The sight of the Minnesota North Stars' green, white and gold uniforms will not engulf the Washington Capitals' Paul MacKinnon with joyful memories tonight at Capital Centre. MacKinnon, however, is thankful that he will be playing again, with full use of both eyes.
In the Capitals' last engagement with the North Stars, a 7-1 loss at Bloomington Nov. 3, MacKinnon was on the ice for the first six Minnesota goals and did not see how things could get any worse. They did, as he was struck in the face by a puck and suffered both a broken jaw and a fractured orbital bone under the right eye.
Tonight marks MacKinnon's first game since, after a lengthy recuperation in which he lost 11 pounds while subsisting on liquids with his jaw wired shut. He will be protected by a face shield for at least five weeks.
"I'm anxious to get back," MacKinnon said after yesterday's practice at Fort Dupont. 'At First, six weeks seemed a long way away, but the last couple of weeks it's been tough sitting in the stands, pulling for the guys when you can't do anything to help them."
MacKinnon has worn the shield during practice sessions and he sympathizes with the Eastern Collegians who were required to wear one, despite vigorous protests, this season.
"It's cumbersome and awkward," MacKinnon said. "It gives you a feeling of being clogged up. There's no problem with clouding, because it only comes down around the nose and I'm breathing below through the wire. I might get used to it and keep wearing it, but I don't really think the game is ready for it."
MacKinnon's primary concern is loss of strength, although his weight has rebounded to 188 pounds, only two below normal.
"I work on my strength every day and I'm almost back, but it will take time to get used to bumping and mucking in the corners," MacKinnon said. "I can eat pretty well now. I've even had a few steaks, but it takes me a long time and I have to chew on the opposite side. That one side is still tender."
The return of MacKinnon to active duty created the inevitable defection among the "Chocolate Crowd," as Brent Tremblay was returned to Hershey. Tremblay took with him a unique plaque, a first-goal trophy with puck inscribed, "Scored against Gordie Howe and the Hartford Whalers."
Tremblay's first NHL goal came after he first faked the 51-year-old Howe out of position. With the ability he displayed in limited duty here, Tremblay figures to be back, for a far longer stay than this two-week visit.
MacKinnon may be joined by other recuperating members of the Capitals' injury corps on the ice tonight. Rolf Edberg, Guy Charron, Pierre Bouchard and Bob Sirois are all scheduled to see Dr. Pat Palumbo today. Edberg expects to play; Charron indicated an outside chance.
"Today was the best yet," said Edberg, who suffered a strained right knee Nov. 13. "I think I can play tomorrow. I don't like watching. At first, it was supposed to be a week, then it was two more weeks, then another week. You just can't rush it."
"There's a possibility," said Charron, who has been troubled by repeated aggravations of a pulled muscle in his right thigh. "I want to be sure I'm ready this time."