Monday, September 05, 2005


“Hoosiers” is a great sports flick. There is one scene in it that comes to mind as message boards hum and crackle with ideas for trades and complaints of inactivity in the free agent market.

The scene is one of Coach Norman Dale and his meager squad being introduced to the students and supporters before the start of the Hickory High basketball season. As Coach Dale and the boys are standing at the center of the gym, a chant goes up, “we want Jimmy,” referring to the prodigy Jimmy Chitwood, who had chosen not to play.

Coach Dale steps to the microphone and defiantly tells those in the stands. “this is your team.” It is a team, he says, that demands the respect that their going out night after night through the winter deserves.

Well, so it is with the Caps . . . the forlorn collection of the not good enough, the not old enough, or just the “not enough” enough to compete for a playoff spot. And fans are burning message boards with demands that the Caps sign Peter Bondra to a contract.

Well, folks, this is your team . . .

Olaf Kolzig, the best goalie in Caps history, one who single-handedly carried the club on his broad shoulders to its only Stanley Cup final, but who now is being kicked to the curb like the week’s trash. I suspect he’ll be traded before the end of the season, but it should not diminish one bit from what he’s meant to this franchise on and off the ice since arriving in Washington.

Maxime Ouellet . . . the goalie in waiting, about whom whispers of “gee, is he really that good?” are lurking under the surface. It’s getting to be his time, and it’s time he gets that chance . . . so folks, give the kid a chance.

Brian Sutherby . . . there are folks who are prepared to give up on him, and he’s only 23. It’s true, it’s coming to be his time to see if he can really be “a bigger, faster, more skilled version of Michael Peca,” but here’s a kid with barely a full season of NHL experience behind him.

Alexander Semin . . . now he’s showing up in some fans’ trade ideas. He’s immature, he’s a defensive liability, he this, he’s that. Well, he’s also 21 years old.

Steve Eminger . . . another of that class of 2002 that the club needs to have step up. He won’t turn 22 until the season begins, playing one of the hardest positions in all team sports to master, and he’s expected to be a top-pair defenseman to boot. Except mumblings of “not tough enough” can be heard, he didn’t have a good season at Portland last year, etc. Well, in the 1988-89 season, when Calle Johansson was 22 years old (and was traded to Washington), he was 3-18-21, -6, in 59 games. Sounds about where Eminger might end up.

There is a whole squad of these guys at the doorstep of their careers, either on their way in or on their way out. Regardless, it is a club that commands the respect that going out 82 nights through the winter in the hardest of team sports deserves.

-- The Peerless