Jack Lynch said yesterday he had never skated any better in his life. The Washington Capital defenseman accompanied the statement with a broad smile, because odds were against his ever playing a few months ago doctors told him the hockey again.
"They told me it was 60-40 I'd never play again," Lynch said, "but I didn't let that bother me. Heck, the odds were less than that that I'd ever play in this league in the first place."
Lynch, a NHL defenseman since 1972 and a Capital since 1975, suffered a severely torn right knee when checked from behind by Hilliard Graves in a game at Vancouver Dec. 13, 1977. Two days later he underwent surgery and, ever since, he has been struggling to make it back.
"It's a real push for Jack," said General Manager Max McNab. "The doctor in Vancouver said he had never seen a knee torn that badly. The tendons on both sides were ripped apart and it's been like breaking in a new leg, in a way. It's been a real hard, frustrating period for him."
The frustration eased in the Capitals preseason camp Tuesday, when Lynch skated double duty and found no problem stopping or turning.
"It was just like Christmas morning, skating again after nine months," Lynch said. "I could have had a baby while I was sitting around.
"I skated as well as I've ever skated. I went with the first group, then I wa sin the whirlpool when they called me out again. It felt so good I'm ready for triples. Really, now it's just a matter of endurance."
Lynch is scheduled to skate here 10 more days, avoiding all contact work.Then he will be examined to determine whether he is ready for full scale workouts. As a result, he is unlikely to be ready for the opener in Lost Angeles Oct. 11.
"It's going to be rough," Lynch conceded. "But I'm so happy that it seems to be going well. Before, when I skated it was so painful that I took an injection and laid off 10 days."
The 6-foot-2 Lynch reported at 203 pounds, six above his playing weight of last year.
"The weight is up, but I feel a lot stronger," Lynch said. "I spent two hours a day on the weights all summer. I'd do a movement, then count to 10, then do another movement. It wasn't very exciting, but it had to be done. There was nothing else I could do in June or July."
Lynch vows he will be action long before Dec. 9, a date that is most important to him. That night the Capitals will be in Vancouver and Lynch intends to remind Graves of that "accident" a year ago.
"That's a sore point," Lynch said. "If I was the only guy he ever got like that, it might be different.But I was the sixth or seventh. I've got to think it was deliberate. There will be fire on the ice when we play Vancouver."
Lynch is slow to anger but once stirred up he takes considerable calming. In a 1975 exhibition game, he was the victim of a cheap shot by Detroit's Phil Roberto, and both were ejected before Lynch could gain satisfactory vengeance. That came in their next meeting, three months later, when Lynch dealt Roberto a on-sided beating.
The first scrimmaging yesterday produced the first fights, all in the hungry, fiesty B group: Brent Tremblay vs. Brian Walsh, Tremblay vs Nelson Burton and Archie Henderson vs. Mark Lofthouse . . . Blair Stewart tested Swedish defenseman Leif Svensson several times with spears and slashes. The Swede never backed down and did come nifty legal body checking . . . Paul Mulvey, his left knee pronounced fit, will resume workouts today . . . Center Greg Carroll signed a contract yesterday.