"Ghee, Ghee! Ghee!" Normally that wheezing sound is emitted by a flock of birds calling flight patterns to each other. But out at the Capital Centre it is a cry from fans and whirs around the arena every time the newest hero in residence, Guy Charron, makes a move on the ice.
The 28-year-old center, who playing the best hockey of his eight-year-old career, is the Capitals' leading scorer, their only All-Star, and the only Cap named to Team Canada. His teammates, grateful for Charron's 81 points, call him "The Franchise."
The fans, forcusing their search for a spark that could ignite a run to the playoffs, call him Ghee!" Constantly.
"These fans are a very lively group," said Charron after Tuesday's 6-1 victory over Caps 60 points for the season. Charron, who looks like a French waiter, was speaking stiffly; six stiches decorated his upper lip; compliments of the Red Wings. But in his hand was a single peach-colored carnation. He doesn't know who sneaked into the locker room and left it for him, but he knows it was a Cap fan who did it.
Charron, of cource, knows the fans are shricking his name even though he is concentrating on playmaking and scoring. It is not the first time he has been singled out from his teammates.
"It has happened to me before, when I played in Detroit and they would yell my name," he said. "Its quite a feeling to hear your name called like that. Even in Montreal the fans don't yell for Guy Lafleur or Guy Lapointe."
Another Cap who is popular with the chanting fans in Capital Centre is goalie Bernie Wolfe. Fans reward him with a sing-song rendition of "Bern-neee! Bern-neee!" for his acrobatic flip-flops in front of the net. he thinks the chant is just a fluke but he is pleased with the attention.
The three-year veteran claims, with modesty, that Washington fans were just copying Philadalphia Flyer followers who have been chanting the same thing for a few years for a different Bernie - Parent. "Still, I appreciated the fans yelling that, especially when I first came here," Wolfe said, his round hazel eyes looking too innocent for the mature moustache that curls around his upper lip like a wornout doormat.
"And I guess I stood out last year because there were so many shots on goal," he said, shrugging as he talked about the Caps' future. "Maybe it wouldn't be too soon to predict playoffs for next year, but Montreal is a hard team to beat."
These days, Wolfe stands out becuase he is sporting a new $350 goalie mask decorated with red, white and blue stars and stripes.
It was hardly a patriotic gesture on Wolfe's part; he is Canadian. His and goalie Ron Low's masks were ordered to match the Cap uniforms. Actually, the latest trend in decorated goalie masks in the National Hockey League is to project with an artist's airbrush some kind of great menace. The rage is masks with flying tigers, cobras and roaring flames of death.
"I would have liked one with a wolf head," Wolfe admitted shyly, " but no one asked me." Wolfe said he prefers to don his mask before the game and keep it in place until he goes in to shower. Consequently, few fans actually know what Bernie Wolfe looks like.
"Sometimes people recognize me on the street," he said. He thinks young kids identify with his high-visibility goaltending job. "It is where the action is," he claims. "You're either praised or you're damned. Kids identify with that. It's like being the quarterback in football. I guss it's why I became a goalie."
Wolfe, who says he plans to play another seven years, thinks the Caps are a much-improved team.
"We're not good enough this year, but next year we can make the playoffs. And, as for winning the Stanley Cup, well, thats' my dream," he said.
Yes, winning is the whole point.
The fans go crazy over Charron because he makes things happen on the ice and not because, with his curly black hair and haunting eyes, he is a movie star material. The fans cheer Bernie Wolfe because he is a man who tries gallantly in an underdog situation.
But they are searching. fans and players alike are looking for that charismatic player. The Joe Namath-type who will whisper to them that they can do it; the Johnny Unitas or Bart Starr who will go for the bomb in a running situation and make it work.
But nobody seems the slightest bit impatient about it. Capital Centre reeks of goodwill; the fans love their Caps individually and collectively.
A huge hand-lettered sign offered this pleasant prophecy: "Go Caps: Playoffs, 1978; Stanley Cup, 1980," Elsewhere are more personal notes of encouragement; "Happy Birthday, Hartland" and "Acer No. 9" for right and left wingers Monahan and Bailey.
The official Caps Fan Club has 700 members now. According to Pat Bersbach, chairman of the sunshine committee, they plan to keep on having meetings and fund-raisers even after the hockey season ends. It has gotten to be like one big happy family.
Bersbach's sunshine committee is particularly busy. It raises money by having bake sales ans then it buys gifts for the Caps to commemorate birthdays, marriages and births. "If they have a baby, we buy a bond for it," she explained.
Bersbach tries hard to be impartial about the Caps because of her chairmanship. She reluctantly reveals, "We all love Bugsy." She tries to describe what makes Bryan Watson so special. "I guess it's because when we fans stand outside Portal 6 to wait for the players, he is one of the the ones who stops and talks to us."
The Caps have built a foundation of fans in Washington while playing men Wolfe, Charron, Yvon Labre and Ron Low. The team started out with an underdog image, but coach Tom McVie and his band of players have begun to lift the record comes, naturally, a somewhat elevated spitit.
Which is why the sunshine committee was on hand Tuesday night to give out two birthday presents to Cap players who shuffled with embarrassment, opened their gifts and mumbled thank yous. If the Caps fans were impatient types; if they were tired of expansion excuses; if they were ready to jump from also-ran to the Stanley Cup, the sunshine committee would have been handing out umbrellas instead of smiles and presents to their Caps.