A couple of days ago, while Willie Mitchell was taking up all the Caps news because of his workout for the team, something slipped through the cracks. There was another non-cap skating at Kettler that day too. His name was Jeff Halpern.
Caps fans know him well, and he will always have a special place in the hearts of locals. Halpern is from Potomac, M.D., a suburb of D.C. (and the current residence of yours truly). He went to Churchill High School, where there was no hockey team at the time. Thus, he left home and transferred to St Paul’s School in Concord, N.H.
After graduating from Princeton, Halpern began his NHL career with the Capitals in 2000. He was never drafted, and signed as a free agent with the Caps after graduation. He was only the second NHLer from Maryland in the history of the league, and the fact that he was a local kid who grew up admiring the Capitals instantly endeared him to fans.
If his homegrown background didn’t grab fans’ hearts and never let go, then his style of play certainly did. A grinder, Halpern is a gritty forward who goes into the corners and digs out the puck. In 2005, Halpern was granted team captaincy after the Caps went captainless for the 2003-2004 season.
After the 2005-2006 season, Halpern left as a free agent and instead signed with the Dallas Stars. In 2008 he returned to the Southeast Division via trade to the Tampa Bay Lightening, and was traded again at the 2010 trade deadline to the Los Angeles Kings. Halpern was also the captain of the U.S. World Championship team in 2008. He has not resigned with the Kings and is now an unrestricted free agent.
Halpern meant a lot to this team and fanbase because he was one of our own. I know several people from playing who wore his number 11 in his honor. He was a local hero for a lot of us. The DC Metro area has never been a hockey hotbed, and to have someone go on to play for the hometown team was a rush for all of us. He still comes home in the summer and works out at Kettler to prepare for the upcoming season.
Many I’m sure would like Halpern to return to the Caps. He would add grit many fans feel is lacking on the current roster. He would have to change his number (it has since been retired), but we hope it would be a small price to pay to come to a Cup contending team that just happens to be the one he grew up cheering for.
With the impending signing of Eric Belanger, it is extremely unlikely that Halpern will return to the Caps since they are now set on centers. However, fans (like myself) will continue to dream of his homecoming every time his contract expires. It is sad to think that he might be one of the players out of a job come October in a crowded marketplace. Halpern is still the beloved hockey baby of this area, and Jeff, anytime you want to come home would be fine by us.