It was fitting that they served champagne on Delta flight 1088 from Los Angeles yesterday. It was even more fitting that the most prominent passengers, the Washington Capitals, chose to conduct their private celebration with the working man's favorite, beer.
In wiping out the plane's entire supply - it really did not carry that much - the Capitals were marking a season-opening 4-2 victory in which 100 percent effort overcame the talent disparity of the Los Angeles Kings.
"The guys really worked out there," said goalie Jim Bedard, a 29-save hero in the Washington nets. "It's a big win for us to get of like that. Nobody really knew what would happen."
Certainly, the club's new coach, Danny Belisle, had no idea what to expect, having seen his players on skates only once, at a brief game-day practice. Belisle constantly referred to an orange sheet listing the lines and power-play and penalty-killing combinations, handed to him by General Manager Max McNab.
"It was really difficult, not knowing the guys at all," Belisle said. "They gave me a lineup, but they didn't give me one with faces on it. I was calling guys by wrong names. I lost at least four pounds going up and down the bench. But after a couple of hours of that, you pick up a lot. It'll be a lot easier in Atlanta (8 p.m.) tonight (delayed broadcast after completion of Bullets game on WTOP-Radio-1500)."
Los Angeles' new coach, Bob Berry, lost both the game and his faith in hard work. He spent the entire summer studying films, player records and coaching manuals.
One player wondering about the accuracy of Belisle's list was Pete Scamurra, the 23-year-old defenseman who underwent leg surgery for calcium deposits during the summer. Besides playing a regular turn on defense, Scamurra was sent out for several shifts at left wing with fourth-line forwards Eddy Godin and Greg Carroll. On one of them. Scamurra netted the rebound that boosted Washington's lead to 2-0.
"Peter appeared to be the logical one to fill in, because he's strong and he has good imagination." McNab said. "And if he goes up, (Robert) Picard can play with (Byran) Watson."
"I never played wing in my life." Scamurra said. "He (Belisle) said on the bench I might take a couple of shifts and I was scared, trying to think about what to do in a new position. Sometimes when things are going your way, they really go your way."
The puck went the Capitals' way when Rick Green handled it. Twice he wound up from the left point and watched deflected shots go onto teammates' sticks for goals. Bob Girard broke a scoreless tie at 43 seconds of the second period with one and Gerry Meehan made ti 3-1 on a power play late in that period.
"Both times it hit their guys," Green said. "It was good to see it. Usually, with this team, they would both wind up in the corners. We were due to get some good bounces."
Yet there was more to the victory than lucky bounces. There was a feeling, even during the scoreless first period, that the Capitals were in control.
"We were doing the better things," said Swedish defenseman Leif Svensson. "We knew we were going to win. It is a big memory for us to come over here and win our first game in the league."
The Kings tried to rough up Svensson, But they soon discovered they were wasting their time.
"They were going for me at first," Svensson said. "but I was ready for it. It tried to hit back."
"Leif doesn't look strong, but he is the strongest rascal," McNab said. "He cleared the puck pretty nicely. I don't think he made a mistake at all."
Carroll, the World Hockey Association refugee, made some mistakes trying to clear the zone, but his hustle and adeptness on faceoffs twice helped to keep the Kings off the scoreboard when Washington penalties gave them two-man advantages, for 90 seconds in the first period and for 45 seconds in the third. On the later occasion, the 8.318 fans rained boos on the frustrated Kings.
Girard not only scored on his only shot of the game, he was outstanding defensively. Girard was named No. 2 star behind Bedard and he and line-mates Tom Rowe and Guy Charron all emerged with plus-two ratings.