Six Years Ago Tonight: Ovi's DebutPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Six years ago tonight, the Caps ended the longest off-season in NHL history with a 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Because of the lockout that laid to waste the entire 2004-05 NHL season, that game was Washington’s first regular season contest in 18 months and one day. That game six years ago tonight also marked the NHL debut of one Alex Ovechkin. Of the 20 players who suited up for the 2003-04 regular season finale, only five – Olie Kolzig, Jeff Halpern, Matt Pettinger, Brendan Witt, Brian Willsie – were in the lineup a year and a half later when the Caps finally got back to business on the ice. Washington’s six opening night defensemen six years ago were: Witt, Jamie Heward, Shaone Morrisonn, Mathieu Biron, Steve Eminger and Bryan Muir. Only Eminger remains active in the NHL; he is now a depth defenseman with the New York Rangers. Appearing in his first NHL game in more than three years, Heward led all skaters on both sides in ice time six years ago tonight, logging 27:46. Halpern paced the Caps forwards with 18:19. Halpern’s own memories of training camp that fall are understandably hazy. “I think we went to Hershey,” recalls Halpern. “That’s all I really remember from that camp. And that was the first time seeing Ovi. That opened a lot of people’s eyes, including his teammates.” The Caps did go to Hershey; they spent a few days of training camp in Chocolatetown in that pre-Kettler era. The Caps hosted the New Jersey Devils in a Sunday afternoon exhibition game at Hershey’s Giant Center that fall, too. Opening night brought the return of NHL hockey and a crowd of 16,325 to the barn on F St. that was then known as the MCI Center. Seconds into the game, Ovechkin made his presence felt when he laid out Blue Jackets blueliner Radoslav Suchy. “It might just be from highlights I’ve seen,” says Halpern, “but I just remember Ovi’s first shift, laying that guy out in the corner. I don’t know who the defenseman was. I don’t know if he played many pre-season games that year, but that was the first time he kind of ran over a guy.” Ovechkin scored the Caps’ first two goals that night, and each erased a one-goal Columbus lead. Dainius Zubrus potted what would prove to be the game-winner, and Kolzig made 35 saves to earn the win. “You were told he could score,” says Halpern of Ovechkin, “but when he comes out and scores two goals, obviously you start to make sense of it.” Halpern himself assisted on all three Washington goals, by the way. Here’s how this reporter wrote up Ovi’s debut in his Postgame Notebook on washingtoncaps.com: Super Eight – Alex Ovechkin wasted no time in making his presence felt in his NHL debut on Wednesday. In the game’s first minute, he drove Blue Jackets defenseman Radoslav Suchy into the boards, a thundering check that almost permanently incorporated the rearguard into the advertising signage behind the Columbus goal. It might have made a lucrative sponsorship opportunity for some enterprising local Japanese eatery. Ovechkin saved his best work for the second period. Just 28 seconds after Dan Fritsche scored to give Columbus a 1-0 lead, Ovechkin fired home a Dainius Zubrus feed on a one-timer from the high slot for his first NHL goal. Fritsche restored the Blue Jackets’ one-goal lead with his second of the game at 10:22. Just 89 seconds after that strike, the opportunistic Ovechkin saw Jeff Halpern jump on a rebound of a Mathieu Biron point shot in front of Columbus goaltender Pascal Leclaire. Ovechkin cocked his stick and waited for Halpern to slide the puck his way, then blasted another one-timer into the yawning cage. With the goal, Ovechkin became the first Capital ever to net two goals in his first NHL game. For future reference, only two Capitals rookies have ever netted hat tricks in their first NHL seasons. Tony White accomplished the feat twice in 1975-76 and Yogi Svejkovsky scored four goals for Washington in the final game of the 1996-97 season. Only two players in NHL history have ever registered a hat trick in their NHL debuts. Montreal’s Alex Smart scored three goals against the Blackhawks on Jan. 14, 1943 and Quebec’s Real Cloutier netted three for Quebec on Oct. 10, 1979. Cloutier’s three goals represented all of the Nordiques’ scoring in a 5-3 loss to Atlanta in the franchise’s first-ever NHL contest.
At 23, Mathieu Perreault is the second-youngest of the 14 forwards on Washington’s opening night roster. Perreault has had strong training camps before, but until today, he had not managed to crack the Caps’ opening night roster. Tuesday’s final roster cuts of forwards Cody Eakin and Mattias