Every Monday morning for the last two months, Capital General Manager Max McNab has received voluntary scouting reports over the phone from hockey fans who have been enthralled by the college games each Saturday afternoon on public television.
"People phone me every Monday and ask me things like 'Did you see that No. 6 on Brown?" McNab said. "It's helpful and encouraging. We know there is a high percentage of transplanted people from the North-east at the Capital's games and the hockey roots began for many of them in the colleges."
A lot of McNab roots were fertilized at the college level, too. Son Peter, now a star with the Boston Bruins, is a University of Denver product. Son David, a college goalie at Wisconsin, is now directly responsilble for scouting the colleges for the Capitals.
"Nobody owes more to the college program than the McNab family," Max McNab said. "It was good for my edification to watch Peter's Denver club and its success-seven guys in the NHL."
The past three days David McNab joined Capitals scouts Red Sullivan and Billy Taylor at the Olympia in Detroit to watch North Dakota, Minnesota, Dartmouth and New Hampshire decide the NCAA hockey championship.
Those loyalists who watch Channel 26 saw the third-place game yesterday afternoon, followed by the championship last night. They are advised not to bother to point out the virtues of No. 17 of Minnesota on Monday morning, however.
The Capitals are well aware of the potential of Don Micheletti, the left wing who wears No. 17 for the Gophers and scored four goals in one Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff game. They drafted him in the eighth round in 1977 and have been delighted with his development.
Twenty-three percent of the players selected in last year's NHL amateur draft were collegians and McNab expects a higher rate this season.But there are many inherent difficulties in trying to find a gem like Los Angeles' Dave Taylor, who was the Kings' 15th-round pick out of Clarkson College in 1975 and has collected 41 goals in this, his second pro season.
Because the draft applies only to 20-year-olds, the collegians involved are usually sophomores and, like Taylor, intend to complete their collegiate eligibility before trying the pros. Only a sure-fire professional like Minnesota's Reed Larson, now with the Detroit Red Wings, will risk that degree for the NHL rainbow.
Additionally, the collegians have been involved in far fewer games than the juniors, who often play 100 games a season and suffer through the same rigorous travel that besets NHL players.
"By the time a guy has finished with the juniors, you know whether he wants to play," McNab said. "If you have to get somebody to help immediately, you go that route."
Teams with less urgency can be more speculative and take a chance on a collegian who may need a year or two to adapt to the physical requirements of the pros even after, at age 22 or thereabouts, he leaves the college ranks.
"One big edge a college player has is a better grasp of fundamentals," McNab said. "College is the ideal breeding ground. Playing only twice a week they can spend a lot of time on teaching skills. Bob Johnson (at Wisconsin) has four assistants, time to go over videotape and lots of time to sit down and go over things.
"The improvement in coaching is college hockey's biggest factor. They hold clinics, as football coaches do, and exchange ideas. Pro hockey's problem, dating back to the six-team days, has been secrecy about so many things, including methods of coaching. And with the juniors, they play so many games, it takes a brilliant coach to get down to basics."
McNab, with his family connections in the college ranks, realizes that the sport does not fill buildings just on rah-rah spirit. There were 14,490 in Boston Garden for both the semifinals and final of the ECAC tourney, and how often do the Bruins attract that many?
"It is quick hockey, exceptional hockey, and it lends itself to TV because there is no red line," McNab said. "It is continual skating thing. A defenseman just goes over his blue line and shoots it down.
"They are skaters. You get about 10 guys on each team weighing 155 or 160 pounds and it makes for a quick, exciting game.
The wear and tear is too much on most of them the way our game is structured. But in the colleges there's a lot of contact and no fighting, or they face a suspension. So little guys instigate a lot of action they wouldn't dare do at the pro level.
"Just on straight numbers of exposure of natural athletes, with 200 colleges playing the sport compared to 34 junior teams in Canada, there will be more and more good ones coming up to the NHL."
McNab recalled a visit to Denver when he ran into Claude Ruel, the assistant coach of the Montreal Canadiens.
"Claude and I were talking and he said, "This Denver team, they skate the (Memorial Cup champion Toronto) Marlies off the ice.' He was watching (Notre Dame's Bill) Nyrop," who became a defensive standout with the Canadiens and suddenly retired last fall.
McNab obviously can't take a high-choice flyer on a guy who may help the Capitals in three seasons, because the team is so needy now. But he said, "For fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh-rounders, there are some excellent possibilities."