As the Washington Capitals discovered in Philadelphia Tuesday, the Flyers' new emphasis on speed has not reduced their pleasure in bump-and-board hockey. Washington Coach Gary Green also likes his players to use their bodies for more than modeling uniforms, so the 18,000-plus fans who will watch the two teams tonight at Capital Centre can expect some cosmic collisions.
Despite the obvious pressure that attends his debut wearing Washington's No. 12, this is the kind of game in which Alan Hangsleben excels. If the 6-foot-1, 200-pound defenseman can regain his balance following his stunning trade by Hartford for Tom Rowe, he could quickly win a home in the hearts of Washington hockey fans hankering for something to cheer about.
In six years as a Whaler, Hangsleben earned a lot of admiration, including such honors as Favorite Whaler and unsung hero. But perhaps no accolade showed how folks felt about him more than the way some of his teammates carried on in the dressing room Thursday night after the trade was announced.
"Yeah, they were pretty upset," Hangsleben said. "I was close to all the guys. In six years at Hartford I established a lot of friendships, which I guess you shouldn't do in this game. It's dog eat dog and you may find yourself gone again tomorrow.
"I was shocked, to put it mildly. I'd been there six years and I'd been a dog worker, giving 110 percent every night. I had no inkling at all that I was on the block or that anybody wanted me. I thought we were building a young team and I thought I fitted in.
"Now I guess I'll just have to make a place for myself in Washington. I've never been one to shy away from the rough stuff and I guess that's what they like. Taking the body has always been a big factor on my part. I guess I'm stepping right in, playing the Flyers the first game, but I might as well get her started right away."
Hangsleben, who will be 27 on Feb. 22, majored in industrial technology at the University of North Dakota and one day he expects to combine roles of shop teacher and coach. The trade merely reinforced his belief that he chose the right path by picking college hockey over the life of a junior nomad north of the border.
"At least I have the education to fall back on," Hangsleben said. "And I have both my eyes and less stitches and I wasn't getting out maimed like so many Canadian kids. College hockey has progressed and I don't think it hurt my game much to play there. Even if it did, the education is worth it."
After earning All-America honors as a senior in 1974, Hangsleben played for the U.S. National team in the world championships in Yugoslavia. Then he chose to join the World Hockey Association Whalers, rather than the NHL team that had drafted him, Montreal.
"The WHA was a play to stay and to get established," Hangsleben said. "With Montreal I had a chance at being buried in Nova Scotia, like so many others. My middle name isn't Pierre and I don't speak French, so I don't think I would have fit in with them."
After the merger, Hartford arranged to keep Hangsleben's rights in one of those myriad Montreal paper deals. Then he discovered that the NHL was his oyster, after all.
"In the NHL there's tighter checking," Hangsleben said. "It's a more physical game than the WHA. The NHL takes so much more out of players. Everybody takes the body so much better that the little guys who did so well in the WHA are already beginning to wear out. An 80-game season is tough on a little guy."
Although Hangsleben will be looking up an inch or two at most of his defensive partners, he considers himself a big guy. With the struggling Capitals, there is certainly room for one more.
Rick Green will return tonight after missing two games with a sprained wrist . . . Greg Theberge has been returned to Hershey . . . About 5,000 Flyer fans will be part of the expected full house. Only 75 tickets remained yesterday . . . Reg Leach leads Philly scorers with 30 goals and 48 points. Brian Propp is the NHL's rookie point leader with 42. The top candidate for rookie of the year, though, is Flyer goalie Pete Peeters, unbeaten in 21 decisions with a 2.49 goals-against mark. Paul Holmgren is the NHL penalty leader with 160 minutes.