When Alexander Ovechkin netted his fourth goal of the night in overtime to give Washington an exciting 5-4 win over Montreal on Thursday, it was obvious to all in attendance who the Capitals’ fan-favorite was; but there’s a new one emerging.
Mike Green, arguably the game’s most improved player, has become one of Washington’s most talked about athletes. Green may not be considered the best player on his team, but he’s developing quite a following.
A quick glance at the crowd during a Capitals home-game will cement this theory. Red and white are still the most prominent colors being donned by the team’s faithful, but there is also a smattering of green surrounding the glass at the Verizon Center. The obsessed faithful call themselves the “Gang Green.”
“I have no idea who started that or why, but it seems to be catching on quick and I’d just like to thank those guys for their support,” Green said after Washington’s win Thursday. “It’s kind of nice to have something like that. I get chirped at by the guys about it, but it’s neat.”
The growing infatuation hockey fans in Washington have for their favorite team’s 22-year-old defenseman makes sense. Green has become one of the league’s top scoring-blue-liners, and in addition to being one of the hardest-working players on a young Capitals’ team (average age of 27), he’s also one of the team’s most fan-friendly players.
A day before helping Washington skate to a home victory over the Canadiens, Green was spending time with some of the team’s most passionate fans at the ESPN Zone in downtown D.C.. The gathering featured a lengthy question-and-answer session in which fans were able to interact freely with Green. He then signed autographs for all of the folks who showed up.
Wednesday marked the second of four scheduled player-fan gatherings at the ESPN Zone, with Donald Brashear and Green already having taken part in the event. Players are selected shortly before the meet-and-greet takes place, and with the growing admiration for Green in the nation’s capital, his involvement was a no-brainer.
“The event was good because I got a chance to answer some questions and interact with the fans and we had a good vibe. There seemed to be a lot of people there, and I just hope that they enjoyed themselves and got to [better] understand one of their team’s players.”
Despite his efforts off of the ice, though, Green’s status — which has risen to something of a folk hero in D.C. as he’s helped Washington to re-emerge as a post-season contender over the past several weeks — as one of Washington’s most revered players has more to do with his play this season than it does his off-ice endeavors.
His 14 goals are tops in the league amongst defensemen and rank him second, behind only Ovechkin, on the team. He also ranks fourth on the Capitals in assists (with 17), and in points (31).
As impressive as the Calgary native’s totals are, they become more noteworthy when considering that just a year ago he mustered only two-goals and 12-points in 70-games.
Having abruptly surfaced as one of his team’s, and the game’s, top young talents, Green’s transformation into an elite player has taken place over the course of the entire season, but he’s taken his most giant strides forward since Bruce Boudreau was named Washington’s interim-coach.
“Coach’s being around has definitely helped me and I think that being coached under Bruce in Hershey and winning a cup down there, I understand him and I know what his coaching is all about, and what he’s all about,” Green said.
“For me it was easy coming in here because he gave me a great opportunity to play lots of minutes, and to get out on the power play and do what I did in Hershey,” Green added.
The third-year Capital isn’t the only member of the Washington organization who is attributing a great deal of his coming of age to Boudreau’s promotion. George McPhee, the team’s General Manager, and Olaf Kolzig, its goaltender, agree.
“He’s comfortable with Bruce, and he’s had success with Bruce in winning a Cup and I’m sure that the comfort he has with him as a lot to do with it,” McPhee said.
Kolzig echoed the thoughts of both Green and McPhee, adding that, “Since Bruce came in they’ve unleashed the thoroughbred.”
“He maybe didn’t play with as much confidence before,” Kolzig said, “but because Bruce had him for a-year-and-half, he knew what ‘Greenie’ was all about and what he could bring to the table. He said ‘go do it,’ and he’s taken his game to a whole new level.”
While Green has indeed taken his game to a higher level, and despite the fact that he’s one of the game’s most lethal defenseman on the attack, he still has work to do as a defender.
“He’s done a really nice job. We were expecting him to do this last year and it took him a little bit longer than we thought. He had a great first year in Hershey, and won a cup, and now he’s playing the way that we had hoped offensively. Like a lot of young guys, he still has to learn how to play better defensively, but that will come,” said McPhee.
Kolzig added that Green, “Still has to learn some things on his own end defensively. He needs to be a little smarter.”
“That said though,” Kolzig continued, “We haven’t had a puck-moving defenseman like him since Sergei Gonchar. And for us to be successful from the point, we need that and he’s providing it.”
Green’s arrival on the national scene, as an elite enough player to draw comparisons to somebody as respected as Gonchar, didn’t take place solely because of a coaching change. The Canadian defender has also worked harder in the past year than he ever had before.
“It’s just been about dedication,” Green said. “My first couple of years I was watching guys and what they would do and how they would train. This summer was different. I dedicated myself to keeping focus through the season because the last couple years I realized that you can’t just get away with sneaking through in this league. You have to dedicate yourself and focus.”
In addition to his incessant efforts in the weight room and during practice sessions, Green’s modesty and low-key personality have also made him a hit with both his teammates and followers. His modesty was on display after Thursday night’s game, when he wanted to make sure that a story being written about him, wasn’t just about him. Doesn’t make sense? It shouldn’t.
“I have to give a lot of credit to the team and to my teammates,” he said. “It’s not just one or two guys doing well, it’s everybody but it’s just a couple of guys that are getting noticed.”
And these days, unlike in years previous, you don’t have to be named Alex to be one of those players getting noticed.
“I think we’re just scratching the surface with him, and as long as he doesn’t read his own headlines too much, he’s going to continue to improve,” said Kolzig.
“But we’ve got a good enough group in here to keep him grounded, and he’s a good kid. A special kid, and I’m excited to see just how good he can be.”
Grant Paulsen is a nineteen-year old writer and broadcaster in Washington D.C. Check outor tune in XM radio to Channel 144 (Grant’s Sports Take – weekday mornings), and Channel 175 (Minors and Majors – Saturday 10:00am – noon). You can also check out his weekly column in the Sunday Edition of the Fredericksburg Freelance Star.
Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Grant Paulsen