Monday Press Confluence
Monday morning made for a bit of a traffic jam in the parking garage beneath Verizon Center. Not only were the Washington Capitals practicing on the Phone Booth ice sheet, the team formerly known as the Bullets was also in the house and practicing behind closed doors (media is not permitted to watch these top secret doings). Plenty of fancy rides were shoehorned into the players’ parking area when I wheeled my single hubcap, ’98 Toyota into the building to watch the Caps practice for the first time since Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss in Boston.
There were three media members in attendance at the Caps’ practice, two of whom (including yours truly) are paid by the team. Across the hall where the local basketball team was practicing, a horde of media (more than a dozen) stood listening to the squeak of sneakers and the bounce of the round ball from the other side of the closed doors. And waiting for someone to come out and talk to them. Must have been some big story brewing over there where the 4-5 team (winless on the road) was holding court for no one to see. Whatever it was, I didn’t hang around to find out. All I know is that the last time I saw that many members of the media assembled in the same place, it was because the Redskins brought in a back-up long snapper for a look on a Wednesday. Big day, that.
Over on the ice sheet, many of the Caps’ wounded were back on the ice. Defenseman Steve Eminger and right wing Chris Clark took part in the full practice. Alexander Semin and Matt Pettinger came out and skated later. Eminger, Clark and Pettinger are expected to be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Capitals host Atlanta. Dainius Zubrus had Monday off, but he is also expected to play on Wednesday. Semin is on injured reserve and can’t play before Saturday’s visit to Long Island. Tomas Fleischmann, recalled from Hershey for Saturday’s game in Boston, rejoined the Bears in Providence on Sunday.
Clark was sporting a helmet with a modified cage, one that may need to be altered before he takes the ice against Atlanta. In last Wednesday’s game against Boston, Clark took a puck square in the mouth late in the third period of a 2-2 game. The shot — actually a clearing attempt — felled him, but he got back on his feet and continued his shift when he realized that the puck was still in Washington’s defensive zone. The clock and the scoreboard mattered more to Clark than did the mess that had been made of his mouth.
“I saw the puck going back to my point,” recalls Clark. “I’m standing there and I’ve got to do something. I can’t just lay down; they’re not going to blow the whistle right away especially if [the Bruins] have control of the puck. There’s no sense in laying on the ice. My legs didn’t break; I could get up and skate.
“It didn’t hurt. I didn’t really feel anything. My mouthguard was in, but I knew something wasn’t connected.”
He was right about that. Two of his teeth weren’t connected. Given that he lost those teeth and also suffered a crushed palate bone, the fact that Clark remained on the ice is nothing short of remarkable.
“It says that he is setting the standard,” says Caps coach Glen Hanlon, when asked what the incident says about the Capitals’ captain. “If that’s your captain and he is doing that, then I think all the players would have to look at that and say that’s what they want to try to match. And it won’t be easy for them. I can say that is likely the most courageous thing I’ve seen in hockey.”
What Clark endured the day after the puck in the mouth was probably even more courageous. His crushed palate was repaired with a cadaver bone and a screw. Three teeth on one side of the newly acquired “gap” were held together with braces. And he had a root canal. All this with merely local anasthesia. The procedure took “two or three hours,” says Clark.
“I couldn’t feel anything, but I could hear it,” he says with a bit of a wince in his voice. “That was the worst thing about it.”
Clark may have showed a disregard for his body by staying on the ice after taking the biscuit to the bicuspids, but it’s par for the course. He was far more concerned with trying to play Washington’s next games (last Friday and Saturday) than he was about what would be done to fill the space where his two teeth once resided.
“I don’t even know what’s going on now,” he says, when asked about the replacement choppers. “I haven’t talked to the dentist since Friday after the game. He was just worried about recovering from that. I’ll figure out the rest as I go on.”
He practiced with the team Friday morning and was visibly disappointed when told he would not be cleared to play in that night’s game. Clark says that he wouldn’t have missed any games had the injury occurred during the playoffs.
“They wanted to make sure the swelling was natural and didn’t have anything to do with anything else,” he states. “I could have played the last two games. If it was the playoffs, I wouldn’t have missed any time.”
He’s right about that. Knowing Clark, he probably would have been back on the ice for the opening faceoff of overtime had it been a playoff game. Given his sandpaper style on the ice, and the fact that he has played nearly 800 games (35 in juniors, 142 in college, 169 in the AHL, 18 in Europe, 374 in the NHL and 58 playoff games), it’s fairly remarkable that Clark’s teeth held up as long as they did.
Not sure what the big story was across the hall on Monday, but it’s got to be a fairly compelling one. With five or six times the amount of assembled media there waiting anxiously to get it and tell it, I’m just as anxious to read all about it on Tuesday.
And I don’t even like basketball.
Wait, this just in. One of the basketball dudes had a back bruise. Oh. No wonder there was such concern. Hope he is okay now. At least he didn’t get soap in his eyes. That can really hurt.