A 49-year-old man will skate against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night in Hartford, Conn., but the well-conditioned youngsters needn't worry about taking it easy against him. Gordie Howe has never asked for quarter - or given any.
Howe, whose annual "one more season" will carry him to his 50th birthday on March 31, is skating at right wing for the New England Whalers, on a line with son Mark at left wing and Buzz Carroll, a first-round 1976 draft choice of the Capitals, at center.
Another of Howe's sons, Marty, will be on defense.
Two former Detroit teammates of Hall of Famer Howe are looking forward to a reunion with hockey's alltime scoring leader Washington general manager Max McNab played with the Red Wings for 1947, one year after Howe arrived, to 1950. Defenseman Bryan Watson played with Howe from 1965-67.
"I may have to suit up," McNab laughed. "Imagine, I can't believe it. He got to Detroit a year ahead of me. It's like forever."
McNab was a witness to a serious injury that almost ended Howe's career more than a quarter-century ahead of time. It occurred in the first game of the 1950 Stanley Cup playoffs against Toronto. "He took a run at Teeter Kennedy," McNab recalled, "just to the right of our players' bench, and one thing is certain. He missed. There were no instant replays in those days, so there were 100 versions of what happened. He seemed to hit the top of the dasher board with his eye.
"Everybody came off the bench and there was a mass of blood right in the eye. He had a skull fracture and they operated to relieve the pressure on the brain.
"We stayed in Toledo between games and we were up till 6 in the morning, listening to the bulletins on the radio. Howe was the whole Detroit franchise for 20 years."
"I'm really looking forward to it," said Watson. "It's funny in a way. I played two years with him and I also worked at his hockey school for seven years. I remember teaching Mark and Marty when they were 11 and 12.
"I can believe it. He's the strongest man I've ever known. That strength helped him in every part of the game. We've kept in touch through the years. It should be fun."
While 24 players prepared for Wednesday's exhibition, other Capitals were wondering about their future.
Offered jobs with the Port Huron Flags of the International Hockey League were defenseman Larry Bolonchuk, right wing Archie Henderson and centers Brian DeBiasio and Denis Turcotte. Right wing Andy Dealy was released.
The Capitals are attempting to find spots in the American Hockey League for left wing Paul Nicholson, center Brian Kinsella and right wing Gordie Brooks.
Eighteen players will remain here to drill under Hershey coach Chuck Hamilton and Roger Crozier while the team plays New England, Toronto on Thursday in London, Ontario, and Detroit on Saturday in Port Huron, Mich. Among them is center Guy Charron, whose injured left knee has been responding well to increased skating drills.
Wingers Bob Sirois, Tony White and Mark Lofthouse, center Rick Bragnalo and defenseman Pete Scamurra were assigned to the Hershey holding pattern. Some, possibly all, will rejoin the Capitals for the continuation of preseason training at Fort Dupont beginning Monday.
Many of the leftovers will be assigned to the camp of the AHL Hershey Bears.
Right wing Hartland Monahan, apparently assigned to the secondary group Monday as punishment for commenting publicly on his contract difficulties, was chosen today to make the three-game trip.