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Orlov returns! (Photo credit: Sweetest Hockey On Earth’s Tim Stough)

Playing at Verizon Center on December 6th, an unfriendly shoulder was planted under Dmitry Orlov‘s chin, resulting in an upper body injury that would keep him away from the game he loves for the next three months.

On Saturday night, Orlov was finally back in action– playing for the Hershey Bears against the Norfolk Admirals. Less than a minute into the game, Orlov hoisted the puck over the glass, earning a delay-of-game penalty. Not the start he was loooking for, but — as he tells RMNB- Orlov was just happy to be back in action.

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taylor-hicks-i-love-ovi

Maybe you didn’t notice, but my name was missing from all RMNB stories and bylines last week. I was in Las Vegas for an Email Marketing conference held at the Paris Hotel and Casino. Thursday in particular was a crazy day. It started with a murder that made national news and ended with an run-in with a celebrity.

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Brouwer conservatively celebrating his goal

Brouwer conservatively celebrating. (Photo credit: Patrick McDermott)

A few weeks ago, Michael Wurman, Director of Game Entertainment and TV Production for the Washington Capitals, teased a special goal celebration for Troy Brouwer. During the Capitals open practice at Verizon Center on January 17, Brouwer busted a move and performed PSY’s Gangnam Style dance in skates. Wurman threatened that once Brouwer scores, that footage would be seen again.

“That song. Oy,” Wurman said. “But the people have spoken, they want it.”

On Friday, after Brouwer scored his third goal of the year with a perfectly placed shot over Ilya Bryzgalov’s right shoulder, Wurman gave the people what they wanted.

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A before and after shot showing Wes Johnson's weight loss

A before and after shot of Wes with his health coach Elaine.

On December 6, 2012, while the NHL lockout was in its 82nd day, employees of the Washington Capitals game entertainment crew reunited for hockey for the first time in seven months. The Caps AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, played the Norfolk Admirals in front of a sold out crowd. Hours before the game, arena employees met near the Caps locker room area for a briefing.

As PA Announcer Wes Johnson entered the room, Michael Wurman, Director of Game Entertainment and TV Products, pointed over to the man that many referred to as “Big Guy.” “There have been quite a few changes over the offseason,” Wurman said with a big smile. “And one of them just so happens to be sitting over here: Wes.”

The room gave Johnson a round of applause. “It was very gratifying,” Johnson told me in a phone interview. “And a little embarrassing too.”

“You’re probably in the last five to ten years of your life”

During a winter day a few years ago, Johnson walked out the front door of his Virginia home to run a few errands. As he made his way to his car, the 51-year-old actor, voice-over artist, and comedian, slipped on a patch of ice in his driveway. Despite his five-foot, nine-inch height, Johnson took a big tumble to the ground, ripping ligaments in his ankle.

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Dmitry Orlov talks to Mike Green at Hershey's Outdoor Game

Orlov catches up with Mike Green at Hershey’s Outdoor Game. (Photo credit: Kyle Mace of Sweetest Hockey On Earth)

Their defensive depth was supposed to be a strength. The plan for the Washington Capitals was to have nine blueliners with serious NHL experience at their deposal, ready to jump into to a game at any minute. It didn’t work out that way. The pair of Karl Alzner and John Carlson has struggled, giving up a majority of the team’s goals against. The other D-men haven’t been much better. Tom Poti has played three games in two years. Mike Green is scoreless. And then there are the injuries. Jack Hillen went down after playing less than four minutes. Dmitry Orlov has been out indefinitely. The Caps have been forced to call up Tomas Kundratek.

So what happened to Orlov, one of the team’s rising stars? While skating for the Hershey Bears in the AHL Showcase at Verizon Center in November, the young Russian absorbed a hit up high from Emerson Etem. He didn’t appear to be favoring anything when he attempted to play one more shift that night, leading many to believe he suffered a concussion. In an interview with RMNB’s Ian Oland, Bears coach Mark French did not confirm or deny that Orlov may have received a concussion on the hit.

“The only thing we’ve said so far — as far as my understanding — is that it’s an upper body injury,” French told Ian. “It’s above my pay grade and above my qualifications to say any more. It’s certainly an upper body injury.”

“Our hope is that once we regroup as a team following the All-Star break he would be able to skate,” said the coach.

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Olie Kolzig

Photo credit: Chris Gordon

Olie Kolzig is remembered as the greatest goalie in Capitals history. A staple in Washington’s net for over a decade, Kolzig led the team to their only Stanley Cup Finals appearance and became one of the franchise’s most beloved players. These days Kolzig has a different role. In his second year as associate goaltending coach, Kolzig spends his time mentoring the club’s young netminders in both minor leagues. The influence of a veteran has apparently rubbed off on the players– Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth recently added the German goalie’s likeness to his mask, a gesture Kolzig deeply appreciated.

On Sunday, I spoke on the phone with Olie The Goalie, who was in Hershey scouting the Bears game. As the NHL season approached, Kolzig gave me his thoughts on the Caps goalie duo, the distractions Braden Holtby faced last season, and what he sees next for Alex Ovechkin. He even told me what he thought of Tom Poti‘s return to hockey and what that could mean for the organization.

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Brooks Laich Kloten Flyers

Laich's official team photo.

Laich’s official team photo.

Laich (right) gets into a tiff and loses his flaming bucket.

Brooks Laich is not an NHL player. He’s a hockey player.

The Wawota, Saskatchewan native has played seven seasons in the National Hockey League, scored 116 goals, and tallied 278 points. He makes six and half million dollars a year. But that’s not what drives him. It’s his love of the game. He first stepped on the ice at five months. He began skating when he was two years old. By five, he was playing minor hockey. Laich lives for the sport. And when it didn’t come around to Washington last September, Laich wanted to go somewhere where they were playing the game.

“I grew up loving the game of hockey, not loving the NHL,” he said at the time.

So on September 28, Laich signed with Kloten Flyers of the Swiss National League A. Ten minutes away from Zurich by train, Kloten (pronounced k-LOOOO-ten as Laich is quick to point out) is city of around 20,000. It’s hockey team has been around since 1934, 40 years before the birth of the Washington Capitals.

Laich suited up 19 times for Kloten before the owners and the Players Association reached an agreement to end the lockout just before 5 a.m. on the morning of January 6. He had some good games and he had some bad games. He got hurt once. Then he got hurt again, an injury that could cost him the first two weeks of the NHL season. But, to be trite, it was an experience the 29-year-old will never forget.

“I loved it,” Laich told RMNB recently in an otherwise deserted Capitals locker room. “I loved every second of it.”

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Michal Neuvirth holds up his new mask that has Olie Kolzig painted on the side

Photo credit: Chris Gordon

Over the summer, Swedish airbrush artist Dave Gunnarsson released photos of the new goalie mask he painted for Michal Neuvirth. It was a thing of beauty and something all Capitals fans could appreciate.

One side of the mask features images of Neuvirth’s hometown along with a portrait image of Czech goaltending great Jiří Holeček. On the other side there’s an action shot of Olie Kolzig, the franchise’s leader in wins, juxtaposed with the old Capitals dome logo and stars.

The gesture was not lost on Kolzig, now an associate goaltending coach for the Capitals and technically one of Neuvirth’s coaches.

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Nick Backstrom is Visiting a Specialist in Michigan

backstrom

Photo credit: khl.ru

On Tuesday morning, far-flung Caps players reunited at Kettler Capitals Iceplex for an informal practice session. Present but not skating was the team’s star center, Nick Backstrom. Backstrom has not played since late December, when he took a hit from behind in a Dynamo Moscow game. According to SportsBox.ru, a doctor in Moscow said the injury was just a bruise, but Backstrom’s agent has since said his player’s status may be week-to-week.

On Tuesday night, we learned that Backstrom is visiting a specialist in Michigan.

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Dmitry Orlov sits with the other scratches during Saturday's Bears game

Dima sits with the other Bears scratches during Saturday’s Bears game. (Photo credit: Katie Stansbery)

When Dmitry Orlov came out of the tunnel for the AHL Showcase game last month, he was excited to see fans back at Verizon Center. It was the reason why, in his opinion, he played the best hockey of his season. The AHL gamesheet says that the 21-year-old defenseman recorded two shots on goal that first period, but Dima remembered it being closer to four or five.

Unfortunately, as he confirmed to me on Saturday night during the first intermission of the Bears/Senators game, Orlov suffered an injury after absorbing a hit from Emerson Etem. Due to team policy, Orlov would not reveal the nature or location of his injury.

After spending two weeks recovering, Orlov has begun riding an exercise bike and lifting weights. According to Hershey Bears head coach Mark French, Orlov is close to getting back on the ice for practice again.

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