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Notebook: Reach Out and Touch Ailing Pal
By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 19, 2000; Page D6

CHICAGO, Feb. 18 - After tonight's game against the Chicago Blackhawks,
Washington Capitals backup goalie Craig Billington will pick up a phone in
the dressing room and call winger James Black, as he has after every road
game since Black broke his leg blocking a shot. It's just a phone call,
but to Black it means everything.

Black, who broke his left fibula in the final minute of a 2-1 victory over
Carolina Feb. 3, already is riding a stationary bike and hopes to return
in two weeks, closer to the short end of the four-to-six week projection for
his recovery time. But the time away from his teammates and off the ice
has not been easy. Billington has helped Black feel like a part of the team
while he is hundreds of miles away.

"When a guy like [Black] gets hurt or anybody for that matter, it's
tough," Billington said. "You're away from the guys and the flow, and you don't
feel a part of it and you want to be there. And he's such a big part of our
lineup and a really big part of our locker room.

"It takes, what, 30 seconds to put in a phone call. I know Blackie is
watching at home, and he's sitting there and he might have some questions
or he might have something to pass on to someone. It doesn't take much to
give him a call. He's done so much for us; I think it's important to be
supportive when guys are hurt, and let them know they're important and we
want them back when they're healthy."

The calls were especially comforting to Black during the first weeks after
his injury. He worked out alone and struggled mentally with his injury.
Black had never broken a bone and every strange noise from his healing leg
made him wonder if he had reinjured it.

"It was a really weird situation," Black said. "Every time something
clicked or sounded weird, I started to worry that it's broken again. You think,
'Oh my God, what's going on?' I didn't know how to handle it. It was really
weird. [Billington] has really helped me out. He makes me feel like I'm
still part of the team."

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