ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals coach Spencer Carbery looked across the room full of youth hockey coaches and reminisced.

“My first year coaching pro, it would have been 13 years ago … part-time, I coached the squirt single-A Charleston (South Carolina) Wolverine youth hockey team,” Carbery said. “When you see those smiles and you see kids go through a practice and they’re having fun and they’re enjoying it and you can be a part of that, that’s really cool.”

More than 180 local youth hockey coaches thought it was really cool that the first-year coach and his staff took the time to coach them at the team's Coaches Day clinic Friday at MedStar Capitals IcePlex, the Capitals practice facility.

The coaches, from pee wee to juniors, listened to Carbery, along with assistants Mitch Love, Kirk Muller and Kenny McCudden, goalie coach Scott Murray, video coach Emily Engel and others.

But first, they watched the staff put Capitals players through a brisk practice ahead of their game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET; MNMT, BSOH).


Brittany Ott was among the coaches taking copious notes as the staff members shared their philosophies on running practices, game strategies, skills development and building player-coach relationships.

“It’s been incredible, very different perspectives, eye-opening,” said Ott, who coaches in a girls high school hockey league at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel, Maryland. “I did the on-ice session earlier today and it was very, very interesting. I wish we had more time, actually, because we kind of went through the drills quickly, but they gave us some pretty good insight.”

Livingston Cheng, an under-14 and under-11 coach for the Montgomery Youth Hockey Association in Maryland, paid particular attention to how much practice time was devoted to goalies.

“I grew up as a goalie, so I know the goalies get forgotten a lot during practice and they’re just shooting targets for a typical practice,” Cheng said. “Getting a glimpse of what a goalie practice is, I thought it was really interesting. It was a goalie practice, but we could utilize a lot of these drills for the full team, helping them work on their shooting, passing. It was a quick-paced practice. It looked fun.”

Playing with pace and purpose and having fun were the key tips imparted by the Capitals coaches.

“Players need structure along with pace,” said McCudden, Washington’s skills coach. “To the very last one, players must have fun because it’s a game at the end of the day. I think parents lose focus of it. Referees lose focus, and, most importantly, sometimes we lose focus.

“When you’re working with mites and squirts … and you might have a coach yelling or you might have a parent yelling, it no longer becomes a game. It becomes a job,” McCudden said. "At 8 years old or 9 years old, you’re being told what to do. It’s an awful way to play a sport, and we’ve seen it.”


Capitals TV analyst Craig Laughlin, who served as the emcee for the clinic, said it was the largest gathering of local coaches that the team has hosted.

He called the attendance a testament of the Capitals success, including winning the Stanley Cup in 2018, and the impact that forward Alex Ovechkin has had in promoting and growing the sport in the Washington, Maryland and Northern Virginia region since he joined the team in 2005-06.

More than 843,277 students across 1,302 schools participate annually in the Capitals Hockey School program and more than 8,100 players have been introduced to hockey in the region through Washington’s Learn to Play program, the team said.

“To have so many coaches here, obviously, it’s probably the Ovechkin effect that we’ve increased our youth hockey programs, our men’s leagues, our women’s hockey, our girls hockey, and it’s just great to see everybody today,” Laughlin said.

That growth might not have been possible without dedicated coaches, many of whom are volunteers or earn little for the time they put in at rinks, according to Carbery.

“I know there’s not a lot of financial gain in coaching youth hockey, you’re probably losing money,” he said. “I know it truly is you donating, giving something where you get nothing in return other than sharing your knowledge and trying to give wisdom to young people or junior players, which is really special, and it means a lot. And so, on behalf of the organization I just want to say thank you, first and foremost.”