It was a few minutes after the Washington Capitals had blown their third straight home game to the Los Angeles Kings, and Ryan Walter trudged down the stairs to visit the teammates with whom he had never played.
"That was tough," Walter said, "but don't be discouraged. We're going to turn it around."
Through seven weeks of recuperation from his Sept. 13 knee surgery, Walter has never uttered a discouraging word. Instead, he has strained to make that left knee fit once more. He insisted right from the start that he would be back before November and tonight, well ahead of schedule, he makes his National Hockey League debut in Chicago (WTOP-1500 at 8:30 p.m.)
Walter's attitude is so positive that he is even able to see bright spots in his enforced confinement.
"It hasn't been a waste of time," Walter said. "I've watched the centermen on the faceoffs. I've watched Guy (Charron), particularly on the forehand drive, which I'm not that good at. I've seen a lot of good plays and mistakes, in both sides. I've talked things over with the players. I've learned a lot from Guy and Gerry Meehan."
Walter is being counted on to give the team a lift, but nobody expects him to carry the club out of the wilderness, as Greg Joly was burdened in his rookie season.
"It's a big adjustment for any young man coming out of junior hockey," said General Manager Max McNah. "In addition, Ryan won't be ready to take ful shifts. There's a game-conditioning factor to be overcome. We won't put a lot of weight on his shoulders all at once."
"Management just told me to play my own game," Walter said. "I should feel that way, too. As far as leading, I hope I lead. But this is my first year I'm her to learn."
Walter will be wearing small braces on both knees as he centers Bob Girard and Tom Rowe. He underwent surgery on his right knee after skating into a goal post in 1975.
Playing for the Black Hawks tonight will be defenseman Bobby Orr, a boyhood hero of Walter.