The Washington Capitals 53-man squad was divided into two groups for scrimmages this afternoon. Center Walter McKechnie was included in both.
Concern over Guy Charron's knee has made McKechnie a most valuable item, but that is not the reason for the special attention. Most of the Capitals reported in lean, hard, playing trim; McKechnie didn't.
If the Capitals were conducting a normal training camp, McKechnie would not be out of place. But work began here today with scrimmaging, rugging skating drills and the assumption that everyone reported ready to play. McKechnie, obtained from Detroit Aug. 17 as compensation for goalie Ron Low, did not participate in the offseason conditioning program and is a few steps behind.
"I don't feel that bad," McKechnie said. "I know I'm not in shape with some of these guys that are here, but I'm not that far away. In a couple of weeks I'll feel a lot better."
The 6-foot-2 McKechnie weighed in at 205 on Monday, close to his playing weight of last season. He was reduced to 198 when today's ordeal ended, but poundage is not the sole factor to be considered.
"I'd like to see Walter get down to 192 and then put on about six pounds of muscle," said coach Tom McVie.
"If everybody was in McKechnie's shape we'd be slow, but everybody else is far ahead, so he has to catch up. The guys are in such great physical condition this year that he's very noticeable in every respect.
"I want McKechnie when the season starts to be in the same condition as the rest of the hockey team and the only way I know to do it is extra work."
So when half the team departed at 2 p.m. after a two-hour workout, McKechnie remained for another 120 minutes. He left the ice prior to the stops and starts that concluded the second session, waving his stick at McVie and saying, "I wish I had a white flag."
"I've never been involved in anything like that (summer training program)." McKechnie said. "He (McVie) told me he'd work me hard. It isn't punishment. He just wants to get me there. I want to get there, too. This is my 11th trainining camp and its the best-organized one I've ever been at."
While McKechnie struggled into what McVie considers top shape, left wing Mike Lampman gave up the struggle to return to hockey after surgery for slippage of vertebrae in his neck.
"As much as I love the game, and the game's been good to me; there are other things," Lampman said. "It's nice to be able to walk. I don't want to jeopardize myself for a game."
Lampman was injured in a struggle for a puck in an icing situation against Philadelphia Dec. 3, 1976, crashing into the boards with the Flyers' Moose Dupont. When a neck brace failed to help, he underwent surgery on Jan. 18.
"After the operation I couldn't really walk or balance myself for three days," Lampman said. He worked out in Denver this summer and noted that "when I started skating and checking, after an hour of practice it was really sore."
Lampman, 27, is an economics graduate of the University of Denver and, after consulting a Washington neuro-surgeon, plans to seek work in Denver.
Many players are literally fighting for jobs here. Archie Henderson, 6-foo-6 winger, and Brent Tremblay, 6-2 defenseman, both low draft choices, slugged it out today . . . Defenseman Gord Smith introduced Henderson to his hip check in spectacular fashion. Smith later suffered a bruised right elbow when he struck the ice with his elbow pad out of position.