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Capitals' Tabaracci Feels Right at Home Though a Backup, Goalie Happy to Be Back

By Rachel Alexander Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 24, 1998

When Rick Tabaracci was in his first stint with the Washington Capitals four years ago, it was a pretty safe bet that if he wasn't at home or with the team, you could catch him eating dinner at the Ramshead Tavern in Annapolis. So earlier this month, when left wing Steve Konowalchuk walked into the restaurant a few days before training camp opened and saw Tabaracci back in his usual spot, he knew all was right with the veteran goalie.
"It was funny, as I was going through the door, I said I wouldn't be surprised to see Tabby in there, and I walked in and there he was having dinner," Konowalchuk said. "The first night in town and some of his old buddies were already meeting him there."
Tabaracci, who played with the Capitals from 1993 to '95, is certainly happy to be back in town via a trade with the Calgary Flames this summer, although it's not just the food at the Ramshead that has him burning his way through training camp. It's not very often a player gets to make a fresh start on a team he's already so familiar with, but that's exactly the situation Tabaracci finds himself in right now.
He doesn't have any of the distractions that usually unsettle a player changing clubs but he does have the opportunity to make a brand-new impression on the management staff, which wasn't around the last time he was.
"It's great to walk in and know so many of the faces; there are a lot of veteran players here and some of the guys I came in with who were just starting out are really established now," Tabaracci said. "It makes the transition much easier, although the organization has gone through quite a face lift with the coaching and management staff. . . .
"It's kind of neat to come back and see an organization and know where it was five years ago, and then to know where it is now and see how different it is."
The Capitals aren't the only ones who have changed since the 29-year-old Toronto native left Washington the last time. Tabaracci had been rotating goaltender duties with Olie Kolzig through much of the 1994-95 lockout-shortened season, but as Kolzig put it, "Between the both of us, we didn't win too many hockey games, so they figured they'd change things up and bring in Jim Carey, and the rest is history." In April, Tabaracci was traded to the Flames for the fifth pick in the 1995 draft.
He had no idea at the time that trade would become the first part of an elaborate series of stops between the two cities. He played five games for the Flames at the end of the season and 43 games the next, acquiring a 2.94 goals-against average and a 19-16-3 record. In 1996, he was traded to Tampa Bay to take over for the injured Daren Puppa, and Tabaracci responded with his best season to date, recording a 2.75 GAA despite a 20-25-6 record.
But while the starter's job with the Lightning did wonders for his confidence, it did not help Tabaracci's employment prospects. Puppa, who missed the season with back problems, was planning to return for the 1997-98 campaign, and General Manager Phil Esposito told Tabaracci the team wanted Puppa back in the top job. He offered to get Tabaracci to a city where he could compete for a starter's spot, however, and Tabaracci ended up back in Calgary just six months after he left.
Once again, things didn't work out as Tabaracci had planned. He loved the city, but Coach Brian Sutter blamed him for a chunk of the Flames' woes (the team didn't make the playoffs after finishing with a 26-41-15 record), and by mid-August he was back on the trade wire and back to Washington to be Kolzig's backup. The deal was officially Tabaracci in exchange for an unspecified draft pick and future considerations, although it has been linked to the Flames' acquisition of former Capitals defenseman Phil Housley and is listed that way in Washington's official training camp guide. Calgary picked up Housley two weeks after the Capitals put him on waivers.
"It was really strange the last time to be gone just six months from Calgary, and then to come back here -- that's something you just don't see," Tabaracci said. "But it's nice to be on a club that's competitive, and I like the area a lot. The other day we took a drive through D.C., and it's always a little thrill to drive by the White House -- although there's a little more activity around that place than usual right now."
Tabaracci is doing his driving with his fiancee, Lana Buchberger, a former Miss Canada in the Miss Universe pageant who is an investment banker. She has made the move here with him, although they both know this might not be Tabaracci's final career stop. One of the league's most agile goaltenders with some decent height at 6 feet 1, he is still hoping to eventually become a number one somewhere. Until that happens, however, he said he is prepared to concentrate on improving his game and helping the Capitals win, even if it is in a more limited role.
Goaltending coach Dave Prior, who has known Tabaracci since both were in Winnipeg in the early '90s, doesn't foresee any problems.
"I think he's come in here with a great attitude," Prior said. "He's one of the most talented goaltenders in the NHL in terms of his agility and quickness. Because of that talent, sometimes he relies too much on it and drifts a bit on his technical game, but we're working on that.
"He recognizes that the job isn't up for grabs unless the other guy falls on his face -- which my job is to make sure that doesn't happen -- but it's a chance to help us win, a chance to play and a chance to refine his game."

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