As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, members of the Washington Capitals’ Guest Services department have been trying to get me to re-up my two season tickets in Section 413 of the Verizon Center for the 2007–2008 campaign. They put forth a convincing argument for a long-time die-hard Caps fan such as myself: Discounted tickets, meet-the-team parties, various autographed memorabilia, a ticket-exchange program. Yet I remain on the fence—-with my schedule, it is very likely that I would miss many of the games, and I have trouble enough as it is convincing people to go with me. (The sweet promise of a chicken tender basket only works so many times with my girlfriend.)

Several times in the last few weeks, I have received phone calls from my account representative, during which we’ve discussed my situation. Yesterday afternoon, however, upon seeing my rep’s phone number pop up once again on my ringing cell phone, I elected not to answer, as I was under a tight deadline. Oh, how I wish I had taken the time to answer that call. Because, this time, the Capitals were breaking out the big guns—-literally.

They broke out defenseman Milan Jurcina.

Let me tell you about Jurcina: He’s a 6-foot-4-inch, 233-pound, 24-year-old defenseman who—-after being acquired from the Boston Bruins for next to nothing in February—-easily became one of the Caps’ most dependable and physical blueliners. (It’s not the first time General Manager George McPhee has fleeced Boston. During the 2003-2004 firesale, McPhee received defenseman Shaone Morrisonn—-who has since become the Caps’ top defender—-as well as a first and second round draft pick for power-play quarterback Sergei Gonchar; Gonchar would not re-sign with Boston following the 2003-2004 playoffs.) In his second season with the organization, Jurcina—-drafted by Boston in the 8th round of the 2001 draft—had apparently fallen out of favor with first-year Bruins head coach Dave Lewis. McPhee obtained Jurcina for a fourth round draft pick; Lewis was later fired after only one year behind the bench.

The Czechoslovakian-born Jurcina is many things: He’s a steady defensive presence, he’s a hard hitter, and he’s quickly becoming a fan favorite in Washington. Jurcina is not, however, much of a salesman. Through a heavy accent, and in an eerily robotic voice, Jurcina addressed me personally, pleaded with me to help him, uh…do something (bring up attendance at the Verizon Center?), and asked that I give my account representative a call. (Of course, he gave me the wrong representative’s name, but I’m not going to hold that against the big guy.) He then thanked me for my support and expressed his extreme enthusiasm for the upcoming season with a monotone “Go Caaahhhps.”

At first, I figured it was only a pre-recorded message that someone within the organization had convinced poor Milan to do. On the weekly Caps Report podcast yesterday afternoon, however, WashingtonCaps.com Senior Writer Mike Vogel explained otherwise: “All the players are busy doing other things,” he said of his lack of guests for that afternoon’s show. “Namely, making cold calls. My sympathy to them.” Vogel went on to say that he suspected this promotion was a reaction to a very successful publicity stunt organized by none other than the Caps’ most-hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had superstar Sidney Crosby and a handful of his teammates hand deliver season-ticket packages to random subscribers. “If players are cold-calling fans, does that mean we’re going to have…ticket agents leading the breakout this year on the ice?,” Vogel lamented. “These guys do plenty, I don’t think they should have to get on the phone and sell tickets.”

I’d have to agree. The image of Jurcina in full gear, still sweaty from practice, sitting at a sales representative’s desk and calling up a list of former season-ticket holders in the attempt to sell them tickets…well, it just pains my heart. I want to call him, let him know it’s OK, I’m probably going to end up renewing my tickets anyway—-and that it doesn’t matter if he’s not that great of a salesman because he’s an amazing defenseman who makes a fuck-ton more money than I ever will. Unfortunately, he’s likely on a plane right now making his way to Ottawa for tonight’s exhibition game against the Senators (which you can watch live via streaming video at nhl.com).

To see some clips of Jurcina on the ice during the IIHF World Championships in Moscow, check out this interview. To hear his, uh, sales pitch, go here.

Milan Jurcina: No. 1 in my heart, dead last in sales for September 2007.

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