. Just play your game as much as you can do that.’”
Although the Caps are dressing five players who have never played in an NHL preseason game, they’ll also be dressing the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Troy Brouwer, Mike Green and Alzner
“That really helps. The first couple of shifts, you’re nervous. But those guys are going to carry the mail. That really helps. I think that’s why the league did a good job putting in the nine-veteran rule.”