LAKE PLACID, NY - AUGUST 06: Thomas Di Pauli #10 of the USA Blue Squad takes down Artturi Lehkonen #28 of Team Finland at the USA hockey junior evaluation camp at the Lake Placid Olympic Center on August 6, 2012 in Lake Placid, New York. Team USA defeated Finland 5-4. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Who says there's no hockey in August? SB Nation DC's Ted Starkey heads to Lake Placid to check in on some Capitals prospects in USA Hockey's National Junior Evaluation Camp.
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - Nestled in the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York, the small village of Lake Placid still celebrates the two Winter Olympics held here in 1932 and 1980 - with the defining image being from the "Miracle on Ice."
While this year's Summer Olympics are talking place in London, some Washington Capitals prospects are getting a small taste of the Olympic experience by taking part in USA Hockey's National Junior Evaluation Camp to determine the American roster for the World Junior Championship squad. The tournament will take place in Russia this winter.
Playing in the same rink where American captain Mike Eruzione's shot eluded Soviet netminder Vladamir Myshkin to author one of the defining sports moments of the 20th Century 32 years ago, the best 18- and 19-year old U.S. products are taking on teams from Finland and Sweden - the Swedish roster includes Washington's top pick in this year's draft, Filip Forsberg - in the hope of finding a place on this year's World Junior Championship roster.
With the small arena adorned with photos from the 1980 win over the Soviet Union -- the doors to the rink feature a photograph of the celebration, and a placard proclaims the 4-3 score from the tournament -- it's hard not to feel the history of the building.
And for the young prospects, the camp is a chance to pull on the red, white and blue in international competition.
"It's quite an experience, not something I've gotten to do a lot in my career, but to be able to pull on that sweater is a privilege," said Garrett Haar, a California native who was a seventh-round selection by the Capitals in 2011. "Every time I step on the ice it's a lot of fun. It's quite an experience for sure."
Haar, a defenseman who skates for Western Michigan University, made the initial cut of camp and is one of three Capitals prospects to be angling for a spot on the U.S. club that will head to Russia to vie for a gold medal, which the Americans last won in 2010. In that tournament's gold medal game, current Capital John Carlson scored the winning goal in overtime to defeat host Canada 6-5.
While Capitals 2012 fourth-round pick Thomas Di Pauli has worn the USA crest before in his time with the National Team Development Program, it was still a thrill to play a game wearing the sweater in Lake Placid.
"It's a huge honor, knowing the history of this whole town and this rink, and all the great players that came through here and every year the same camp, it's something real special," said Di Pauli, who is heading to Notre Dame this fall.
Surrounded by the facilities that hosted the events of those two Winter Olympics - which are also training sites for a number of U.S. Olympians - made the experience unique for Di Pauli.
"Watching the Olympics while being here is pretty cool, because of the history of all that," he said. " Watching and seeing the athletes train for that is pretty sweet."
And in a small mountain town whose Main Street is adorned with stores and shops evoking the events of 1980, it makes watching this year's Olympics a bit more special for the players.
"There's a lot history around here," Haar said. "It's still cool that they're celebrating 1980 and what happened here. Watching the Olympics around here there's a lot of energy a lot going on, it's making it a lot of fun."
For ex-Capitals defenseman Phil Housley, who is coaching this year's junior team, it's a bit tricky to hold camp in the middle of August. The draft and development camps have ended, and junior and college seasons are coming up fast, but the action Wednesday was in mid-season form. In a game that featured some intense hits and chippy play, the U.S. defeated the Finnish club 5-2 at the 1980 rink.
"Its a two-way street, because they've been to the draft, they've been to other camps, and now they're playing hockey in August and it took a while to get in motion and get their feet off the ground," Housley said. "But certainly, right now, after we've made that break, they're getting more focused and getting into that game, conditioned mentally."
For Di Pauli, Haar, and 2011 sixth-round selection Travis Boyd, spending one of the last weeks of summer looking for a chance to wear a U.S. sweater this winter wraps up a busy offseason.
"It's been a really fun summer, actually," Di Pauli said. "The draft was obviously amazing, to be drafted by the Capitals. Then getting invited to this camp was a huge honor, I'm a younger guy.
"It's been really exciting and a busy summer for me, and even going to Notre Dame for seven weeks of summer school, so that was fun and completed that. Had a lot of struggles and fun with calculus, but I got through it. A busy summer."
For more on USA Hockey's National Junior Evaluation Camp, go here for rosters, schedules, stats, and more.