Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee provided journalists and hockey-deprived fans alike a bevy of personnel moves to discuss during the typically dull and agonizing hockey-free summer months of the off-season. The headlines were rightfully focused on topics such as the Semyon Varlamov and Eric Fehr trades, free agent acquisitions of Joel Ward, Jeff Halpern, Roman Hamrlik, Tomas Vokoun, and successful negotiations that brought key players like Karl Alzner and Brooks Laich back into the fold.
Easily lost in this fray is the amount of retooling the Caps and their AHL affiliate have done to help usher the Hershey Bears back into the discussion of preseason favorites for an AHL-record twelfth Calder Cup Championship. Along with the return of some familiar faces like goaltender Darren “Cheeser” Machesney, Graham Mink, Chris Bourque, Mathieu Perreault and Francois Bouchard, the Bears have added further depth with the signings of Ryan Potulny, Matthew Ford, and Jacob MicFlikier.
It was another depth signing for the Caps and Bears that caught my eye – a one-year, two-way contract with free agent center and Pennsylvania native Christian Hanson.
Hanson is a 6’4, 228-lb veteran of 42 NHL games with Toronto (plus 96 AHL games) since signing a pro contract out of college in 2009. He had previously played a key role on Jeff Jackson’s University of Notre Dame team during their meteoric rise from 2005–2009, which included making the school’s first appearance in an NCAA Men’s Hockey National Championship game and attaining the first ever #1 overall ranking in ice hockey for the Fighting Irish. After finishing his senior season with 31 points in 37 games and earning a spot on the CCHA 2nd All-Star Team, he was quickly signed as an undrafted free agent by Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hanson scored his first NHL goal just 1 week later against future Hall-of-Fame goalie Martin Brodeur in only his third NHL game. He went on to split time between the Marlies and Maple Leafs over the past two seasons.
I first had the chance to see Christian Hanson play during his freshman year at a home game in South Bend, Indiana. It wasn’t anything about his play on the ice that initially caught my attention – it was his last name. Christian is the son of one of the most infamous and beloved individuals in hockey history – Dave Hanson. Dave, a pugilist of the highest degree, appeared alongside brothers Steve and Jeff Carlson in the iconic 1977 sports comedy Slap Shot as the “Hanson Brothers.” Hanson – nicknamed “Killer” during his playing days - and the Carlsons’ antics in the movie weren’t far off from reality. During their stint in professional hockey, they were each known to “goon it up” across the various leagues they played in.
This isn’t Hershey’s first time having ties in the organization to the film. Not too long ago, a coach by the name of Bruce “Gabby” Boudreau brought a similar link to Chocolate Town. Boudreau played a small role in the movie while playing for the Johnstown Jets hockey team (located approximately 150 miles east of Hershey), which the fictional “Charlestown Chiefs” were loosely based upon. The movie was filmed on the Jets home ice at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena, and Gabby’s messy apartment is even used for a scene in the movie.
While Christian is not likely to be caught “putting on the foil” – he plays a more skilled game than his pops - the 25 year old center should provide depth down the middle for the Bears, chip in about fifteen goals, and provide another option on the penalty kill, and perhaps most importantly, does not count against the Bears' veteran limit. Should the Capitals be faced with injury woes (knock on wood), Hanson could provide some spark as a temporary plug for the fourth line.
Expect Christian Hanson to make every effort to earn consideration for a roster spot with the Caps in training camp this fall, although he’ll find stiff competition from Mattias Sjogren, Cody Eakin, Mathieu Perreault, Jay Beagle, Chris Bourque among others. For now, Sjogren appears to be the favorite to lace up at Verizon Center this fall, but time will tell.