It's a busy season for the Washington Capitals -- practice seven days a week, games three times a week.

So when Dennis Maruk, the Caps' high-scoring center, has a little free time on the weekend, he spends it with his wife and kids. Or he might throw a party, where he's the first to get up and dance.

"There's no secret to having a good party," he says. "It's the people you have there. You make your own fun."

When the Caps' Christmas party was held in his rec room, Maruk came down at midnight dressed as Santa. Some of his teammates didn't know him until they looked at his feet; they recognized his clogs.

For other parties, he and his wife Joni usually invite about 50 people.

"The house is open to them, they can go wherever they want," Maruk says."If you're going to be rowdy, you stay downstairs where all the music is. The women go upstairs and chitchat."

He advises against feeding guests early -- they'll just eat and leave, and he wants the party to last. He serves lasagna, sliced ham, "something light," he says with a laugh.

"I keep it to a low peak, until I get the urge to say, 'Hey, let's get the party going.'

"People still sitting talking at 11:30 -- you can't talk all night. Let's get up and dance, get to know each other."

Dancing and skating both being rhythmic activities, they would seem to go together. But, Maruk laments, "A lot of hockey players think they are the smoothest guys. They don't like to dance."

The difference between dancing and skating, says Maruk, is that in dancing, there's no contact. "Unless it's a busy place," he says. "Then you throw your elbows."

Maruk likes to listen to Hall & Oates, Pat Benatar, the Stones, Devo and the B-52s. Lately he's been taping albums from the '50s and '60s.

"I know nothing about music," he says. "When I had a torn ligament and missed 55 games, my wife had to get me something to do or she'd leave the house. She bought me a guitar for my birthday."

He took lessons and learned to read music, but now the guitar gathers dust. Maruk says he'll probably start again after retirement.

All in all, though he seldom has a day off during the season, it's a good life for the 27-year-old Maruk. He's waiting, for example, for delivery of his new Mercedes. And, though he's convinced you age faster playing hockey, he says, "The average person 25 or 26 still doesn't know what he's going to do with his life -- whereas I have done what I wanted to do."

He's had many good weekends in Washington, he says, but the highlight was the weekend of last year's NHL all-star game, where he represented the Caps: "To go to the White House, to meet the president, get my picture with the president, have lunch there -- it was a very big moment for hockey players."

When the Caps aren't on the road, Maruk is a homebody. He plays with his new daughter, Sarah, who's three months old, or he takes his son Jonathan, three, to Chuck E. Cheese's or to the movies. ("Song of Heidi" proved to be a good one recently.) Jonathan also has just started skating lessons at a rink in Bowie. At this stage, skating means pushing a cone around on the ice. But Maruk says his son is very determined.

When Maruk goes out for dinner, he comes into Washington from his home in Upper Marlboro. He likes The Palm for lobster, La Nicoise for the waiters on rollerskates and Dominique's for the alligator.

Staying in shape doesn't seem to be a problem for Maruk. Nicknamed "Pee Wee," he's small compared to the other Capitals, and wiry rather than terribly muscular.

When he's not playing hockey, he swims and plays golf and tennis. He doesn't think jogging does any good.

During the season, Maruk says, it's important to stretch before skating. If you don't, "you can pull a groin or a muscle pretty quickly. That'll take 10 days to two weeks before you can get into the lineup again."

When the season's over, Maruk has no exercise regimen at all for several months. At the end of July, he starts riding an exercise bike twice a week. He does situps and pushups. He doesn't lift weights, because, he says, "If you get too bulky, you can't stick-handle." He builds up his legs through tennis: "You're moving all the time, eye contact with the ball is like the puck."

During the season, when Maruk has an occasional Sunday off, he takes his family to church in the morning, and then they come home for a big breakfast. "We spend the day together, go for a drive. I might take Jonathan to the park to play soccer.

"You don't get too many days like that," he says..