And what happened on this date in Washington Capitals history? Well, it was an odd sort of day…
1996 – A Legend is Traded
OK, so perhaps you do not recognize the name, “Frank Bialowas.” Not surprising, that. An undrafted left wing out of Winnipeg, he was signed as a free agent by the Toronto Maple Leafs in March 1994. He played only three games at the end of the 1993-1994 season in Toronto, recording no points, but he did have 12 penalty minutes, ten of them coming on two fighting majors (hold that thought). And he did not pick on lightweights. He threw punches with Tony Twist of the Quebec Nordiques and with Tie Domi of the Winnipeg Jets. Both were legendary tough guys, Domi having been hit with 273 major penalties in his career, Twist logging 1,121 penalty minutes in only 445 career NHL games.
Those would be the only three NHL games Bialowas would play. He found his way to the Caps in September 1995 when he signed as a free agent. He spent the entire season with the Portland Pirates in the AHL, going 4-3-7, but logging 211 penalty minutes in 65 games. That would be the extent of his imprint on the franchise, and he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers on this date in 1996 for the always murky “future considerations” (perhaps a subscription to “The Ring” magazine).
Bialowas achieved his legendary status, of sorts, as a member of the Philadelphia Phantoms in the AHL. In 156 games over three seasons, he went 12-16-28, but he had 555 penalty minutes. We would be traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in January 1999 for Dennis Bonvie (another legendary minor league tough guy) and would make his final stop in pro hockey when he signed as a free agent with the Hershey Bears in September 1999 for what would be his last pro season. Even though he was only 30 years old at the time, the years had slowed him down to a degree. He logged “only” 65 penalty minutes in 40 games. He wrapped up his AHL career having recorded 1,498 penalty minutes in 394 games over eight seasons with four teams, winning a Calder Cup in 1998 with the Phantoms.
And just to complete the Capitals portion of this story, Bialowas was not even happy about being traded by the Caps to the Flyers and having to play for the Phantoms in their inaugural season. Here is how he put it…
“I’ll be completely honest here. When I heard about [the trade], I was less than enthusiastic. I thought, there’s no way this can work. With the Flyers playing across the parking lot, who’s even going to care about us?“When I skated out for the first game, I saw about 2,500 fans in the stands and I’m thinking, this is gonna suck! I decided to have fun with it. I remember the little squirrel running around in my head, thinking I’m just going to go out there, play my game, beat people up, and see what happens. And the fans, man, they fell in love with our team. They kept coming out, attendance kept going up. It was great.”
2003 – The Caps Sign Gruden…No, Not That Gruden…Not That One, Either
The 2002-2003 season was an odd one for the Caps. They welcomed a new coach (Bruce Cassidy), and they returned to the postseason after missing the playoffs in 2001-2002. They also dressed 12 defensemen in the regular season, a rather high number. Of that group, only two – Calle Johansson and Sergei Gonchar – dressed for more than 70 games. Five of those defensemen would not be on the roster the following season (Alex Henry, Calle Johansson, Josef Boumedienne, Ken Klee, and Sylvain Cote).
One who would be was a five-year veteran who had not played in an NHL game since the 1999-2000 season, losing one full season to a shoulder injury and playing a season in Germany along the way. John Gruden, an eight-round pick (168th overall) of the Boston Bruins in the 1990 entry draft, was signed by the Caps on this date in 2003.
It was not exactly part of a youth movement. Gruden was six weeks past his 33rd birthday. But something in his season in Germany (6-25-31 in 38 games with Eisbaren Berlin) caught the Caps’ attention. Whatever that was, neither the Capitals nor their fans got a long look at it. Gruden played in 11 games before leaving the lineup in early November with a groin injury. Those would be the only games in which Gruden played for the Caps and in the NHL in what was his last season.
Gruden went into coaching where he suffered the odd experience of being fired twice as head coach by the same team in one season. He is currently the head coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs of the Ontario Hockey League.
2006 – Caps Sign a Heart and Soul Guy
Quintin Laing had been around. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1997 entry draft, and that was the departure point for an extended trip through North American hockey. He spent three more seasons with the Kelowna Rockets in the Western Hockey League before jumping to pro hockey, splitting time between the Norfolk Admirals in the AHL and the Jackson Bandits of the ECHL over two seasons. He played four more seasons with Norfolk (signed as a free agent by the Chicago Blackhawks along the way, for whom he played three games in the 2003-2004 season) before his journey stopped with the Caps’ organization.
On this date in 2006, Laing signed as a free agent with Washington. He started the 2006-2007 season with the Hershey, where he dressed for 75 games, establishing a pro-best 15 goals, adding 28 assists and posting a career best at any level plus-21. The following season he split time between Hershey (20 games) and Washington (39 games), where he posted an amazing 52 blocked shots in those 39 games, second on the club among forwards (Brooks Laich had 56 blocked shots in 82 games).
Laing spent almost the entire 2008-2009 season in Hershey, but he was called up late in the season and dressed for a late-March game against Tampa Bay. He skated just ten minutes and finished the game with one blocked shot. It was one he might have been better to avoid. He suffered a lacerated spleen for which it was assumed he would be out for the season. He was not. He dressed for nine playoff games for the Hershey Bears, recording a pair of goals and a pair of assists.
Laing dressed for 36 games with the Caps in 2009-2010 (a season interrupted by another injury from a blocked shot, a fractured jaw against the New York Rangers), but it would be his last in the Caps’ organization. He signed a professional tryout contract with the Abbotsford Heat in the AHL, where, except for a brief four-game stint in the ECFL, he played his last three seasons in pro hockey. His tenure with the club might have been brief, but he had the respect of teammates who thought of him as a “heart and soul guy.”
The other things that happened on this date?... Rome burned. The great fire of 64 AD lasted six days and destroyed about half the city… Intel was founded on this date in 1968… Detroit declared bankruptcy on this date in 2013… Nelson Mandela was born on this date in 1918… John Glenn was born on this date in 1921.