A Washington Capitol is making a determined effort to become a Washington Capital.

"Who knows, maybe if they sign me they'll sell 15,000 tickets a game," said Kevin McCloskey, a graduate of the Capitol Boys junior hockey program who is among 21 defensive candidates in the Capitals' training camp.

McCloskey, 22, is realistic enough to understand that he has little chance of earning an NHL berth this fall, since Washington has nine backliners with major-league experience.

"I know I can make Hershey," McCloskey said. "I have enough confidence in myself that I can earn a contract. I came to the Capitals' camp because I knew I'd get a good chance. They have a good organization here, they're fair and they use their minor league organization well."

General Manager Max McNab can count tickets, too, and the totals have been less than awe-inspiring at Capital Centre in past seasons.So a native Washingtonian with some talent can be sure of an audition.

"We wouldn't mind him making it at all," McNab said. "It would be great for us as far as our minor hockey program in Washington. Kevin is a contender. He has a good chance, based on his improvement last year. He was a solid performer on a first-place club."

The club was the Fort Wayne Komets of the International League, where McCloskey totaled 56 points and earned all-star recognition. He has vowed, however, not to return to the IHL and two years there, in comparative oblivion, have not made him overly fond of the Minnesota North Stars, who drafted him in the third round in 1977.

"I was one of the last seven defensemen in training camp that year and I know I had a great camp," McCloskey said. "But when they cut me, instead of sending me to their top farm at Fort Worth (in the Central League), they put experienced guys there and sent me all the way down to the IHL."

There McCloskey stayed, until his Minnesota contract expired in August. He was called up for a week by Minnesota, two seasons ago, but did not play, and last season he was completely overlooked when the merger with Cleveland created a surplus of players. So when he became free to search for a new home, he decided to come home.

McCloskey was born in old Sibley Hospital and grew up in Rockville, while burning up a lot of his parents' time and gasoline on trips to the Washington Coliseum.

While his pals moved on to Richard Montgomery High, many to play football, McCloskey chose to accept a greater challenge and bunked with friends in Toronto, where he played midget hockey.

Eventually, McCloskey progressed to junior. A hockey in St. Catharines and Calgary, where he picked up gobs of experience he had missed earlier.

"When I was growing up in Washington, I was playing with three teams to get enough ice time," McCloskey said. "When I went to Canada I was always behind the kids and I had to work harder to catch them. I was behind in skills and in skating.

"There are a lot more Americans in the game now. There is better coaching here and they are developing more good players. It hasn't been easy for me, but I have no regrets. I've traveled around both countries and I've been to Europe. I know it's going to be tough to make it, but what isn't nowadays?"

McCloskey, 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, would especially like to stay with the Capitals long enough to make exhibition trips to Calgary and Lake Placid, two old skating grounds.

"The first time I ever put on skates was at Lake Placid, when I was 6 or 7," McClosky said. "We were staying at a hotel there on vacation and a couple of girls from the ice show, who were also staying there, took an interest in me and took me out to the rink for a skate."

Now it's McCloskey who is interested in the girls, particularly one from Alabama, and he is a good enough skater to think seriously about a Capital climax to an unusual career.