When Gary Green was coach of the Hershey Bears an eternity (nine days) ago, he had a standard pep talk to get his minor leaguers psyched for a game.
"I used to tell them that maybe if everybody played a super game, the Capitals might call the next day and take all of them to play a game in Chicago." Green said. "How was I ever to know that when I got to Chicago, as coach of the Capitals, most of those guys would be there playing for me?"
Wednesday night, as the Capitals dropped a 4-0 decision in Chicago, six players wearing Washington uniforms were graduates of the short-lived Gary Green indoctrination system in Hershey. Afterward, wondering about the lack of talent on the ice, a Chicago writer asked Green, "Are you planning to bring up some new players?"
"We've got half the farm club here now." Green replied. "It's hard to make changes when you've got eight guys in the stands who are regularss on this hockey club."
The eight include some pretty fair talent: centers Dennis Maruk, Guy Charron and Rolf Edberg; winger Bob Sirois and defensemen Pierre Bouchard, Paul MacKinnon, Pete Scamurra and Yvon Labre.
Earlier Wednesday, General Manager Max McNab received a phone call from Don Ellis at hockey's central registry in Montreal. Ellis had read McNab's Telex report recalling Tony Cassolato and Greg Theberge from Hershey as emergency replacements. In effect, he wanted to know what McNab was trying to pull.
"He couldn't believe we had eight players on the roster who couldn't play," McNab said. "I had to go over every name and every injury. But I can't really blame him. I don't believe it, either."
In Chicago, the Capitals were playing a team with four healthy bodies sitting in the press box. Coach Eddie Johnston has asked General Manager Bob Pulford to disperse some of the excess and McNab seemed a logical buyer, except for one thing. What would he do with everybody when they're all healthy?
That may be a rhetorical question, the way players are qualifying for the disabled list. Scamurra stretched ligaments in the left knee and is out for two to three weeks, and Labre tore cartilage in the right knee, both Tuesday in Colorado. Scamurra was tripped by the Rockies' Wilf Paiement; Labre, hit twice on an already shaky knee, decided it was time to assess the damage.
There was some reason to be thankful as the Capitals sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, however. Defenseman Rick Green, troubled by a bruised right thumb, and winger Mark Lofthouse unable to close his left hand completely over his stick, were X-rayed yesterday with negative results.
The Capitals, who have left the Hershey farm vulnerable with so many recalls, returned Cassalato and Tim Coulis yesterday. They also have sent wringers Harvie Pocza and Lou Franceschetti there from Port Huron. Even Coach Doug Gibson has returned to uniform. But Saturday could prove a most unusual circumstance for a couple of Capitals-Bears.
Washington is host to Buffalo at 1:30. Hershey is home for New Brunswick at 7:30.
"We may have to bring up one or two players for our game in the afternoon and then get them back to Hershey in time to play again," McNab said. "I wonder what Don Ellis will have to say about that."
Green, still searching for his first NHL victory after five failures, has maintained his aplomb in the face of disaster.
"Take any team in the NHL, Montreal or Philadelphia or anybody else, and take away eight of their top 17 players and see what they can do," Green said. "I guarantee they wouldn't be doing much.
"But I can't just complain about injuries after every game. If I did, the guys who are here would just get down. We have to take what we've got and win with them. There are good players out there right now. They're a little tight because they don't have the experience, but they're going to get experience -- and very quickly."
As a NHL coach, Green has received his share.