When the Washington Capitals crossed the Canadian border into Michigan last week, coach Tom McVie informed the U.S. immigration officer that the bus carried "22 hockey players - all Canadians."
McVie is rarely guilty of an over-sight, but this was one. For among the Capitals was a 21-year-old native of Lynn, Mass., named Tom Rowe.
If McVie was careless of Rowe's origins, he has not overlooked the superb moves the young right wing has demonstrated playing alongside veterans Ace Bailey and Walt McKechnie during the first two weeks of training camp.
"We said we'd go with the guys who deserve a chance," McVie said, "and Tome Rowe certainly deserves a chance. For some reason, there's been a 50 per cent improvement in his hockey ability and mental attitude.
"He's shooting the puck better and his acceleration is really improved. I don't know where it came from, but he's hitting the blue line and accelerating like a shot out of a gun. A winger needs that and we were concerned about it when he was up last year."
Rowe's introduction to the NHL came Dec. 5, 1976, in Boston Garden, before his family and a flock of friends from nearby Lynn. On his first shot, his first time on the ice, he benefited from a Guy Charron setup to score a goal.
"It was so unbelievable," Rowe recalled yesterday. "I was in the right spot and the pass was right on my stick. Having my family there made it even more special."
It did not guarantee future success, however, and after the next 10 games proved scoreless, Rowe was sent back to Springfield of the American Hockey League, Rowe's big problem was scatter-gun shooting and some advice from center Gerry Meehan came too late to avert the demotion.
"Gerry told me I had my head down looking at the puck instead of the net," Rowe said. "He told me to pick a spot in the net and aim for it."
This summer, Rowe dropped pucks on the grass and aimed them at tragets. It helped his shooting considerably. As for the acceleration, that improvement also came from hard work, not hocus pocus.
Another factor in Rowe's superior play is maturity. Even the greatest players makes hundreds of errors during a seven-month season that includes a game or practice almost every day. Somebody who worries about each mistake is creating trouble for himself, and that's what happened to Rowe in Springfield.
"It was an up-and-down season," Rowe said of his 19-goal campaign. "I would get down on myself when things were going bad. I had to mature, not get down on myself all the time."
A summons to join the U.S. team in the world championships in Vienna provided an opportunity to acquire additional confidence. He played well suffered a knee injury in the second game.
Don Cherry, the Boston Bruins' coach, thinks Canadian players take things for granted and often come to training camp "with swelled heads. The American kid, on the other hand, Knows he is fighting an uphill battle, but slowly he's starting to win."
He could have been talking about Rowe, who left high school in Massachusetts to play junior hockey in London, Ontario, because "if I wanted to play pro, I had to go junior. They pass and hit a lot more than back home, and they play a lot more games."
They also play it tough, and Rowe, 6 feet and 195 pounds, can hang as tough as anybody. While collecting one goal and three assists in the pre-season to share the team scoring lead. Rowe has slugged it out with New England defenseman Gordie Roberts and Detroit winger Hill Lochead.
He learned a useful lesson in the Lochead fight. After throwing the Red Wing to the ice, he permitted Lochead to rise before resuming the battle and received some solid punches.
"I should have just jumped on him then," said Rowe, shaking a head that has acquired cuts on the scalp, across the bridge of the nose and on the upper lip. With all those blemishes. Rowe is not likely to receive an endorsement to model sweaters. He has McVie's endorsement, however, and that's the crucial item right now.