The Winnipeg Jets players pilfered Tom McVie's slacks and jacket, threw them on the floor and took turns jumping on them, muttering things like "That's for the long practices" and "That's for the stops and starts."

It was just about the way the Washington Capitals treated McVie when they fired him in October, except that he was wearing the clothes.

In the case of the Winnipeg Jets' war dance, it was strictly fun, part of the postgame victory celebration after the Jets had captured the Avco Cup, symbolic of the last World Hockey Association championship. Besides stomping on McVie's clothes, the players thanked the coach and his wife Arlene, for leading them to the promised land.

"When I took over in February, I told everybody I would just try to get the club ready for the playoffs," McVie said by phone from a retreat outside Winnipeg, where he and Arlene had sought some respite from congratulatory messages. "The club peaked for the playoffs, and I looked like a prophet.

"But when the guys thanked me, I told them, 'I should be thanking you. Three months ago, I was out of work and now I'm being measured for a championship ring."

McVie was fired in Washington two days before the start of the current season, which made job hunting difficult. But on Feb. 27 he was summoned to Winnipeg by old buddy John Ferguson, whose defending WHA champions were wallowing in fourth place.

McVie brought the Jets home third, then they disposed of second-place Quebec in the minimum four games and first-place Edmonton in six.

The result was an explosion of joy climaxed yesterday by a parade through town and a victory luncheon. Yesterday was also election day and McVie said, "The whole town is going crazy. It's too bad I', not running for office. I'll bet I'd get more votes here than (Pierre) Trudeau or (Joe) Clark. I hate to read all the writeups. You'd think everybody in Canada considers me a genius. It wasn't genius that won. It was a lot of hard work, really grinding it out."

While McVie's friends were driving him into seclusion with their congratulations, he did not receive one of the calls he wants most: from Washington owner Abe Pollin. He would like one, not of a congratulatory nature but to provide a simple explanation of why he was ousted in Washington.

"If I gave my soul to that hockey club-and I did-I thought they could at least give me a reason why they let me go," McVie said. "I was more dedicated to the Washington Capitals than to Arlene and the boys.

"I asked them, 'Please tell me why I was fired so I won't do it again,' but I never got an explanation. You'd almost think I'd embezzled their money. I know I'm an honest man. I hope everyone else does."

McVie would like to bring his Jets into the NHL intact and he thinks they would give a good account of themselves. Instead, of course, they will first be raped by the NHL teams that have suffered their entry.

"The way our hockey club played in the playoffs, we would have done well in the NHL," McVie said. "Montreal would have been a tough way to go but Montreal isn't in the National League. It's in a league by itself.

"Now we're going to lose guys and it will be like starting out new. They're got the right man here. Nobody in hickey has had the experience I've had with expansion teams. I spent three years trying to get the Washington Capitals straightened out and everybody was talking about the Capitals and their discipline.

"We weren't winning anything, but we were disciplined. Now I'll straignten things out for them here in Winnipeg and, who knows, maybe in three years they'll fire me."

Among the players Winnipeg will lose to the NHL is rookie defenseman Paul MacKinnon, a second-round draft choice of the Capitals a year ago.

"Peter O'Malley asked me about MacKinnon and then he told me, 'Don't get too fond of him'," McVie said. "Billy Taylor (the Capitals' scout) was here the other night, so I went up and put my arm around MacKinnon."

There were ex-Capitals as well as future Capitals in Winnipeg uniforms, and Bill Lesuk, Gary Smith and Peter Sullivan played key roles in attaining the championship.

Lesuk, a superb defensive player, shadowed Quebec's Real Cloutier, a 75-goal regular-season scorer, and limited him to two goals in four games. Then Lesuk and Lyle Moffat shut down Edmonton's Balir McDonald and Wayne Gretzky.

"Gary Smith was the No. 1 star in four of the eight playoff games we won. He was the reason we won those four. The last game Arlene probably could have played goal the wasy the club was flying, but Gary made the big stops when he had to.

"Peter Sullivan had 46 goals in the regular season and he had a great playoff. Hwen I took over, I introduced myself to the players and I told him I remembered him from that first Washington camp, before I was associated with the club. He was the best hockey player in camp, but the Capitals just decided they weren't going to sign any more players.

"He's a super guy and you should have seen the impression he did of Fergy. The guys banged on the Avco Cup to get attention and here comes Sullivan out smoking a cigar, with a newspaper under his arm. He looked like a midget John Ferguson.

"Those are the things that happen when life is going good for you. I know it won't be like that next year, but there are things I'm looking forward to, like going back to Capital Centre. I told Peter O'Malley that I shouldn't show up and fill the building for him. But I'll be there." CAPTION: Picture, Tom McVie