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January 14, 2015

Cover Photo: Elise Amendola / AP Photo

Not every person can say they made it to the National Hockey League.

At 22 years old, goaltender Pheonix Copley checked that off the list last weekend when the Washington Capitals recalled him from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL) to back up Braden Holtby in Saturday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.

The 6-foot-4, 196-pound goaltender earned the call after the Capitals sent backup netminder Justin Peters to the Bears on a conditioning assignment along with counterpart Philipp Grubauer nursing a lower body injury. Copley knew the stay wouldn’t be long, but that won’t change the emotions of that moment.

“I was just really excited,” said Copley. “Obviously, you get to go experience that league and the players in that league, so it’s pretty cool. I was just excited to go up there, get on the ice with those guys, and learn as much as I could.”

Copley left Hershey on Friday evening and joined the Capitals in Washington for morning skate on Saturday leading up to the evening’s game. There, he was reunited with goaltending coach Mitch Korn for the first time since the pre-season and prepared for the game with the rest of the Capitals.

“Practicing with those guys shows you what you need to work on to get back there and working with Mitch [Korn], too. It’s nice to get up there and see the areas of the game you need to improve and to go back.”

Preparation is key at any level of the sport, but Copley does find that the theme doesn’t change no matter the level for other players.

“Some guys are quiet and visualize before the game, and other guys are goofing around. It’s the same in any league that you go through. Guys have their own ways and whatever works for them. They found a way to make it work.”

As for the overall experience, it was eye opening for the young netminder even if it was for just one game.

“I just tried to soak it in. I was watching some of the guys prepare and seeing Holtby and how he prepares was cool and to be around the guys. It’s a great group of guys. They were pretty open and made me feel like part of the team.

“It was awesome being up there and part of a NHL game.”