Note: This piece originally ran on Patch June 10, 2011. We are rerunning it, with some minor updates, in light of the recent shake-up with the Washington Capitals' coaching staff.
In late November 2011, head coach Bruce Boudreau and assistant coach Bob Woods were both released from the team and within days hired by the Anaheim Ducks. Dean Evason and Blaine Forsythe, the Capitals' other two assistant coaches, were retained under new head coach, Dale Hunter. Additionally, Jim Johnson was hired as a new assistant coach under Hunter, replacing Woods.
Not too many residents of the Mount Vernon area have a Wikipedia page dedicated solely to them. But then again, not too many local residents are a former National Hockey League (NHL) player and a current Washington Capital’s Assistant Coach. Dean Evason holds both distinctions.
Dean, and his wife of 25 years, Sherri, with whom he shares the exact same day of birth and year, both hail originally from Manitoba, Canada. They have three kids—Bryce, 21 (Mount Vernon HS grad and in his final year at Christopher Newport University), Brianne, 19 (Mount Vernon HS grad as well and in her second year at Virginia Commonwealth University), Brooke, 10 (current sixth grader at Washington Mill ES who, notably, considering her Canadian lineage, was born on the 4th of July)—and a lovable and lumpy chocolate Lab named Gus. (Forgot to ask why Gus is the only kid that didn’t get a “B” name…next time).
On a recent balmy evening over a sweaty glass of pinot grigio, I conversed with Dean (Sherri, Brooke and Gus participated too) on the back deck of their Mount Vernon home for a bit of a “faceoff”, if you will…
Being from Canada, were you born with a hockey stick in your hand? How old were you when you started playing? Probably started skating when I was maybe 3 or 4. I started playing organized hockey when I was maybe 5. My dad always made a hockey rink in our backyard so there was accessibility to skating all the time. And everybody played. We played on the street, in the backyard, we played in the hallways. Recess you played hockey, after school you played hockey, before school you played hockey. We always found ways to play. My mom always tells the story of when my brother and I were alone and took the china out of the china cabinet and took the glass out and turned it upside down and used it as a net. (Sherri chimed in, “Any other parent would have killed them, she thought it was a great idea.”)
Did your parents play hockey too? My dad played junior hockey growing up. Then he played a year in Wembley, England. Could have played semi-pro as the story goes but his father left and he had to come home as the oldest child. He had to look after his 5 siblings and his mom and get a job. My mom was a farmer (Sherri added, “An armchair athlete”). She was more the mental, the driving force, gave us the drive to play. My dad was more athletic and my mom was more the intense, mentally strong. But no, she wasn’t an athlete at all.
Growing up, who was your favorite hockey team and player? Philadelphia, which I hate now. Bobby Clarke, he at that time was the captain of their team but the reason I liked him was that he was born in the same hometown as I was born in…Flin Flon, Manitoba so there was a connection there. I liked the way that he played. He was really kind of a gritty, hard-nosed player. Offensive and defensive (chuckling), he was a little bit of a dirty player. But no I just liked the way he played and Philadelphia was kind of the Broadstreet Bullies at the time.
What position were you when you played in the NHL? Centre. Always centre, a little bit of wing but mainly centre. (Note: Dean was selected in the fifth round, 89th overall, in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft by the Washington Capitals. He also played with the Hartford Whalers, San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames where he concluded his NHL career in 1996 with 803 games played, 139 goals, 233 assists and 372 points).
How have things changed when you were in the NHL as a player compared to how they are now? The money’s changed (laughing). We (Sherri and I) wish certainly that we were playing in this era! The average player now, I don’t know what the average is, but it’s got to be close to a million. Whereas, when I played, I think the top, when I first came into the league, the top player was making right around $400,000-$500,000 a year. So certainly the money has changed.
How has the game changed as a result of amongst other things: lighter, strong equipment; fitness/nutrition of players, etc.? The level of play has changed. The players were good when we played but now they’re athletes. They’re phenomenal now. I missed kind of the era of where they just played the game and got in shape just playing the games. We still worked out and it was a year-round job. But the players today, they are so committed and so driven and the way that they train. They’ve got the nutritionists, the therapists and not only physically but mentally. And you know, it’s a big business. And their bodies are their business and I think the athlete is better today than when I played.
The skates, the sticks, the skates are so much lighter now and people talk about how much faster the player is now, how much bigger and stronger. And yea, they’re probably a little bit bigger but the skates are lighter so you can skate faster and the sticks are lighter. They’re not wood like when I broke in. Now they have composite sticks that are super light, super flexible. Your shot is harder. Technology has come so far that the great players back in the day would have been even better players now.
Did you have any major injuries as a player? I broke my nose 5 times. It’s the only bone I’ve ever broke. I’ve torn a couple of my ankles, ligament-wise. But I guess the main injuries that I had were groin pulls. I ended up having the only surgery that I ever had besides stitches and whatever was for the sport hernia from groin pulls. (Sherri interjected, “You almost lost your eye.”)
What , did Sherri throw a pan at you? (laughing) No. (Dean to Sherri: “What from the stick or when the guy punched me?” To which Sherri said, “In Germany.”) Yea, but nothing, it was a concussion. I don’t know, lots of stitches. The main stitch was here (pointing to upper lip), I had 600 stitches. They had to sew the muscle back together after a skate came up and cut me. (Sherri said, “A plastic surgeon had to put his face back together”.)
Wow, you can’t tell... he did a good job. But aren’t all of the scars kind of worn as a badge of honor? You know what, yea, I agree. And a lot of people don’t bother getting things fixed. You know that’s a really good point because when people ask about it, it is, something (Sherri said, “You’re proud of.”) that you feel you’ve played hard and when you do play hard injuries are going to happen. Your nose is going to be crooked, your teeth are going to be missing and yea, you’re going to have scars.
Is that why Ovie (Alexander Ovechkin) doesn’t replace his teeth? Yea, I think so. And that, and you don’t want to do anything while you’re playing until you’re done. Like I didn’t get my tooth done until years after I finished playing because you’re just going to get it knocked out again.
How are you feeling now? How’s the body holding up? I have had no issues. Probably my back is the biggest problem that I have, my lower back. Just from years of pounding. But no, I was very fortunate to have not had the super major injuries, the knees or the dislocated shoulders. I just mainly had bumps and bruises.
What advice do you have for a parent who has a kid that they think has what it takes to make it in the NHL? Support them, make sure that they’re having fun at it. But, I just think the biggest thing is to give them the opportunity to train and to use all the resources that are available to them but not to push them. As long as they’re having fun used to be my standard answer. If you’re going to be a player, you’re going to be a player, regardless. Like some kids will never train and they will play in the NHL and some kids will train until they can’t train anymore and they get turned off and they won’t play in the NHL. I just think it’s support and allowing them to find their way.
Why does hockey remain stuck as the 4th most popular professional sport in America? Can the NHL capitalize on an NFL lockout in the fall? I think for sure the NHL can capitalize on an NFL lockout as I think our popularity is growing as you saw with the HBO series (24/7) and all of the outdoor games now. There’s certainly more interest. As far as being the 4th, one, the speed of the game and I totally understand. It’s hard to watch on TV, there’s different rules, the puck is moving so quickly and there is so much happening with line changes and everything. It’s hard to follow. And just the opportunity to know the game. Most everybody will play basketball, will play football, will play baseball. Not everybody will get on a quarter inch of steel and go skate. They just don’t have the accessibility, especially down here in the States. But it’s certainly becoming more popular but I just think like at home, in Canada, it’s so popular because we have the opportunity to do it. We can get outside 9 months of the season. I don’t know if it will ever pass any of the other 3 sports.
Washington teams aside, I will give you that caveat so you don’t get in trouble, what professional teams do you root for?
Favorite NFL team? You know what, I don’t have an NFL team. I’m not a huge football fan. We lived in Dallas for two years and it was Troy Aikman and Emmit Smith when they were playing well so we followed them a lot. But I truly don’t have a football preference. I enjoy watching football but I don’t have a preference.
Favorite NBA team? LA Lakers. Lived in Boston during the Boston-Lakers rivalry and there was such a passion between those teams. You had to pick one and I always liked the Lakers.
Favorite MLB team? NY Yankees. Reggie Jackson I loved, just watching him. I really enjoy baseball. I like to play it so I really love baseball but certainly the whole aura of the NY Yankees is something very intriguing to me.
Who are you picking to win the current championships?
Dallas Mavericks or Miami Heat? Heat. I really like LeBron James. I like his interviews. Obviously the whole thing with Cleveland was a little bit messed up but I thought he came out of it and handled himself, you know, very well. If the Lakers can’t be in it, I have to root for someone. I hope LeBron wins it, I think he’s done a lot for the game. (Update: The Mavericks won.)
Boston Bruins or Vancouver Canucks? I never say anybody in the NHL but Vancouver just seems so strong. They’ve had such a great year and there are a lot of parallels to us…winning the President’s Cup, they’ve struggled in the last few years and then they finally got through. You know, they’ve had a couple of adverse situations in the play-offs but I like Vancouver. (Update: The Bruins won. Note to self, don’t take Dean Evason along on a trip to Vegas.)
So, what does it really feel like to get hit by a puck? What part of the body stings the most with the impact? (Laughs) Well when you get hit in the face it REALLY hurts. Your nose especially.
Is that how you broke yours? Three were punches and two were pucks. One was standing in front of the net and one was my own player trying to clear it out of our zone and I looked back and it hit me square in the side. Your eyes just water. But as far as your body, unless you get it in the back of your leg or somewhere, the gear today is very good and very sturdy and you shouldn’t get hurt by it. And certainly the goaltenders today they have no issues with getting hit. But it does come, well, I think the hardest shot is like 100 miles an hour now, 105 actually, from (Zdeno) Chara in Boston. It can come at you.
How hard does Ovie hit it? Does he hit it the hardest on the team? Ovie probably hits 100. It used to be (Milan) Jurcina but Ovie would probably have the hardest shot, for sure.
How long have you been an Assistant Coach with the Washington Capitals? 6 years, this will be our 7th coming up.
What responsibilities fall under your jurisdiction? Penalty kill is my main responsibility. Face-offs. I work with the centre icemen and then basically everything to do with the forwards. So pretty much the centre icemen and the forwards, mentally and physically pulling clips of them. But my main responsibility is the penalty kill.
What’s a typical regular season day like for you or does that not even exist in your profession? (Laughs). Uh, a typical regular season day is up at whatever, 6:30, I’m on the road at 7 on a game day. We get to practice, watch video for upwards of 2 hours, ride the bike as we’re watching to try to not only stay in shape but stress-relief. Then we skate at 10 o’clock. We’ve got a couple of meetings. And then one of my other responsibilities is working out the on-ice workouts of the scratched players or the spare players on that game day. So we’ll skate them till about 11:30. Get home about 12:30. Quick bite to eat, little nap for 45 minutes and then we go back to the rink at quarter to 3. We’ve got a penalty kill meeting at 5:30, main meeting at 6. Game’s usually 7:00. And we get home after the game between midnight and 1:30 (Sherri says, “Depending how the game goes.”) We usually don’t talk too much after the game. We all get out of there as quickly as we can and then we just, you know, can think about the game and emotions aren’t involved and then we can watch the tape in the morning. Then we usually discuss it after that the next day.
Best thing about your job? Worst? Hmm, the best thing is still being involved in the game. If you can’t play, to be a coach, you’re as close, like, you’re still on the ice, you’re still skating. I can still skate with the extra guys and still feel like I’m involved. And then game days, you’re as close as you possibly can to the ice surface. The coaches are right there. You’re in the battle. You’re not in the battle but you can see it so closely that you can feel that you can have an effect on the game still. So, it’s nice still to be involved in the game. The worst is probably being away from your family. There’s a lot of travel, a lot of travel time. And I guess the highs are wonderful and the lows are low but that’s what we’re all about. But I’ve grown up with that being my whole life so you get excited about the highs and the lows but probably being away from the family is the hardest.
Do you still skate? What’s your fitness regiment? I work out, I ride the bike every day for like an hour to two hours. I lift weights. I try to train very similar as to how I did when I played but obviously you can’t stay on that same, there’s not the timeframe to do it. But during the year we skate every day with the players and I really enjoy skating with the players. We’ll not only skate them to keep them in shape but we’ll play 3-on-3 games as some of the guys don’t get into hockey games for like a month. We’ll actually get involved with them, the 3 coaches and play a 3-on-3 game with them. It’s nice to still be able to compete or think that we can compete at that level.
During games, I notice that one, you like to chew gum and two, you have more wires coming out of your ears than I see on most Secret Service agents. You also are constantly looking skyward. So, first, what’s your gum of choice and how many pieces do you chew at once? Sugar-free, whatever’s free on the plane. Trident Sugar-free usually. And I chew two pieces each period, spit the one out after each period.
And second, who are you talking to and why are you looking up so often? I talk to Blaine (Forsythe), our video coach/assistant coach. He has the computer in front of him. He has a TV screen. I’m talking to him constantly. He’s telling me different adjustments to how they’re playing. And so I will then, in turn, take it to Bruce (update: former head coach Bruce Boudreau) and Bruce will communicate it to the players. As far as looking up, whenever we’re looking up, it’s usually at the clock to see what’s left in a penalty, and/or the time in the game. Sometimes it’s to watch video, to watch the replays. I might have a quick look to see if the puck hit the post or a crossbar or something like that.
Now the gum, the two pieces per period, is that a superstition thing? Yea probably, a “routine.” (Sherri sarcastically said, “He doesn’t have any superstitions.”) Yes, I have routines. We all do. I think all athletes do have some kind of a routine that they follow like what time do they wake up, what time they go to the rink, when they eat or what have you. With me I do have a routine but I joke that if it gets messed up, if I leave my house 15 minutes after or if I only have one piece of gum to chew, I’m okay with it. I can get by with it.
Anything you always travel with or any pregame rituals that you always adhere to? (Sherri said, “The Ab Wheel.”) Yes, I have to have that! (Brooke then said, “A Bible.”)
You always take a Bible? Yes. Yea, I always carry one.
What are you most proud of to date, professionally? What do you consider your biggest accomplishment? Playing in the NHL. That’s by far my…it’s when I was growing up, that’s all I wanted to do. Obviously I would have loved to have won the Stanley Cup as a player, dreamt of carrying it with your skates. Now, you dream of it lifting it over your head in your suit on the bench. But there’s teams that I have been on that I won, there’s certain accomplishments that you get individually but I just think to play in the best league in the world, is the best thing I’m most proud of, even for one game. I was fortunate enough to play whatever 800 games.
Have you ever kissed the Stanley Cup? I have never touched the Stanley Cup.
Would you kiss it? No, not till I win it. And then I would give it the biggest smooch. I have been around it. I have had opportunities. Like I have gotten my picture taken beside it but I never physically touched it.
Is that a superstition thing too? YES. I think most hockey players will tell you that. I guess if you’re out of the game then maybe I would because I don’t have an opportunity to win it. But I still have an opportunity to win it because I am still in the game and it is a superstition that you don’t actually touch it until you are actually given that gift.
When somebody wins the Stanley Cup, where does it go afterwards? What they do when they win it is they have a list of the team and who deserves it and whose name gets put on it and then that person or each person on that list gets to keep it for two days. So, if we were to win it, then we could physically have the Stanley Cup with us. (Sherri said, “Wherever we want.”) It travels with a guy.
So, that commercial with the guy carrying the Cup and wearing the white gloves… That’s him. He actually stays with it the entire time. Imagine the parties he has seen. (Sherri said, “He’s probably had to sign something big that he can’t say anything because I’m sure he’s seen everything.”) Sherri and I have talked about it and I have dreamt about what you do with it. I mean everybody always usually takes it to a hospital in their hometown and tries to give back in some way to the community that kind of gave you the opportunity to actually win it. But it would be so much fun to have it. I’ve heard stories of guys sleeping with it.
So, we’d have to worry about incriminating photos of you making out with the Cup surfacing on Twitter? (laughs) I would have it in the bed though, I’m sure I would.
There was a lot of hype surrounding this past season and many expected the Cap’s to advance further in the Stanley Cup playoffs than they did. What happened? What are Washington’s chances for eventually bringing home the Cup? Well, I think our chances are good. I think our core group are just coming into their own. Although we had more older guys come in this year, we’re still extremely young. You know, the Backstroms, the Ovechkins, Semin, Green, Carlson, Alzner…I mean all of our…these are our core guys, our go-to guys and they’re very young still. So, if we can put a few pieces in place to surround those guys, they’re matured now. The last 3 years we’ve gone through some adversity that hopefully we’ve learned from that will allow us to win next year. But it’s such a difficult trophy to win. It’s such a long process. And I think what happened this year is that we ran into a great team. You know, Tampa Bay, they played as well against us as I think they possibly could. We were close, I think we were closer than people thought. Obviously getting swept in the second round didn’t look good. But you know we lost in close games, a game in overtime here. So certainly it could have went either way. So yea, I think our pieces are in place and if we learn from that…this last year and the last three years, we should be set up.
Do you think the players were demoralized or energized by losing? I think last year we were definitely demoralized. We were very demoralized last year and we came back and you could tell at the start of the year we were really down and it took us awhile to really find ourselves. I think this year, I think our group knows how close we were. As close as we were last year, we lost in the first round and it was very demoralizing. We got through that first round this year and you know, played very well. And I think our group now knows that really what it takes. It’s easy to say that but we’ve gone through enough to know now what it takes to get through that third round. The Vancouver Canucks are a prime example. They’ve been battling through that. They’ve put some pieces in place, some veteran people, which is our thought process and then hopefully we can learn from that and go forward and do better.
Lightening things up a little, I would like to talk about the players who are currently on the roster. You know how in senior year of high school, they give out senior superlatives? Let’s do the same with the current players. I’ll throw a superlative out there and you tell me which player you would give the nod to for each one.
Most Fit: Brooks Laich
Most Skilled: Alexander Semin
Most Intelligent: Brooks Laich
Class Clown: Matt Hendricks
Best Dressed: Matt Bradley (Update: Bradley is no longer with the team.)
Most Popular with his teammates: Matt Hendricks
Most Popular with the Ladies: John Carlson
Most Shy: Jeff Schultz
Most Tattoos: John Erskine (per Dean, he has “sleeves” on both arms, tattoos on hips, legs, etc.) (Sherri asked, “He’s got more than Green?”) Dean answered, “Yes, he’s tatted right up.”
(A little facetious intentionally with this one since so many teeth are lost in hockey) Best Smile- Ovie
Best Playoff Beard-Karl Alzner
Best Ride-Ovie, for sure. (Per Sherri, “He’s got like 10 cars.”) I don’t know what that thing is that he’s got. It’s all blacked out, it’s a Mercedes, its got red things in the wheels. There are only so many of them made in the world. (Brooke offered, “He’s also got a Hummer.”)
Best All-Around: Alexander Ovechkin
To wrap things up, I just want to ask some random, fun, spontaneous sort of questions…not necessarily, hockey-related…
Biggest misconception Canadians have about Americans? What is it called when there’s a lot of flag waving, over-the-top stuff…kind of brash. I believe Americans are very passionate about their country. But Canadians think of themselves as really reserved compared to Americans. And many think Americans are kind of in-your-face but I think that is a misperception by Canadians.
Biggest misconception Americans have about Canadians, other than you don’t go around calling each other hosers all day? (Sherri said, “That it’s cold all the time, that we live in igloos.”) (Brooke said, “Some people ask me what Canadians look like? I say they look the same.”) I think the main misconception from people around here is that Canada is just this big, open wilderness whereas we have great cities as well—the Torontos, the Montreals, Vancouvers. It’s the same as here, it’s just colder.
You just wear heavier parkas! Yes, exactly.
What is something about you that is very un-NHL-coach-like? What might people be surprised to find out about you? Un-NHL-coach-like? Hmm. I enjoy housework, I do, probably because I am anal and I enjoy the house being clean.
What do you like to do during the off-season? Rumor has it you are a pretty good golfer. What’s your handicap? Any other hobbies/interests? All sports, I’ll play anything…tennis, basketball…we wakeboard, do all the boating stuff, up in Canada at our cottage. So, pretty much any sport is a hobby. My handicap will get, usually, down to a 2 to a 5 at the end of the summer. I enjoy getting out with the chain saw and yardwork too. But golf is 100% my passion.
Have you ever driven a Zamboni? No
Have you ever wanted to? No
I know you are from Flin Flon, Manitoba (try saying that 10 times fast)…are you aware that Manitoba consumes the most 7-11 Slurpees of anywhere in the world? That being said, what is your favorite flavor? Strawberry, 100%. In Canada, they are just strawberry. The American Slurpee is really foamy, the Canadian Slurpee is very slushy, icy. It’s more crushed ice. (Per Sherri, “Americans will go up there and tell us they’d rather have our type of Slurpees. They are so much better.”)
What is your adult beverage of choice? Beer. Wine, a close second. My favorite beer is Kokanee (only available in western Canada). It’s a Labatt blue product. But it’s by far my favorite. Here probably, my favorite would be, I’ll say, Yuengling.
What’s the latest movie(s) you saw? Bridesmaids and Something Borrowed. Please don’t put that (laughing)…two of the worst movies ever.
What are you currently reading? I read autobiographies. Currently Jack Nicklaus’ autobiography. Anything nonfiction but mainly golf or sports-related, coaching books.
Do you ever get to read when you travel for work? No. We pretty much eat on the plane and watch game tape.
How did you choose to reside in Mount Vernon? How long have you lived here? We’ve lived here the entire time I’ve been with the Caps, 6 (update: 7) years and I guess when we first came here the practice facility was in Piney Orchard in Maryland and we had to choose somewhere close to Ballston or Kettler and it was really expensive around there so the realtor just brought us in this direction. (Per Sherri, “There wasn’t a whole lot for sale at the time and we had three kids, three levels of schools so we had to find somewhere that worked around that and that was my biggest thing and Fairfax County came highly recommended.”) This was all pretty much what was available to us.
What are some of the local establishments you like to frequent? Wing Stop, Il Paradiso (no longer in business), Chevy’s, Top Golf, we love Old Town…there’s a little Italian restaurant there that we like.
What are you most proud of, to date, personally? (pauses, composes himself) My family…they’re all happy and healthy. Yea, that’s it.
Thank you so much for your time. How about we end things with a “post-game handshake”?