Defenseman Bill Mikkelson will make his first appearance for the Washington Capitals in more than two years tonight when the Chicago Black Hawks visit Capital Center for a 7:30 contest. Forward Blair Stewart will probably make his first appearance since Saturday.
Mikkelson, 28, was called up last night from Hershey of the American Hockey League to replace Gord Smith, whose father died Tuesday night. Smith is expected back Sunday, so Mikkelson has just one game to show Washington officials he can still play in the NHL. Mikkelson was demoted to Richmond Feb, 24, 1975, after enduring 59 games of the Capitals' unhappy first season.
Stewart is expected to play because Bob Sirois was banged up in Tuesday's 3-2 loss to Los Angeles. That game marked Sirois' return from 3 1/2 weeks of inactivity with a shoulder injury and Stewart was the man selected to sit in the stands. Instead, he stormed out of the building in anger.
It has been a difficult season for Stewart, who suffered a broken right leg Nov. 7, missed 10 weeks and has seen limited service since his return. His statistics show five goals, two asist and 73 penalty minutes in 32 games.
"My head is spinning," Stewart said after yesterday's practice at Fort Dupont. "I don't know what's going on. It's been a terrible year, missing 33 games and then riding the pines. It's disheartening not to play."
Stewart, who will turn 24 on March 15, is a favorite of the Capital Centre faithful. On Tuesday night, a concerned fan asked why Stewart wasn't playing, leaned he wasn't hurt and went off shaking his head. It's tough for the average spectator to figure why a guy who gives 100 per cent at all times and throws his 185 pounds at any opponent, regardless of size, would be asked to watch rather than play.
Gerry Brisson, Stewart's junior coach at Winnipeg, perhaps provided a clue a couple of weeks back when he said, "He couldn't put the puck in the ocean, but he never stopped skating and he never backed down from anybody."
Washington general manager Max McNab followed that general appraisal when he explained, "We [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and his determined play. But this is not an individual game. You have to work with five other guys. All we want from Blair Stewart is to apply himself to basic, fundamental hockey. But that I mean percentage shooting and reasonable NHL passing. He passes when no other maneuver is available."
"I'm playing the 19 men who are contributing the most to the hockey club," was coach Tom McVie's statement on the subject.
"I seem to be doing a lot of things wrong," Stewart said.
"I haven't been playing much and you can't score goals when you don't play a regular shift. You can practice all you want, but playing in a game is where you get everything I feel that I can play. When I did get a chance, I thought I was half decent.
"The guys tell me to keep hanging in there and keep working. That's what I'll do. I'll just keep plugging and try not to get down on myself. Hopefully, things will get better."
In the last two weeks, Stewart was involved in five fights, outpointing Minnesota's Dennis O'Brien and Toronto's Ian Turnbull, losing decisions to Pittsburgh's Blair Chapman and St. Louis' Larry Patey and Brian Sutter. If it were Muhammad Ali, however, Stewart would still put chin and fists front and center.
"The last few times I've been riding the pines after fights," Stewart said. "That's the way my game style is. I hope they don't want me to change."
Centre fans who react noisily to Stewart's bull-like dashes hope he doesn't have to change, either.But they wouldn't object to a few more goals.
Gerry Meehan has been nominated for the Masterton Trophy by the Washington chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. It goes to the NHL player "who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey" . . .