Tom McVie, who lifted the Washington Capitals from ridicule to respectability, has been offered the job of coaching Team Canada in the World Ice Hockey Championships, opening in Vienna April 21.
Although still undecided, McVie said he is leaning toward rejection, because he does not feel the players, to be chosen from nonplayoff teams and first-round losers, would match his high standards of motivation.
McVie, acknowledged the offer, which he called "confidential, but since you asked me about it I'm not going to lie to you. I get so excited about hockey that I was ready to leave the team right away and get to it. But the more I'm thinking about it, the less I want it. I'm going to try and say no."
No players have been selected because under the ground rules they may not be contacted until their teams have been eliminated from playoff contention. Only Detroit and Washington have been mathematically eliminated, the Capitals being ousted when Los Angeles tied Boston Sunday night.
The six NHL teams and three WHA teams that do not qualify for playoff action will provide the nucleus of Team Canada. The players will assemble in Toronto April 4 and depart the next day for Gothenburg, Sweden, where they will open an eight-game exhibition schedule April 7.
Additional players will be chosen from the four teams ousted in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but Derek Holmes, general manager of Team Canada, indicated the additions would be kept to a minimum, "because it can be upsetting to bring over a large airlift after the team has begun play."
This is the first time professionals have been permitted to compete in the World Championships and it will be Canada's first appearance since 1969, when it withdrew because of the futility of sending its amateurs against East European national teams.
"I would be honored to be the coach," McVie said, "but I'd be a lot more honored if the guys were in a frame of mind to win. I'd be getting 10 teams to pick players from, all guys who've been through 80 games with losers.
"I want to be the best coach in the world. I know I've got a long way to go. But if these guys weren't interested in playing hockey, it would break my heart.
"I've been talking with (Harry) Sinden and Fergie (John Ferguson), who ran that first Team Canada (in 1972). It was only a miracle that they won in Russia. And then last fall, with five weeks of training and all that 'Win for Canada' stuff, with all the best players, they won in overtime.
"My whole theory on coaching is being with the players all day long every day of the year and push, push, push. There would be no time to push and these players would be wearing down. I'm afraid a lot of them would just consider it a vacation in Vienna."
Some observers consider Canada's participation in the World Championships a payment for its opportunity to reassert dominance via last year's Canada Cup. It does not seem realistic to expect a hastily assembled group of also-rans to defeat the finely tuned national teams of the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia.
Holmes, like most other hockey people, has been impressed with the job McVie has done with the Capitals, an accomplishment that makes McVie a strong candidate for coach of the year honors. Washington presently has 52 points, after finishing last season with only 32.
"Tom McVie has done a really good job" Holmes said. "He's an interesting character in the sense of his own career. He came a different route, not like a lot of coaches who came directly into the NHL."
What McVie has accomplished has came through hard work, by setting an example that has motivated his players.
Guy Charron, who has responded brilliantly to McVie's guidance, has collected 32 goals and 38 assists. He weighs 181 pounds. An official of another NHL team noted the other day that "without the situation in Washington, Charron would probably weigh 190 and he probably wouldn't have more than 15 goals."
"I've seen our club improve from a 50 per cent passing team to an 80-plus passing team," said Washington general manager Max McNab. "What Tommy's done has been phenomenal, comparing the old films and the new films."
McVie, characteristically, is not satisfied. In a way, he has good reason for dissatisfaction.
"Everybodys talking about how well we've doing," McVie said. "I don't think we've done anything. When you think of the input that's gone into this to get 19 victories, the results simply aren't worth the effort."
As an example of the effort, McVie left Los Angeles after Thursday's game and flew to Toledo to watch the Capitals' Dayton farm team play Friday night. McNab watched a WHA game in San Diego Saturday night, left before the finish and grabbed a red-eye flight to Detroit for the Capitals' Sunday afternoon appearance.
McNab had worked steadily for 14 months, until he was ordered to Florida for four days in mid-February by the Capitals' management. McVie, however, can't remember a day off.
"Last year in Japan I kept our team working while Kansas City went sightseeing," McVie recalled. "While the players stopped in Hawaii, I came back and watched the Los Angeles-Boston playoff. I had promised Arlene [McVie's wife] that I would take her to Las Vegas for a week, but I wound up watching a junior playoff between New Westminster and Saskatoon that took seven games.
"I wear down also. This has been going on from training camp, for 60 games, and Arlene's looking at me like I'm nuts, thinking about taking on Team Canada and going for another five weeks.
"What I should be doing is grabbing Arlene and going to Nashville to listen to some country music. I hope that's what I wind up doing."
The Capitals play Cleveland at Capital Centre tonight at 7:30. It's a guaranteed-win promotion, with all patrons receiving free tickets to Friday's game against Colorado if the Capitals lose or tie . . . The Barons have won all four previous meetings . . . Craig Patrick has been invited to play for Team USA at Vienna, but declined because his wife is expecting a baby . . . Bob Paradise is another possibility to play for Team USA. Canada's first-round opponent. He cited the difficulty of leaving his family for such a long stretch . . . Bryan Watson's record NHL penalty total has reached 1.998 minutes.