Ride Captain Ride

Upon your mystery ship. Be amazed at the friends you have here on your trip.

You might prefer Grand Funk Railroad’s “I’m Your Captain/Closer to Home” as your captain song of choice, and it’s a fine one at that. Me, I’m opting for a medley of Blues Image’s only hit, a Top 10 smash from the spring of 1970.

Captain Chris Clark and his Capital cohorts will embark upon their own 82-game voyage through the 2006-07 regular season in less than three weeks. Between now and then, Clark and the Caps will skate, practice, drill and otherwise occupy themselves at the team’s temporary practice home in Ashburn, Va. They’ll also go out on six preseason mini-expeditions, starting on Wednesday against Tampa Bay at Verizon Center.

The Capitals named Clark the 13th captain in the club’s history on Wednesday. I think it’s a fine choice.

From the time he arrived in Washington last summer, Clark has been captain material. I’m a packrat, and hard drives being so darned spacious these days, I don’t have to make choices about what to keep. I keep virtually everything. Here’s an excerpt from a preseason postgame (got that?) notebook I scrawled after the Caps suffered a sound 4-0 beating at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres on Sept. 21 of last year:

Won’t Back Down – Chris Clark stands 6-foot-0 and weighs 200 pounds. Sabres’ left wing Andrew Peters, who has admitted to using steroids to bulk up from 224 to 247 pounds in the summer of 2003, is listed at 6-foot-4 and 247 pounds. But anyone who has seen Clark play knows that his motor is always running, he won’t back down from anyone and he is a good teammate.

Midway through the third period, Clark displayed those qualities for the home folks at MCI Center. Peters plowed the Capitals’ Miroslav Zalesak into the boards from behind, and then leaned his bulky frame down on the prone winger just for good measure.

Seconds later, Clark hopped over the boards and went right after Peters, challenging him and getting the better of the Buffalo bully in a bout at the Sabres’ blueline. Clark incurred a minor for instigating, a major for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct for his efforts.

His deeds did not go unnoticed in the press box or on the Caps’ bench. After the game, Washington coach Glen Hanlon made a point of citing Clark’s actions.

“The key in the whole game for me,” said Hanlon, “and I don’t want it to go unnoticed, was what Chris Clark did. Part of our thing here is we have young players and we are building on physical play and team spirit and team unity. That’s one of his strengths. He went and challenged one of the toughest guys in the league. It really wasn’t his job, he just went and did it. It made it worth the drive from my Piney Orchard home.”

The fight with Clark was Peters’ second of the night; he tangled with Washington’s Stephen Peat at 3:46 of the second period.

A few things stand out here.

First, it was a preseason game. And it was over, 4-0 for the other guys. It wasn’t Alex Ovechkin who got ragdolled. It wasn’t Mike Green, or Chris Bourque or Jeff Schultz or one of the Caps’ other high profile prospects. It wasn’t Dainius Zubrus, or Jeff Halpern or Olie Kolzig or one of Washington’s key NHL players. It was Miroslav Zalesak, a low-level summer free agent pickup, a longshot to crack the roster, and a guy Clark – himself a newcomer to the organization – barely knew.

None of that mattered. What did matter was that Zalasak’s sweater was the same color as Clark’s, and that kind of activity wasn’t going to be tolerated or accepted. That’s old time hockey. Like Eddie Shore, Dit Clapper and Toe Blake. And that’s the kind of guy you want wearing the “C” on your team’s sweater.

Clark is not a rah-rah guy, and he will never be mistaken for Mark Messier. But he has passion and he plays with passion. His team might be down 5-1 in the first or up by a goal in the last minute of the third, but you’ll never be able to tell which it is by watching him on the ice. Watch him light up and get animated when he’s talking about something he is really passionate about – his family, his parents, the Red Sox, an errant Tim Wakefield knuckleball, the Hartford Whalers, or being present at the induction ceremony when Cam Neely was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last fall. He has that passion, that fire, particularly when he is on the ice.

He grew up with the Calgary Flames, playing on a Calder Cup champion team at Saint John of the AHL in 2000-01 and moving all the way on to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals with the Flames in 2004. He has been where the Caps hope to be going, and can help show them the way.

Like almost every player who is traded for the first time, it took Clark a while to get over the shock of being sent from Calgary to Washington last summer.

“It’s tough,” he admits. “Guys go to different teams and you get different outcomes. You can go to a different team and all of a sudden, you’re not playing. But I’ve been fortunate. I come to a new team and things have stepped up. It was greener on the other side of the fence, I guess for me. This has been a great organization for myself. Now we want to take the personal out of it and step towards hockey and team and getting everybody going and making this a successful year. When we start doing that we’ll have the fans behind us and we’ll have everybody in this town behind us.”

He’s got a lot of people behind him already. Sail on, Sailor.

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2 Comments on “Ride Captain Ride”

  1. DCCapsChick Says:

    Very eloquent and spot-on look at our new captain – great job as usual, Mike! I think the Caps made absolutely the right choice of captains, although as has been said numerous times to you on the Caps Report since Halpy left, any number of guys from the room could have stepped easily into the captain’s C. Nevertheless, I think Clark will do a great job. I started to like him when I was watching a tenacious and entertaining Flames team take the Lightning to 7 games in 2004. My true appreciation of him was solidified last season, though, as I watched him show up every night to play hard regardless of the score. Congrats to Chris, and great job on the blog – I look forward to reading more from you as the season gets under way!

  2. dumpnchase Says:

    Hey DC, Thanks for the nice comment. And you’re right, there are a few guys on the team capable of sporting the “C.” I should have also noted that Clark is the latest in a line of Caps captains stretching back to Dale Hunter that has acknowledged that Olie is the leader of this team and would be its captain if not for some archaic NHL rule. And my appreciation of Clark’s game also dates back to his days with the Flames. The trade that brought him here becomes more lopsided by the day.

    Very nice job on your own blog, too.

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