The floundering Washington Capitols, who alienated many of their fans by dealing away Hartland Monahan on opening night, guaranteed the disaffection of many more yesterday by shipping goal tender Bernie Wolfe to Hershey of the American Hockey League.
Replacing Wolfe, who had not played since Nov. 19, was 21-year-old rookie Jim Bedard. That youngster was immediately thrown into the pressure cooker by starting last night's game with Cleveland.
"I'm not upset, but I'm real surprised," said Wolfe. "I may be upset tomorrow. I'm going to play two games there. Saturday and Wednesday, and see what happens.
"My lawyer is looking into things. I really thought I was going to be traded. I had sat out five straight games and that's pretty good sign you're not exactly in favor. But it turned out to be even worse - the minors.
"My parents came in from Florida yesterday to see me play. They're more upset than I am. It's a blow to your pride. That's the main thing that's bothering me. These things happen in hockey all the time."
Although Wolfe had played nine games, he had posted a 3.78 goals-against average, considerably better than compatriot Gary Smith's 4.19. Wolfe had a 1-4-2 record, losing two games to Philadelphia plus single contests to the New York Islanders and Buffalo.
The Buffalo game, a 7-6 loss, obviously put Wolfe in disfavor. But he faced more breakaways that night than even Ron Low and Michel Belhumeur in the Capitals' first season.
"We're not fingering Bernie Wolfe for the team's trouble," said general manager Max McNab. "We just feel that Jim Bedard is the soundest player in our organization for his position. He played very well in training camp and has done everything possible down there."
Bedard has a 3.05 mark in 14 games for Hershey, playing with a team decimated by injuries and Capital callups.
"This is not a desperation move." McNab said. 'We have been thinking about it for some time - almost two weeks. It's not a matter of we've got to do something. He's (Bedard) playing as well as any goaltender in that league."
If it was not a desperate move or a sudden hunch, the shift came with startling speed. At 11 p.m. Thursday, McNab said the Capitals would "go with the same lineup" Friday night with a couple of changes possible Sunday. Wolfe was called into McNab's office at noon yesterday to be told to pack.
Asked about putting Bedard in a difficult spot, McNab said, "Possibly, We're not at our healthiest, not at our strongest. But it's always a tough spot. I don't know an easy spot."
Wolfe was called up from Richmond when Ron Low was injured and posted a 6-2 victory over the Scouts in his NHL debut at Kansas City Oct. 30, 1975. He quickly became a big favorite with the fans and posted the team's best goals-against average in each of his two-plus seasons, dropping from 4.16 in 1975-76 to 3.84 in 1976-76 to 3.78 this season.
Wolfe was superb in training camp, displaying increased ability to handle the puck as well as greater strength in dealing with opposing forwards.
Bedard also had a fine training camp, playing 20 scoreless minutes against the New York Rangers and 30 against Toronto. As soon as he yielded a goal, against Cincinnati, Bedard was sent packing to acquire experience.
A week ago, in a 4-1 AHL loss at Philadelphia, Bedard played so brilliantly against the Firebirds that Flyer sportscaster Gene Hart, who was watching, said. "They ought to give him all three stars."
Instead, the Capitals gave him a job - a most difficult one.