Capital Centre's outlying location and the dependence of its patrons on automotive transportation were cited yesterday by the Washington Capitals when they postponed their scheduled hockey game with the New York Rangers.
The Rangers were unable to fly in from New York, arriving 1 1/2 hours late at 1:30 p.m. However, they were greeted by the news that the game had been rescheduled for Easter Sunday, March 26, at 7:30. That set up a three-games-in-three-days situation for both teams and was not welcomed by the Rangers, who are fighting for a playoff berth.
Ranger General Manager John Ferguson noting the absence of snowflakes in the air, protested to NHL President John Ziegler, but was told it was too late to alter the situation. Ferguson nevertheless said he planned to lodge an official complaint. This was the first postponed game in the Rangers' 52-year history.
The Rangers' tempers were hardly assuaged when they attempted to return to New York. Twice they boarded Eastern shuttles, only to be told to deplane. When National Airport was closed, the Rangers attempted to persuade a bus company to take them back, but were told the journey was impossible. So they spent the night at the Sheraton-Lanham.
"Rescheduling is never a nice thing," said Washington General Manager Max McNab. "It's never good. But at least this places both teams in the same position.
"This was not done frivolously. It was based on all the weather authority we could get. Hazardous road conditions were the determining factor. The forecast was for continued snow and it was bad enough as it was."
The decision was reached at 12:20 p.m., after a meeting of team officials.A five-figure crowd had been expected and the prospect of cars jamming icy access roads near the Centre persuaded McNab and team President Peter O'Malley to call an early halt, allowing time for radio and television notification.
Until the National Hockey League spread coast to coast in 1967, it had played for 50 years in downtown arenas without a postponement. The extensive travel produced by expansion and weather-related problems led to occasional schedule changes until, in recent years, virtually any excuse was acceptable.
This was the seventh rescheduled game since Jan. 1, the fifth related to weather. Two others were switched to fit in exhibition games with European teams.
The Capitals postponed a home game with Buffalo in their first season so that Capital Centre could show a heavyweight championship fight on Telcreen.
Milt Schmidt, then the Capitals' general manager, as a veteran of the days when all games went on as scheduled. When he learned that Centre owner Abe Pollin was requesting the change in dates, he sneered and said, "Well, I guess he'll have to learn sometime that this is the National Hockey League."
It was Schmidt who learned that things had changed and, when the game was finally played, it began the worst three days in Capital history, defeats by scores of 9-4 to Buffalo, 10-3 to Chicago and 7-2 to St. Louis.
In the newly arranged stretch, the Capitals entertain Detroit March 24, play a March 25 afternoon game in Montreal and return to play the Rangers.
The Capitals, despite the postponement, were planning to wait until this morning to fly to St. Louis, where they meet the Blues tonight (WDCA-TV 20 at 9 p.m.).
"We had thought about an early start, but it proved to be impossible," McNab said. "We're expecting the weather situation to be much improved by morning, anyway."