Capitals rookie Cody Eakin was 4 years old when the beloved Winnipeg Jets left his hometown in 1996.
He was too young to remember the heartbreak when Teemu Selanne, Keith Tkachuk, Nikolai Khabibulin and the boys of winter headed south to Phoenix and became members of the Coyotes.
Now 20 years old, Eakin cant tell you how it felt when the Jets bolted for Phoenix, but he can tell you what it was like last summer when it was announced the Jets were coming back, albeit as a northern version of the Atlanta Thrashers.
It was crazy, Eakin said. They shut down our downtown for a parade, kids were playing street hockey games. It was great.
Thursday night the Capitals will return to Winnipeg for the first time since 1996 and Eakin is thrilled to have the opportunity to play in front of his family and friends for the first and only time this season. Hes already asked teammates for an extra allotment of tickets, even though hes not certain hell be in the lineup.
Every day I kind of check to see if I have a jersey in my stall, Eakin said. Im enjoying every second, but no day is guaranteed, so you need to work hard.
Through his first six NHL games, Eakin has one goal and three assists and has impressed the Capitals coaching staff with his speed and quick decision-making on the ice.
He brings great speed, which is a great element, Boudreau said. I dont think speed ever hurts you. In todays NHL speed is quite a weapon. Cody has done well everywhere hes gone.
Taken by the Capitals in the third round of the 2009 NHL entry draft, Eakin had a monster year the following season with 47 goals and 91 points in 70 games with the Swift Current Broncos.
He followed with a tumultuous year last season, one that included a trade from Swift Current to the Kootenay Ice, a chance to represent Canada in the 2009 World Junior Championships and a trip to the 2011 Memorial Cup finals.
It was Eakins performance under the glare of the World Junior Championships that most impressed the Capitals. He finished the winter tournament with one goal and two assists in seven games, which included a gold medal game loss to Russia.
You have 18,000 people and a whole nation glued to every minute and you dont get fazed, Boudreau said. Hes been through the scrutiny.
In hindsight, Eakin said his experience in the WJC helped him deal with the pressures hes now dealing with in the NHL.
It was definitely a memorable lifetime experience, Eakin said. To have the support of the whole country is unbelievable. When you play in big games after a while they add up and give you a focus and a calm instead of getting sidetracked by emotions.
Youve got to find out how to enjoy it, take it in and at the same time work as hard as you can. That was the hardest hockey Ive ever played, where one game meant so much.
As a member of the Capitals, Eakin said he realizes he could be one average game away from returning to the AHL Hershey Bears and is using that reality as incentive to remain with the Capitals long enough to pay for a rookie dinner.
Nah, we wouldnt make him pay for all of us, veteran defenseman Dennis Wideman said. Hes all right without having to worry about that.