The closest thing the sporting world has to a jailer is the man who tends the penalty box in hockey.

The Washington Capitals' box at Capital Centre is manned by a burly, amiable fellow named Bill Brooks. What, he was asked, does he do for a living?" "I'm a lieutenant in the Maryland State Police, commander of the Waterloo Barracks in Howard County," he said. Naturally. That seems in character. And where does he live? "In Jessup," he responded matter-of-factly, "right next to the prison."

Where else?

Brooks, 44, is also the security representative for the National Hockey League in Washington and has been associated with professional hockey for 16 years. He worked with the minor-league Baltimore Clippers, may they rest in peace, as a goal judge and radio booth aide.

While none of the other "minor officials" who work Caps games have regular jobs as appropriate to the tasks they perform rink-side as Brooks - the goal judges do not claim to be proprietors of red light districts, for instance - they all have extensive hockey backgrounds. "They are," says John Crerar, who helped recruit them, "as qualified as any crew of minor officials in the country."

The minor officials who work the home games of the Caps, Washington's three-year-old NHL team, were handpicked by Crerar and Don Connor, two of the men most prominent in local amateur hockey.

Crerar, 44, of Silver Spring, is national sales and marketing director for Gorham Bronze. He has been president and director of several youth and semipro teams and leagues in the area and was president of the Southeastern Amateur Hockey Association, which governs the amateur game in 13 states. He is director of Minor Hockey Organization for the Caps and supervisor of minor officials and liaison with youth and amateur hockey programs in the area.

Connor, 38, of Wheaton, is vice president of Capital Messengers, a transportation company headquartered in Beltsville. For 13 years, he was the referee-in-chief for the Southeastern association. He is the coordinator of minor officials.

"When the Caps came into being, we had letters from more than 300 people who wanted to be minor officials," says Connor. "Fortunately, we were able to pick the men we wanted, and they all have vast experience in officiating hockey, from kids' games up. Almost without exception, they have been hockey players and referees and are active in youth and amateur hockey."

"People are amazed sometimes at how loose our crew is. The really have fun. But that's only because they know their jobs so thoroughly."

Unlike pro basketball, the minor officials in hockey are employed by the league rather than the home team. Crerar and Connor recommended the crew to the NHL, but the league pays and monitors the officials. It also assigns crews from neutral critics whose teams do not make the playoffs to officiate Stanley Cup games. The Washington contingent, for example, has traveled at league expense the past two years to work playoff games in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Uniondale, N.Y.

Each man gets a check from the NHL at the end of the season for mileage and expenses that works out to roughly $10 to $15 per game. They also get two season tickets apiece to the Cap games, plus the playoff trips. "Everybody holds out for a $50,000 contract," smiles Crerar, "but they wind up doing it for next to nothing because they love hockey and want to be involved."

The rest of the Capitals' crew:

Gus Connery, 58, of McLean, goal judge, Connery retired in 1973 after working for Federal Aviation Administration as chief inspector of flight-check navigational aids and for the Department of Transportation, where he was instrumental in developing preboard screening procedures as part of the federal anti-hijack program.

Roger Reinke, 46, of Alexandria, goal judge. He is program manager in the Office of Telecommunications Policy, Executive Office of the President, and works primarity in police communications. Prior to joining the OTP, he worked for 14 years with the international Association of Chiefs of Police.

Ed Pantalone, 44, of Fairfax, goal judge. He is an independent insurance agent, self employed with his office in his home.

Park Anderson, 46, of Laurel, official scorer.He is director of the Electronic Data Processing Management Training Center for the Civil Service Commission.

Phil Mattingly, 41, of Laurel, official timekeeper. He has been a salesman for 21 years with H. J. Heinz Co. "You know, the pickie people," he says, "Baby food, catsup; anything they make, I sell."

Tom Powers, 41, of Annandale, penalty timekeeper. He is the district marketing manager for National Airlines.

Bob Stafford, 55, of Springfield, a statiscian. He retired in 1973 as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, for which he was an aviator in the Transportation Corps. He now owns a florist shop in Springfield and a standardbred breeding farm in Farmington, Del., from which he often commutes 90 miles each way to Capital Centre.

Elliott Knight, 38, of Rockville, statiscian. He is supervisor of Montgomery County school transportation.

George Mercado, 48, of Hyattsville, visitors' penalty box gatekeeper. A retired captain with the D.C. Fire Department, he is now a councilman in Prince George's County.

Harry Schnibbe, 55, of McLean. He does not have a specific position, but is capable of substituting in any capacity except running the clock. He is executive director of the National Association of State Mental Health Directors.

The goal judge's sole responsibility is to determine whether or not the puck passes the vertical projection of the red line on the ice at the mouth of the goal, which is six feet wide and four feet high. If it does, he turns on the light, although the ultimate decision on the legality of a goal remains with the referee.

The job is no more difficult than it seems, says Connery, but there are troublesome moments.

Scrambles in front or behind the net can obscure a judge's view, and goaltenders occasionally screen his vision. He is at a terrible angle for judging a goal on those rare occasions when the puck crosses the goal mouth but does not hit the netting. And there are times when the puck hits a taut part of the net and rebounds out with lightning speed.

"Sometimes it is in and out in just a flash, so quickly that the players don't even realize it. That's why we're there," says Connery.

He can only remember one instance of missing a goal. "I never saw it," he says. "I know I missed it because 10,000 fans in the building told me so. One pounded on the booth and offered me a pair of glasses."

Reinke cites an incident in the first game the Los Angeles Kings played at Capital Centre this season.

"Ron Low was the goalie for the Caps and he stopped a shot with his mitt hand," Reinke recalls. "The force brought his hand, with the puck in the glove, across the line. I turned on the light. Play continued because Ron flipped the puck back out on the ice, but technically it was a goal and it was subsequently awarded. The referee checked with the linesman close to the play, and he confirmed it. The game would up a 5-5 tie."

Reinke says he expects to miss a play about once a year. "I think it's an old goaltender's problem more than anything else," he says. "You see a shot coming, there's nothing between it and the goal, you can see the goal-tender is beaten, and you anticipate. Then, at the last second, someone deflects it.

"Bingo, the light's on and there's no goal. That's obviously very embarrassing. You feel like crawling 20 feet under the ice. But I don't think there's a goal judge in the league who hasn't done it one time or another."

Pantalone says he had nightmares about the only one he has blown; he thought the puck was in the net, turned the light on, then immediately realized his mistake and flipped it off. "It was a Stanley Cup playoff game at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.," he recounts the episode in tones of horror. "The first Stanley Cup game I ever saw in person, I was part of it, and I blew a call.

"There was no harm done because there was no dispute. I knew I was wrong. The referee and linesmen, the players on both teams and everybody in the arena knew. Just in case anybody missed it, they announced it over the public address system. The light was only on for a split second, but it seemed like 10 years."

Down at center ice, in the little cubicle between the two penalty boxes, from left to right, sit the penalty timekeeper, timekeeper, and P.A. announcer Mary Brooks, who is not an official as such but, like Dolph Sand, performs essentially the same duties for the Caps as he does for the basketball Bullets.

Another official, usually an off-duty goal judge, stands behind Phil Mattingly and runs a small, manual backup clock as a hedge against mechanical failure of the sophisticated, computerized main clock. This has only happened once at Capital Centre - when the clock reached 10:00, the halfway point of a period, it unaccountably reversed itself and started adding seconds instead of ticking inexorably toward the final horn. On that occasion the rest of the game was timed by the miniature clock and two NHL stopwatches.

The penalty box gatekeepers are also in close proximity, and Connor often joins this group of officials during a game. It is a jovial little fraternity, given to good-natured ribbing and occasional pranks. Mattingly says it is difficult to keep both hands on the clock and remove cigarette butts from his shoe at the same time.

Announcer Brooks has a phone set in front of him with which he communicates with the scoring table and TelScreen operatores. When it rings, while there is a man in the visitors' penalty box, he loves to hand the receiver to the suitably startled player, mumbling, "It's for you."

The officials talk to players when they are in the box, the conversations and asides tend to be salty and humorous. When Powers counted down the final seconds of a penalty on the Caps' Blair Stewart in a recent game, Bill Brooks - no relation to Marv - swung open the door to let Stewart back on the ice. "See you in a few minutes," Brooks said.

Bill Brooks is also the man in charge of the ice-filled, yellow plastic pail in which extra pucks are kept. When the puck being used is deflected into the stands, the referee skates by and gets another for the ensuing faceoff.

"Brooksie's the best in the league at handing the referee pucks, grinned Powers, a great leg-puller, one night recently.

He recalled the evening a mischievous interloper dropped into the bucket one of those rubber joke-shop items you use to trick a nervous hostess into thinking a dog has fouled the rug. Brooks reached in without looking and handed it to the referee as he whizzed by.