Editor’s note: After two friends won an auction at Caps Care Casino Night, RMNB reader Julie Roemele was presented with the opportunity of a life-time: to learn hockey from some of her favorite NHL pros. This past Sunday, Kettler Capitals Iceplex hosted a Capitals hockey clinic featuring workshops from Brooks Laich, Matt Hendricks, Semyon Varlamov, Mike Green and Assistant Coach Bob Woods. Below, Julie describes her and her son Joshua’s experience.
When someone gives you the chance to learn from the best, you don’t pass it up. So when my friends Mark and John called to invite me to a hockey clinic with the Capitals that they’d won at the Caps Care Casino Night, I couldn’t feign disinterest because I was a little afraid I’d be unsteady on the ice. Admittedly I’m more hockey mom than hockey player, even though I’ve been taking lessons for a year now.
Once at Kettler, the participants (there were about 20 of us) were split into five groups of four to work at five different drill stations. First up, defense with Caps Assistant Coach, Bob Woods. He’d pass each of us the puck and instruct us to circle as if trying to lose an opposing player. He would then dump a puck into the end boards while we skated after. To be honest, I suck at this and I was glad when the ten minutes were up, but it’s a skill I need to improve if I’m going to be a better player. I’ll definitely keep practicing it.
Then it was on to a lesson on screening the goalie with Brooks Laich. The ideal screening position looks a lot like a tripod, with your ass (his words, not mine) right in front of the goalie and your stick acting as a third leg, keeping you steady against any nefarious defensemen bent on checking you from behind. From there, we took turns alternating tipping in and batting down the shots Brooks took on net.
Next, Semyon Varlamov taught us how to take shots on the goalie. I know what you’re thinking, “Varly speaks English?” Yes, very well. He was soft-spoken and polite, introducing himself to everyone and spending extra time going over technique with the goalie in our group. I was the last to shoot and Varly even lined my five pucks up. At the end of the session, I said, “Spasiba” [Thank you] to which Varly responded, “You’re welcome.” I couldn’t stop myself from giggling a little because he was so unexpectedly sweet.
After Varly, I was running late to Matt Hendricks’ mini clinic and got subsequently called out for it.
“Hi, I’m Matt,” Hendricks said.
“Yeah, I know” I responded, jokingly sarcastic. Hendricks just laughed and smiled before starting in on the lesson. He had us working in the corners on both offense and defense. This involved taking turns either guarding the puck with our stick, trying to create a turnover or positioning ourselves between the offense and the goalie. While the drill was fun and physical, I have a better appreciation of how exhausting board battles can be.
Finally, Mike Green worked with us on passing and shooting. My passes are rarely tape-to-tape. I think there might be a hole in my blade, so when Green was able to pass to me, I was amazed. Not everyone can say they took a pass from Mike Green. More than just the pointers from Greenie, the slower pace of these drills gave me a chance to actually chat with the blue-liner, mostly about how tired Hendy’s session had left us.
When the clinic was over, everyone got the chance to participate in a shootout. I opted out; I wanted to get my son and show Green the sign he’d had made him a year earlier (with Emily Karol’s help). After group pictures and some autograph signing, the afternoon was done and we were left with an unforgettable experience.
Even though I learned some pointers from some of my favorite players, exchanged jokes with Matt Hendricks and heard the seemingly straight-laced Brooks Laich curse, the best part of the clinic was watching my seven year-old autistic son, also a hockey player with the NOVA Cool Cats, impress both Mike Green with his skillful Autobot impression and Hendricks with his knowledge of Minnesota. I got more from that than I did anything I learned on the ice that day.
Bonus Photos via Cheryl Nichols. Click to englarge!
Editing by Meredith Jones. Additional reporting by Ian Oland.