The Washington Capitals perform in Philadelphia's Spectrum tonight, where the fans greet visiting players with the same warmth English soldiers bestowed on Joan of Arc. For the Capitals' Pete Scamurra, however, the Spectrum promises a cooling-off period.
When the Capitals were tied by the Flyers, 44, at Capital Centre Tuesday night, Scamurra was subjected to verbal abuse even more scathing than that unleashed on the unfortunate Greg Joly three seasons ago.
Each time Scamurra touched the puck, he was booed; whenever he left the ice, there were derisive cheers. The demonstration of disaffection began in the seats behind the goal the Capitals defend during the first and third periods. By game's end, it had spread throughout the building and engulfed Scamurra's defensive partner, Rick Green, as well.
"I don't think I need to hurry upstairs to sign autographs," Scamurra joked afterward. Then, seeing a reporter from Richmond, he added "Come to think of it, they didn't like me much when I was in Richmond, either."
Washington Coach Danny Belisle likes Scamurra, howecer. He has placed Scamurra and Green on the ice during most pressure situations, he considers them his best defensive combination "by far," and he criticized the fans.
"They just don't know what's going on out there,c said Belisle, who has not been spared by loud-mouthed critics during this 8-20-5 season. "When you put people in responsible positions all the time and things go wrong, they're fingered with guilt that doesn't necessarily belong to them.
"Scamurra is the type of player who...appears to be doing nothing. He appears to be loafting when he skates, because he has such a long stride. But he's extremely strong and if you watch the little things in the corner, you can see how tough he is. He's a good, smart hockey player."
Actually, although Scamurra has played the last few games with a bruised shoulder, it is in the "toughness" department that the fans give him low grades. Unlike many defensemen, the 6-foot-3, 196-pound Scamurra does not attempt to knock opposing forwards into the seats. He is content merely to take his amn out of the play, as economically as possible.
"It's personality, I guess," Scamurra said. "I just wasn't brought up to take runs at people. Besides, I don't think you can do that the whole game and do your job. I'm satisfied to take out the man."
Scamurra, 23, a native of Buffalo, was chosen in the second round of the 1975 amateur draft, the 19th man overall. His own seeming indifference, magnified by sleeping through a practice, quickly earned him the nickname "Skylab."
After failing to show up for an exhibition game in Dayton in September, 1976, Scamurra was assigned to Springfield of the American Hockey League. Recalled in October, he participated in 21 games with Washington before calcium deposits in his left leg forced him out Dec. 10. In the ensuring 22 months, he played only 14 games, all in the minors, before dressing and scoring a goal in the Capitals' opening-night victory at Los Angeles Oct. 11.
"There were internal problems that first year," Scamurra said. "The team was losing a lot and there was no sign of hope of getting better. I came in with a lot of enthusiasm but that was shot down in 15 or 20 games.
"Then I messed up my leg and it never really improved. I was at three-quarters speed and and I had a lot of pain. I didn't want an operation except as a last resort, because sometimes the deposits dissolve and sometimes they become inert and won't interfere with the muscles.
"Twice I gave it three months, but each time it bothered me when I came back. I stopped playing in February and it took three months for the leg to calm down so I could finally have the operation."
The surgery was performed April 22 and Scamurra wishes he had acceded to it a year earlier. Except for an endurance problem created by his long layoff, he was able to skate effortlessly at training camp. His determination to excel impressed his teammates, too, and "Skylab" disappeared into the atmosphere, to be replaced by "Smoothie."
"Since the operation, the leg was been feeling fine," Scamurra sadi.
"I'm not concerned about my future. I'm more worried about the team now. We have the talent to play better than .500. But we've lost crucial games, particularly at home. A lot of it has been caused by mental errors. I don't know about the pressure from the home fans, whether that's causing it or not.
"Sometimes it gets a little frustating. You're doing your best and things happen to mess you up. I'm glad Danny has confidence in me anyway."
He also is glad Circus America has replaced the Capitals in the Centre for a couple of weeks. The folks can boo the lion tamer, instead of him.
Tonight's game will be televised by WDCA-TV-20 at 8 o'clock.
The latest All-Starr voting released by the NHL shows Picard third among defensemen, Dennis Maruk third among centers and Bob Sirois third among right wings. The balloting ends Jan. 14.