Except for Bob Sirois, not one winger scored more than 13 goals for the Washington Capitals last season. Even when Sirois' 24 were counted, the goal production for all the wings who toiled in Washington did not reach 100.
It is, therefore, no surprise that General Manager Max McNab's present No. 1 priority is to find a winger who can put the puck in the net. But while McNab keeps American Tel and Tel stockholders beaming with his long-distance search, his quarry may already be wearing a Washington uniform.
Mark Lofthouse, 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, scored 70 goals two years ago in leading New Westminster to the junior championship of Canada. Drafted in the second round, he was considered a bonus for a Washington team that already had plucked defenseman Robert Picard.
Lofthouse expected to join Picard on the Capitals. For three brief periods, he did, but most of his season was spent in Hershey and Salt Lake City. He totaled only 10 goals during his wanderings and went home to Vancouver discouraged and unhappy.
"I worked out pretty hard this summer." Lofthouse said, "but mostly I was thinking. Some nights I didn't even get to sleep. I thought who I had to beat out on right wing and what I had to do.
"Thinking in bed I knew what I had to do, but the things I had to do just didn't come to me on the ice. You can't think when you're playing. Your moves have to come with experience, ability, desire, hustle. It might sound eawsy, but it sure isn't."
Lofthouse admits he expected things to be easier when he moved into the National Hockey League.
"I told myself last year that I was only 20, to give it a shot and not get discouraged." Lofthouse said, "but I guess deep down it really bothered me. I thought I did pretty well at Washington, but each time they sent me down.
"They'll play with your mind. Last year they talked to me and told me they knew I could score, but to work on coming back and playing a stronger game in the corners. I was doing that pretty good, but I wasn't scoring goals. So down I went.
"I think there's a fine line between junior and semipro and the NHL," Lofthouse said. "It's just as tough in Hershey or Salt Lake City as in the pros. The pros tell you to concentrate on the job - getting the puck over the blue line, picking up your wing, working the corners. In the American League or the Central League, you have to show something extra. Down there guys are playing real solid and trying to add an extra move to go up."
Lofthouse wondered as camp began whether he would move up this year. He was quickly placed with the B squad and noted, "Last year everybody got a chance. Now they split us right at the start. Most guys on the B team are trying to make the Hershey Bears, but I want to make the Washington Capitals."
Lofthouse was tested by B squad bullies who wanted his job, be it in Washington or Hershey. Archie Henderson, the 6-foot-6 right wing, dropped a glove and challenged him during a scrimmage. Lofthouse coolly played the puck, ignored by the fightminded Henderson, before joining the battle. Lofthouse landed a solid shot, but he was quickly overwhelmed by the bigger man.
"He tried to sucked me," Lofthouse said. "I guess he wants my job. You can't back away. Fighting doesn't bother me, I'd just rather put the puck in the net. If I wanted to fight, I'd have been a boxer. But I like to hit and be hit, Bob Bilodeau put me down with a hip check and I told him, 'Good check.' I don't think you have to drop your gloves every time somebody comes near you."
Yesterday Lofthouse left the company of the guys who think otherwise. He was promoted to the A team and he intends to stay there.
"There are a lot of guys on the edge of making it or not making it," Lofthouse said. "I thought I could stick with everybody last year. I know I can this year."
Knowing that jobs are available, following the varsity's dismal showing Saturday night, the Capital rookies did little to enhance their employment potential as they were routed by the New York Rangers' rookies yesterday, 9-1 . . . Brian Walsh and Wes Jarvis scored for Washington . . . Nelson Burton, involved in three fights, was assessed three major penalities and three minors. "We want to see him play," complained McNab. "It's pretty hard to evaluate him." . . . The Capitals' rookies play the Philladelphia Flyers' rookies today at Hersheypark Arena at 12:30 p.m. . . . Eighteen regulars bused to Washington after yesterday's morning workout to visit Children's Hospital.