Tom Wilson gets shaving cream after first goal
There was a time in the NHL when rookie hazings went beyond having the teenage players pick up exorbitant dinner tabs for their gluttonous teammates.
“My first couple years, and obviously prior to when I came in the league, the rookies got hazed pretty good,” said Capitals coach Adam Oates, who broke into the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings in 1985. “It’s not the same now.”
Oates declined to elaborate on some of the rituals he endured as a 23-year-old rookie, but it’s fair to say he didn’t like them.
“I thought it was pretty bad, that it crossed the line and a little bit unfair,” he said. “I mean, I understand hazing and all that, but [it went] a little too far at times.
“I remember when I first turned pro you would shave the rookies’ heads, right? I forget which team stopped that. But they’re NHL guys, they’re professionals. You don’t want that look.”
In 1988, as a rookie member of the Quebec Nordiques, Joe Sakic had his head shaved and vowed he would never repeat that practice to another teammate.
Since then rookie hazings in the NHL have tamed considerably. There are still some hotel pranks – like the one caught on HBO’s 24/7 in 2010 when Penguins veterans removed the furniture from the hotel room shared by rookies Ben Lovejoy and Mark Letestu and rearrange it in the hallway.
That same year Anaheim Ducks rookie Cam Fowler rented a limousine and played chauffer for veterans Teemu Selanne and Ryan Getzlaf – even going so far as to wear a top hat and open doors for his veteran teammates.
In Washington, picking up pucks after practice and getting a shaving cream pie in the face after scoring a goal is the extent of the rookie treatment.
“When I was a rookie I got lots of respect,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who arrived in Washington in 2005 at the age of 19.
“I came here my English, it sucked. Everybody just help me. Of course we had a rookie dinner and we paid. But I don’t think we have that kind of stuff where you have to do some crazy things to them.
“I don’t think that’s fair. If you play three years in the league or two years in the league you’re not going to tell a guy who just came into the league, ‘You’re a rookie.’ I don’t think it’s fair. I think it’s stupid.
Defenseman Karl Alzner broke into the NHL with the Capitals in 2008 and said he was treated “great.”
“Everyone understands when you’re young and fresh in the league your confidence is kind of volatile,” Alzner said. “You’re so high one day and so down the next. You want to impress so bad, you don’t want to let anyone down.
“The more fun you have with the guys the better. If we’re talking to you and making fun of you it means we like you. We hope these guys are comfortable.”
There is one rookie initiation that has remained a staple in the NHL and that’s the rookie dinner. Usually planned well in advance, the entire team, minus the coaches, dines at a posh restaurant on the road and orders the very best wines and entrees on the menu.
In 2006, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s rookie dinner reportedly carried a tab of $24,000, divided equally among six rookies.
The Capitals currently have four rookies on their roster – forwards Tom Wilson, 19, and Michal Latta, 22, and defensemen Nate Schmidt. 22, and Alex Urbom, 22.
Veteran right wing Troy Brouwer said the Caps will give their rookies plenty of time to save their paychecks for the team’s big night out.
“It won’t be where guys have no money and can’t pay the rent,” he said.
Brouwer said he was treated “really well” in his rookie season in Chicago in 2008, saying veterans Marty Lapointe and Adrian Aucoin often took him to dinner and made sure he was on time for all team functions.
“I really respect those guys, even today,” Brouwer said. “They were really good for my development as a player and as a person.”
Like Ovechkin, Brouwer said rookies deserve the same respect as everyone else in the locker room, regardless of their ages.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-year guy or been around a long time,” Brouwer said. “You’re a professional, you deserve respect. If you were in an office you wouldn’t be treated differently and it shouldn’t be any different in the locker room.”
Rookie Connor Carrick after getting shaving cream pie (photo by Chuck Gormley)
Capitals rookies pick up pucks at practice (Photo by Chuck Gormley)