National Hockey League training activities officially commence next Monday, but the Washington Capitals' eight goaltenders began a week-long early bird session yesterday at Fort Dupont.
It was by no means a private arragement. Following the 90-minute goalie drill, 18 other Capitals skated in a voluntary scrimmage, hoping to ease their muscles gradually to ease their muscles gradually into the ordeal soon to come in Hershey, Pa.
"Before, at the end of the season, a guy threw his skates in the trunk of his car and then got the rust off in September," noted Capital Coach Tom McVie, happily counting sweating noses. "In those days, camp lasted five weeks. Now we're playing an exhibition in five days and the season starts in three weeks. You have to be ready."
McVie insures readiness by assigning a summer conditioning program and requiring each player to report at approximately his playing weight. There is little hanky panky: McVie checks the scales himself.
The goalies receive special treatment because McVie wants them to be spared "total shock when the puck starts coming at them the first day. This way they're acclimated and toughened up. They're not facing pucks while they're nursing aching muscles."
McVie fired tennis balls at the netminders from a semiautomatic Lob-ster machine. Meanwhile, Roger Crozier, goalie coach, conducted passing drills and indoctrinated his gang in two new National Hockey League rules that prohibit a goalie from gathering up the puck anywhere outside the crease or even from grabbing the puck in the crease without being closely checked.
"When I started, a goalie just stopped the puck," Crozier said.
"Now he has to play defense, go behind the net, pass the puck. The guys have to be stronger, mobile, able to analyze what's happening."
The most mobile armored Capital, Jim Bedard, naturally adapted best to the new tactics.
"Roger was working with us today on using the stick to clear the puck more," Bedard said.
"Last year I would trap the puck off the boards a lot; now I'll have to shoot it out more.
Among the 18 free skaters who scrimmaged after the formal session was center Guy Charron, nicknamed "The Franchise" for his 74-goal performance over the last two seasons.
Charron is entering the option year of his contract and, complimented on his fine physical condition, he laughed and said, "I'll tell you how I feel next week, after I find out about the contract."
General Manager Max McNab, who has a policy of refusing to negotiate once the season starts, is scheduled for a Wednesday meeting in Toronto with Charron's agent, Bill Watters.
"It's still negotiable," McNab said. "The finances are still pretty acceptable."
Charron, who received about $85,000 last year, is believed to be asking for $125,000 this time.
One Capital who commanded a second glance was defenseman Gord Lane. A year ago, he reported with the briefest of crew cuts. Yesterday his flowing black hairwas accompanied by a full beard.