Billy Taylor, the Washington Capitals' bird dog, watched his 200th hockey game of the season the other night, scribbling seemingly unintelligible notes on his program. The next day, those notes became the foundation of a series of reports on the most promising - and disappointing - of the young men he was scrutinizing.
The Capitals own the No. 3 and No. 21 picks in the May 31 amateur draft. In making those selections so vital to the club's future, general manager Max McNab will rely on his observations and reports filed by Taylor, chief scout Red Sullivan, coach Tom McVie, golie Roger Crozier and several part-timers who have been assigned to watch playoff action in every imaginable league.
This is the time for a close look, McNab believes, because playoffs determine what a player is made of. No matter how many times a youngster has been evaluated during the regular season, McNab wants to learn the ingredients in the pressure cooker.
In London, Ontario, the other night, Taylor was given a unique opportunity to view young men under the utmost test. The St. Catharines Fineups, defending Canadian junior champions, were playing the London Knights in the final game of their playoff series. Each team had won three and tied one, necessitating an eighth meeting.
Fans by the hundreds were in line at 10 a.m. to buy tickets. There they stood four and five deep around ancient, steamy London Gardens, watching in disappointment as St. Catharines grabbed a 2-0 lead after two periods. A lot of people thought London was finished.
One guy who did not was Dan Eastman, a 170-pound center who has been largely overlooked in lists of top draft possibilities. Eastmen, double shifting in the final period, produced two goals and forced a sudden-death overtime. He scored again and Canada was guaranteed a new champion. Eastman was guaranteed a lot of ink, beastman was guaranteed a lot of ink, especially in scouting reports.
"He doesn't look like a hockey player," Taylor evaluated, "but he's smart with the puck and he has a big ability and no desire, what the hell good are they?"
Eastman lacks weight, but he doesn't lack desire and one of Taylor's scouting maxims is that "desire makes up for a lot of ability. If they've got ab t ty and no desire, zhat the helt good ere they?"
Rick Green and Tom Rowe came out of London to join the Capitals and, if Eastman is still available when Washington makes that No. 21 selection, he might make it a threesome, on the basis of that pressure performance.
There was a noteworthy event afte the game. London players carried coach Bill Long around the ice. Long, father of former Capital trainer Terry Long, was booed unmercifully a year ago when London was eliminated early. So was Green.
Now London and Ottawa are playing for the Ontario championship. Both teams are owned by Howard Darwin, an Ottawa jeweler who is probably rooting for a long, profitable series.
There are numerous betting pools in Canada based on the time of goals in hockey games. So it was not as silly as it appeared to some when all three Toronto newspapers prominently displayed a change of 10 seconds in a Philadelphia goal the other night.
In Montreal a few years back, gambling interests got to the clock operator at the Forum. It was a long while before someone realized every goal was being scored in an even second. The gamblers sold odd-numbered chances while retaining the evens.
The sight of Phil Esposito in a helmet is something to behold. All players in the World Hockey Championships are required to wear them. Otherwise a scalp would might bring a major penalty, so bare hands are considered an unfair advantage by the International Ice Hockey Federation.
Canada would appear to have a bit of an advantage, compared to the United States, in the difference between a $375,000 budget and a $70,000 budget.