When Rod Langway comes to the Forum Sunday afternoon, his No. 1 priority will be to check his cubicle in the Montreal Canadiens' dressing room. If his red No. 17 jersey is hanging there, he will be playing in the opening game of Stanley Cup against the New York Rangers.
On the scond or third shift of the game, if Coach Scotty Bowman pats him on the back, Langway will know he has been chosen to replace injured Guy Lapointe as a defensive regular.
"He's never said anything to me, Langway said after today's practice in the Forum. "That's the way he's always coached. I don't even know if I'm dressing. If your sweater is hung up, you're playing.
"Some guys have been upset about it, but that's what he's done to me all year, so I'm used to it."
Bowman has indicated to the press, however, that Langway, a 22-year old product of the University of New Hampshire, will be the man called upon to fill Lapoint's skates.
Lapointe suffered a severly sprained left knee during Thursday's finale of the Boston series. He was at the Forum today, hobbling around with the knee heavily wrapped. Bowman said he could not possibly play before the fifth game, on May 21. He probably cannot play at all.
Langway, who spent a year in the World Hockey Association before joining the Canadiens, has participated in only three Stanley Cup games, following an erratic regular season in which he was in uniform 45 times. He was not even listed in the program for the Boston series.
Bowman concedes that Langway played very well late in the season yet he chose to ignore him during the last week, as well as in the early play off rounds.
"I was upset, But he had a plan," Langway said. "Always in the playoffs, he went with experience, and it's just something you have to live with."
Langway had not stepped on the ice Thursday night until Lapointe was injured with 4:43 remaining in regulation time of the decisive game with the Bruins.
"I really felt pressure then," Langway said. "I was most nervous then, because I hadn't played a shift. But I hit somebody (Bobby Schmautz) and that calmed me down right away.
"I don't feel any pressure now, because really I don't know whether I'm going to play. I guess it's best that way. How would you feel if somebody told you that you had to sit down and write the best story of your life?
"This first game is a big, big game. If we beat them, it goes down to six game series where they have to win four, and you can see how much tougher that would be."
The Canadien junior hockey officials, television networks and the Rangers by setting back the opener until Sunday. The reason was to rest the players after the Boston series, but Langway said he wanted to start the final tonight.
"A lot of the guys would rather have played tonight." he said. "We were sky high after the Boston game and we had the momentum. We can rest all summer."
Langway is aware that every move he makes Sunday will be scrutinized by hockey fans here and across Canada.
"They are so well-educated. Everybody's grown up in hockey and they know everything that's going on." Langway said. "I grew up in Boston and I played mostly football. If you made a mistake playing football, everybody knew it. But in hockey, they overlooked the mistakes.
"Here, every mistake is critized. You make one bad pass and somebody will write, 'He can't pass. He's stupid.' Other places you get one page on hockey, that's it. Here that's the only thing the media covers. They have stories on each guy and there's a lot of pressure. They even give you report cards at the end of the season."
Right now, Langway's report card would read, "Incomplete final exam still to come." It will be a tough one.