Youth will be in the forefront at Capital Centre tonight as the Washington Capitals open their home season against the Boston Bruins. While extending kudos to the kids, however, the fans are advised not to ignore a longtime favorite, Guy Charron.
Management ignored Charron, though, and he admits to being hurt and shocked. At the same time, he requests that nothing be said or done about his lost captaincy that might upset the club. It is typical of Charron that he places team unity over individual pride. He always has.
Charron became captain on Nov. 4, 1978, replacing the injured Yvon Labre. He accepted the responsibility 100 percent and was a key factor in lifting the club out of its early-season doldrums. His play suffered in the process, but he brought the players together.
At season's end, although his 28 goals and 70 points marked his lowest tangible statistics in three years as a Capital, Charron was voted most popular player by the Fan Club.
This season, after two exhibition games, Coach Danny Belisle announced that he would alternate game captains. Robert Picard and Pierre Bouchard each served a game, then Charron got back the "C" in Winnipeg, wore it the rest of the preseason and was introduced as "our captain" by Belisle at the Welcome Home Luncheon.
Suddenly, on Wednesday, just before the Capitals left for their season opener in Buffalo, Charron was summoned to Belisle's office and informed he was no longer captain. Instead, a nominating committee of Belisle and General Manager Maz McNab provided a three-man slate for the players to ponder in a secret-ballot election.
The candidates were Ryan Walter, 21; Dennis Maruk, 23, and Bob Sirois, 25. Walter was the winner and will wear the "C" tonight and perhaps for the next 20 years. Charron supports Walter's election and the two have worked together to make the transition as smooth as possible.
"Ryan was very good about it," Charron said. "He talked it over with me, the same way I talked it over with Yvon (Labre) when management picked me last year. I felt rough taking over from Yvon, but we cleared it up. I think this is cleared up now.
"I didn't feel hurt. They told me it wasn't a sudden decision and I would have hoped they'd have talked about it, but that's their prerogative. I have no hard feelings.I guess I just took it for granted, after the change back in Winnipeg and the luncheon, that I was the captain.
"I wouldn't want you to say anything that would change the feelings we have for each other and the teams. I'm glad to have had the opportunity to be captain, I like it in Washington and I want to be part of all that's ahead of us. And I hink Ryan will be a super captain."
"We wanted a young guy," NcNab said of the election. "It is no reflection at all against Guy. We wanted a young leader among young players because they can help solve common problems and there is a necessary rapport there. We examined everyone and these were the young people we felt had leadership qualities."
Among the youngsters who will be wearing the Capitals' white uniforms tonight are right wing Mike Gartner, 19; defensemen Paul MacKinnon and left wing Errol Rausse, each 20, and forward Bengt Gustafsson, 21. Each made his NHL debut in Thursday's 6-3 loss to the Sabres, and each is prepared to play better this time.
The Bruins have an ancient captain in 34-year-old Wayne Cashman, but they will feature a couple of kids on their defense, first-round draft choices Raymond Bourque, 18, and Brad McCrimmon, 20. Bourque was one of the goal scorers in Boston's 4-0 opening success against Winnipeg.
Gartner and Gustafsson collected assists in their NHL opener, although none of the Capitals' youth corps was overjoyed with either individual performance or overall result.
"We could have won that game," Gartner said. "We came back from those bad (officiating) calls early and took the lead. But Buffalo is a good hockey team. We play a lot of good teams early, Boston next and then the Rangers (Sunday). We've got a tough start.
"This is a different type of game fro m the WHA (Gartner played for Cincinnati last year). There are more quality players here and it's a faster pace. Sure I was nervous. If you're not nervous, you ought to start worrying."
"I was a little shaky at the start, but it feels better to get that one out of the way on the road," said MacKinnon, who played for Winnipeg's WHA champions. "They were really forechecking and we couldn't get the puck out. That's a tough rink to play in."
"It took me a few shifts before I got used to it," said Rausse, a second-round draft choice out of junior hockey. "The players are so much smarter here than in junior. And (Gil) Perreault is incredible. He made four different moves on one rush.
Belisle herded his charges from National Airport to Fort Dupont for an afternoon practice yesterday and indicated there might be some lineup changes tonight. Tom Rowe, idle Thursday, is an almost certain starter at right wing tonight.
"When you win, you don't think about changes," Belisle said. "When you lose, you dissect everybody. Some played as well as I expected. Some didn't."
"We're going to have to play better than that against Boston, and I'm sure we will."