Thursday, September 04, 2014

Washington Capitals: All-Franchise Teams by the Alphabet -- Team A-E-I-O-U...and Sometimes Y

We have one more team to look at in the Washington Capitals All-Alphabet Teams. Some players worthy of consideration suffer by virtue of the fact that they had letters with too few eligible players to form a team. So, we bring you Team A-E-I-O-U…and Sometimes Y.

Left Wing: Mel Angelstad

Regular Season (with Capitals): 1 season, 2 games, 0-0-0, even
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Between amateur and pro hockey, between North America and Europe, Mel Angelstad played 1,036 regular season and playoff games covering 18 seasons of hockey in ten different leagues.  Of all those games, over all those seasons, traveling to so many places, there were two games with the Washington Capitals.

The NHL was probably a long shot for Angelstad who, despite an obvious dedication to the game (a maniacal one, one might say), he was not the most skilled of contestants for an NHL sweater.  He was never drafted, never traded for.  His associations with NHL teams were by way of free agency (Dallas and Washington).

He did, however, have a certain skill that made for a hard way to make a living.  It is in this number: 5,608.  That is the number of penalty minutes earned by Angelstad among his many stops in his hockey career, regular season and playoffs.  Five times he recorded more than 400 penalty minutes in a season.  It is a tough way to make a living. 

In 2003-2004 Angelstad was in his third season with the Portland Pirates, his longest stop of any in his career.  On April 3rd, with the Capitals hopelessly out of the playoffs (they were in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, just three points ahead of Pittsburgh for last place), they signed Angelstad to a contract.  He appeared that same day against the New York Rangers, getting 13 minutes of ice time in his NHL debut at the age of 31.  The following day he dressed for the season finale against the Pittsburgh Penguins, recording his only NHL shot on goal and two penalty minutes in 12 minutes of ice time.  And that would be the end of Angelstad’s career with the Caps. 

When the NHL went on extended hiatus, losing the 2004-2005 season to labor-management squabbles, Angelstad went to Europe, playing with the Belfast Giants.  He returned to North America to play for the Motor City Mechanics of the United Hockey League.  It was his last season in pro hockey.

I takes a unique personality to devote so much time, withstand so much physical punishment, pull up stakes and move to another city on almost an annual basis for little chance of making it to the NHL.  Angelstad did, and though he had only those two NHL games, he did achieve a first-ever in league history.  He became the first player in NHL history to wear the number “69.”  He can wear it proudly on Team A-E-I-O-U…and Sometimes Y.

Center:  Stefan Ustorf

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 54 games, 7-10-17, plus-5
Playoffs (with Capitals): 1 season, 5 games, 0-0-0, minus-1

In 1991-1992 Stefan Ustorf completed his first season of professional hockey, playing for hometown ESV Kaufbeuren in the German Eishockey-Bundesliga.  His 33 goals in 37 games was not enough to impress teams to taking him high in the 1992 NHL entry draft, but it was impressive enough for the Washington Capitals to take him in the third round (53rd overall).

Ustorf played two more seasons with ESV Kaufbeuren (which might have set off warning signals, in retrospect) before joining the Capitals’ AHL affiliate in Portland for the 1994-1995 season, where he scored 21 goals in 63 games.  The following season he made his NHL debut, appearing in 48 games for the Caps.  As rookie campaigns go it wasn’t bad.  His 17 points is tied for 32nd all-time among Caps rookies; his points per game (0.35) is tied for 25th.  His post-season was disappointing, though – no points in five games.

In 1996-1997 Ustorf regressed, so much so that he spent just six games with the Caps, failing to register a point.  He spent the rest of his season with Portland, scoring only seven goals in 36 games.  Three seasons in North America, two spent in part with the Caps, was apparently enough for Ustorf, who returned to Germany for the 1997-1998 season.  He gave North America another shot, playing with the Las Vegas Thunder, Detroit Vipers, and the Cincinnati Cyclones of the IHL over three seasons, but it would be his last hockey in North America.  Ustorf continued his career in Germany for another 11 seasons, retiring from the game after the 2011-2012 season at the age of 38.

Stefan Ustorf holds the all-time franchise record for games played by players born in Germany drafted by the Caps (54).  OK, so there have been only two such players (goalie Philipp Grubauer is the other).  Still, it is enough to get a spot on Team AEIOUASY.

Right Wing: Terry Yake

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 47 games, 6-8-14, plus-2
Playoffs (with Capitals): 1 season, 3 games, 0-0-0, minus-2

Terry Yake played 11 seasons in the NHL.  Perhaps in nine of them was he guaranteed a roster spot in trainng camp.  Even when things went well, they didn’t.  In the 1992-1993 season with the Harford Whalers, the team that drafted him in 1987 (fourth round), he scored 22 goals in 66 games, his first full season in the NHL after spending four years bouncing between Hartford and the AHL. 

His reward?  He was left exposed in the 1993 expansion draft.  The Anaheim Mighty Ducks plucked him, and Yake scored 21 goals for the Mighty Ducks in 82 games in the 1993-1994 season.

His reward for that?  He was traded to Toronto for David Sacco, who was coming off a four-game, two-point season with the Maple Leafs (Sacco appeared in 35 games over three NHL seasons).  A year with the Maple Leafs (split with the Denver Grizzlies in the IHL), and it was off to St. Louis.  Then he was signed as a free agent by the Buffalo Sabres, then the St. Louis Blues.  Then he was claimed by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 1999 expansion draft.  Then he was claimed by St. Louis  off waivers. 

Finally, in January 2000, Yake made his way to Washington, claimed on waivers from the Blues.  It would be his last stop in the NHL.  He had a respectable 6-5-11 scoring line in 35 games to close out the 1999-2000 season with Washington.  The following season, though, he spent most of his time in the AHL with the Portland Pirates (55 games), getting only 12 appearances with the Caps (0-3-3). 

That was the last straw.  After the 2000-2001 season Yake headed off to Europe for the last three seasons of his pro hockey career, and fittingly it was spent with three different teams in Germany. 

The much-traveled and unappreciated Terry Yake spent 11 seasons in the NHL with five different teams.  Two those seasons were spent in the Capitals organization.  Maybe as a consolation prize for his devoted effort, he gets a place on Team AEIOUASY

Defense: Al Iafrate

Regular Season (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 256 games, 58-118-176, plus-25
Playoffs (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 26 games, 11-5-16, minus-1

OK, let’s be honest.  The real reason we have a Team A-E-I-O-U…and Sometimes Y is to find a place for Al Iafrate.  He is the only skater in team history whose name begins with the letter “I.”  Not that he wouldn’t have made a “Team I” if we had one.

He was drafted fourth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1984 entry draft, a loaded draft that produced Luc Robitaille, Brett Hull, Patrick Roy. Kirk Muller, Gary Roberts, and oh yeah, some kid from Quebec named “Lemieux.”  His progress was stunning before and after his being drafted.  In successive years he went from the Detroit Compuware squad in the Michigan National Hockey League to the United States National Team (including an appearance in the 1984 Winter Olympics) to a brief stint with the Belleville Bulls in the OHL after the Olympics to the Maple Leafs in 1984-1985.

Iafrate played in 68 games in that rookie 1984-1985 season, starting what would be a six-plus season career with the Leafs.  Off ice problem led Iafrate to seek a trade in the 1990-1991 season.  He got his wish in January 1991, heading to Washington for Peter Zezel and Bob Rouse. 

With Washington, Iafrate showed steady improvement.  He scored six goals in 30 games to wrap up the 1990-1991 season with the Capitals, then scored 17 goals in 78 games the following year.  In 1992-1993 he went 25-41-66 in 81 games, was named a second team all-star, and finished sixth in Norris Trophy voting for the league’s outstanding defenseman.  He played in the All Star Game that season and impressed in the skills competition with a slap shot clocked at more than 105 miles per hour, the first NHL player to top the 100 mph mark in the competition…

The following season Iafrate was caught in team-wide offensive slump (he had only ten goals in 67 games).  To try to remedy the situation, the Caps traded Iafrate to the Boston Bruins for forward Joe Juneau, who was coming off a 102-point rookie season. 

Injuries to his knees were starting to catch up with Iafrate, though.  He had a good finish to the 1993-1994 season with Boston (5-8-13 in 12 games), but he missed the 1994-1995 and 1995-1996 seasons to surgeries on his back and both knees.  Boston traded Iafrate to the San Jose Sharks in June 1996 for Jeff Odgers and a fifth round pick in the 1996 entry draft.  He played in only 59 games over two seasons with the Sharks, totaling just eight goals and 14 points.  The Sharks made him available in the 1998 expansion draft, where he would be claimed by the Nashville Predators.  Less than a month later he was signed as a free agent by the Carolina Hurricanes, but he never dressed for the team, choosing to retire in September 1998.

To Washington Capitals fans, Al Iafrate will always be “Wild Thing,” a blur on the ice with balding head and mullet haircut.  He was a fine hockey player to boot, before injuries whittled away at his game.  He has to get a jersey for Team AEIOUASY.

Defense: Nolan Yonkman

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 50 games, 1-7-8, plus-4
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Nolan Yonkman is probably known more for what he did in a practice than what he ever did in a game wearing a Washington Capitals jersey.  On the eve of the season opener in 2003-2004, Yonkman and Michael Nylander battled for a puck in practice.  Their skates got tangled up, and Nylander – five inches shorter and almost 50 pounds lighter than Yonkman – lost.  He broke his ankle, and injury that would limit him to three games with the Caps that season until he was traded to Boston in March.

At the time, Yonkman was a 22-year old prospect with just 11 games of NHL experience trying to make the club.  He was drafted by the Caps in the second round (37th overall) of the 1999 entry draft (note: the Caps passed on Mike Commodore, drafted five spots later, and Jordan Leopold, drafted two spots after that, but these things happen).

Ironically, Yonkman himself would miss most of that 2003-2004 season to a knee injury.  No sooner did he finish rehabilitation on that knee following reconstructive surgery, he injured the same knee, limiting him to just 32 games with Portland in the AHL for the 2004-2005 season.

In 2005-2006 Yonkman appeared in 38 games for the Capitals, his high-water mark in games played, although he did not score a goal and recorded just seven points.  The Caps did not re-sign Yonkman to a new contract following that season, and he moved on to Nashville.  In four seasons in the Predators’ organization he never dressed for the parent club, and in July 2010 he signed as a free agent with the Phoenix Coyotes.  It started a four-year run in which Yonkman would appear in only a total of 26 NHL games with three teams, the Florida Panthers and the Anaheim Ducks being the others.  He is currently a free agent.

Nolan Yonkman might have been that big, physical defenseman that the Capitals lacked in the years before the NHL 2004-2005 lockout.  It was his body that betrayed him as much as anything, though, with injuries cutting deeply into his developmental schedule.  Still, he did manage to play in parts of three seasons with the Caps between causing and sustaining injuries.  Give him a sweater for Team AEOIUASY

Goalie: Gary Inness

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 54 games, 16-24-12, 3.64
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Even for the period, that being the early 1970’s, Gary Inness’ path to the NHL was not the usual sort.  Inness was not drafted by an NHL team and took the Canadian university path, playing two years with McMaster University and another at the University of Toronto.  At that point he was signed by the Pittsburgh Penguins as a free agent. 

Inness made the jump right from university to the NHL, appearing in 20 games for the Penguins in 1973-1974 (7-10-1, 3.26).  His sophomore year was better – 24-18-10 with a goals against average of 3.09 as the Pens’ number one goalie.  That was the regular season, though.  After escaping into the second round of the playoffs after beating the St. Louis Blues, 2-0, in a best-of-three series, Inness got the call in all seven games of the second round series against the New York Islanders.  He won the first three of them.  He lost the last four, though, allowing the Islanders (in their first playoff appearance in franchise history) to become only the second team to win a Stanley Cup playoff best-of-seven series after losing the first three games (Toronto did it in 1942).

He lasted into his third season with the Pens when he was traded across Pennsylvania to Philadelphia for Bobby Taylor and Ed Van Impe.  After a season and change with the Flyers in which he appeared in a total of only eight games, Inness signed with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association.  After barely a season in Indy, Inness arrived in Washington, signing a free agent deal in December 1978.

Inness played three seasons in Washington.  He appeared in 37 games in his first season, after arriving from Indianapolis, posting a 14-14-8 record with a 3.70 goals against average.  It was by far the best record among the four goalies playing for a team with a 24-41-15 record.  Over the next two seasons, though, he would split time between Washington and the Hershey Bears in the AHL.  After the 1980-1981 season, he retired to take up a job as head coach with the Bears (replacing Bryan Murray when Murray was promoted to Washington) where he spent three more seasons.

Gary Inness spent the last three seasons of his NHL career toiling for a team that struggled quite a bit.  Nonetheless, he earned the nickname, “Man with the Golden Glove” for his early play with the club.  It has to earn him a spot on Team AEIOYASY.

And there you have it.  Team A-E-I-O-U…and Sometimes Y is the last entry in our look back at the All-Alphabet Teams of the Washington Capitals.  Some teams are impressive, some are not.  But they are all, in their own way, Capitals.

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