The Washington Capitals opened their sixth training camp today minus an old favorite and an old nemesis.
Goaltender Bernie Wolfe, the team's first genuine hero, did not appear today and will announce his retirement on Monday to pursue a burgeoning career as a financial consultant.
While many Capital fans will be sorry to lose the focus of the "Ber-nie, Ber-nie" chant that made the club's growing pains more palatable, nobody was lamenting the absence of the annual mile run.
Tom (Simon) McVie took great delight in watching muscular players struggle four times around the Hershey Stadium track. The discontinuance of the torture did not occur because Danny Belisle, starting his first camp as coach, is more easy-going than McVie, although he is. Rather it was dictated by the fact that so many players are recuperating from injuries suffered last season.
"We would have been fored to excuse so many players that it would have amounted to a discrimination situation," said General Manager Max McNab.
Among those coming back from serious injuries are captain Guy Charron, surgery on left knee; 31-goal scorer Tom Rowe, stretched ligaments in left knee; 29-goal man Bob Sirois, surgery for torn muscle above left knee; winger Greg Polis, broken right leg; defenseman Pete Scamurra, surgery on left knee, and winger Tom Coulis, broken left wrist.
Additionally, several players who recovered nicely from knee injuries last season are not considered ready for mile runs, including center Ryan Walter and defenseman Jack Lynch.
All of the wounded survived today's off-ice testing without noticeable difficulty. Scamurra, who has undergone two leg operations in the last 15 months and has seen limited action over the last three seasons, was slightly deficient in leg strength. He made up for it with the strongest chest pull since the Capitals began fitness testing in 1976.
Coulis ranked a close second in overall strength to Jim McTaggert, a 19-year-old free-agent defenseman. Polis and Rowe also were above average.
"Overall, they were pretty lean and came in good," McNab said. "With the late draft and some late arrivals, we had people who had been on the program only a month, but they did very well."
Bengt-Ake Gustafsson arrived at midnight Saturday, and he received a royal welcome. Owner Abe Pollin chartered a plane to bring the Swede here from Toronto, where he flew from Edmonton less than 24 hours after learning of NHL President John Ziegler's reversal of a ruling assigning him to the Oilers.
Assuaging any ill feelings on Gustafsson's part were the greetings from his friend, Capital center Rolf Edberg, and the knowledge that he will now be paid in American dollars, which are worth 15 percent more than the Edmonton variety.
However, Oilers vice president Larry Gordon was quoted by the Associated Press last night as saying the Oilers would appeal Zeigler's ruling and would seek, at the minimum, compensation from the Caps. Washington team officials had said Friday they did not expect Edmonton to appeal Zeigler's ruling.
Missing besides Wolfe were right wing Mike Gartner, awaiting a ruling on his compensation appeal to the league; winger Perry Schnarr, who strained his back moving a friend's refrigerator; winger Craig Roehl, victimized by torn knee ligaments, and defenseman Bob Bilodeau, who has permission to finish the harvest at his Alberta farm before reporting.
Wolfe and the Capitals are expected to issue a joint statement of his retirement Monday, after his lawyer, Mike McCarthy, and the Capitals' Peter O'Malley agree to a settlement of the final year of his contract.
Wolfe became a big favorite of Capital Centre fans during the 1976-77 season, when he posted a 3.84 goals-against average. He fell from management favor the following season, when he played only 25 games, and last year appeared in only 17.
"It's obvious I don't fit into the Washington Capitals' plans," Wolfe said, "and I don't want to take the time to play one season in a minor-league city. I have too many things going here in the Washington area, I have a house here, my family is settled in and things are going well in my financial consulting business."