In a sudden, startling change of conversation, Washington Capital Coach Tom McVie said, "You know who's really looked good? Bernie Wolfe. He's really moving the puck around."
Memory does not serve to resurrect the last occasion on which McVie, solicited or otherwise, passed out compiments to the little goaltender, whose plaudits generally come only from his adoring fans and their "Ber-nie, Ber-nie" chant.
Roger Crozier, the assistant general manager who helped conduct last week's goalie camp at Fort DuPont, said of the new Wolfe, "He's looked great. He appears to be a lot stronger. He's handling the puck real well. That extra strength helps him move it better. And on the tennis ball machine, you can't get anything by him."
Wolfe has always been an adept puck stopper, but working with his defensemen and wings as a passer has proven difficult. This season, it becomes vital, because of new rules that restrict a golftender's freezing of the puck. But where those rules might have sounded the death knell for Wolfe's career, instead, at age 26, he seems better than ever. Unaccustomed to all this praise, Wolfe expressed pleasure , while noting that, "I had a good training camp last year, too, and everybody was saying I'd be playing 65 games. Maybe that went to my head. Now I don't care who pats me on my back, I'll wait till I see how things go, how many games I play and how well I do."
A year ago, things went very badly, as Washington won only two of its first 25 games. Wolfe spent two weeks at Hershey and Jim Bedard moved up to become No. 1 in the Capitals' nets. Wolfe and his friends expressed shock at the demotion, which was ill-handled by the club, and it helped create an unhappy situation for all concerned.
"I'll never figure it out," Wolfe said yesterday. "I was upset about it, because I didn't think I'd played that badly. It was a real big shock.
"The main thing, though, was that I got back. It's finished now. This is a new season and I don't even want to think about it again. There's no point in reliving bad memories.
"I want to forget last year and have a good year this time, make the playoffs and get that extra money. We're paid to win, not just play, and I think this team can win."
"Rollie and Jim might be the goattabbed as the Capitals' goalies of the future by management, but Wolfe intends to make that a distant future.
"Rollie and Jim might be the goalies of the future," Wolfe said, "because they're and I'm almost 27. But I'm not going to throw in the towel. I've got a job here now and somebody's going to have to take it from me."
To make a usurper's task difficult, Wolfe performed exercises each morning during the summer, ran daily and sometimes twice, strengthened his legs by running on hills and built up his knees on a knee machine.
In fitness tests here, the 5-foot-9, 161-pound Wolfe recorded 57 situps and 65 pushups, relatively high figures and far superior to Bedard's 52 and 30 respectively.
"I was happy about those 65 pushups," Wolfe said. "When I turned pro (1974), I could maybe do 20 real ones. I've increased my upper body strength a lot."
The team was split into two units for yesterday's afternoon practice. The only surprise was the presence of Swedish center Rolf Edberg among the second-stringers... "We wanted to take a look at some of the veterans and their conditioning," explained General Manager Max McNab. "There will be movement between the groups."... The average time for the mile run was 5.33, a seven-second improvement over 1977 ... "The hockey club is in top physical condition, except for a few who don't seem to learn, and they'll pay for it," McVie said.