Most of them were up at 7 a.m. today to eat an early breakfast and board a bus from Plattsburgh, 50 miles away, that would get them into Lake Placid by noon. "If you get up later than that, you might not make it in time for the games," said Hal Laycoe of the New York Islanders. "And what good is a hockey scout if he can't get to the games?"

The National Hockey League is well represented in Lake Placid these days. Almost every team has sent in its scouts to watch the round-robin Olympic hockey tournament. Several general managers -- Bill Torrey of the Islanders, John Ferguson of Winnipeg and Lous Nanni of Minnesota -- have been here, as well and the Capitals' Max McNabis on his way.

It is a long day -- the hour bus ride in, games from noon until midnight and the long ride back to their lodge in Plattsburgh, where most of them are staying.

But the stakes are terribly high -- "who knows what you might turn up to help your team," said the Capitals' head scout, Jack Button -- so none of these bird dogs is complaining about this hunt.

Flo Potvin, the man from Hartford, says he is having a wonderful time in Lake Placid. "The competition has been excellent," he said. "I'm getting a big charge out of watching these American kids. I can't even sit down during their games. I'm too nervous, too edgy, know what I mean?"

During the United States-Norway gme on Saturday, Potvin fought for a standing room only position in a corner of the tiny auxiliary rink where the game was played. Every time an American player did something special, Potvin poked the man next to him in the ribs and beamed. "Nice pass, eh? Good shot, eh?"

Most of the scouts seemed a bit less emotional. Between games, they congregate in a well-stocked hotel room across the street from the arena. Many of them sit together at the games, though there is very little comparing of notes.

"I've got a guy I'm looking for on the German team," admitted Button. "No, I'm not gonna' tell you his name. I shouldn't even have told you that. "If one of these guys hears me say something, they'll start looking at him, too."

Most of the scouts have good reasons to watch. There are several players on the competing teams -- particularly from Sweden, Finland and Germany -- who have not been drafted by the NHL.

"You're always looking for a new talent," said Laycoe, who also is keeping an eye on U.S. defensemen KenMorrow, a man the Islanders drafted in 1976.

"I'm watching Morrow so we can evaluate him when it's over, see where we want to put him in our system. The other guys are doing the same thing. You have to make a decision on these guys, how far you want to go with them.

"There's also a possibility you might want to make a trade for one of the players drafted by another team. So you look at everybody, even if somebody else has the rights to them."

All but four of the U.S. Olympic players -- captain Mike Eruzione, goalie Steve Janaszak, and wingers Mark Pavelich and Buzz Schneider -- have been drafted by NHL teams.

And there have been reports that as many as 10 of them will sign professional contracts -- if they haven't already come to terms -- as soon as the competition is over.

The scouts have been visibly impressed by the husling, aggressive U. S. team, made up mostly of college players who have been practicing as a national team for the last six months. They also say that while the team may have captured the fancy of the American public, they are not so sure how many can make significant contributions on NHL rosters.

"That's what you have to try and determine, can these kids play in our league?" Button said.

"My own feeling is that 10 of those American kids could play in the league. I'm not just talking about filling a roster spot, I'm talking about making a contribution. Who are they? The goalie, Jim Craig (Atlanta's fourth-round pick in 1976), his stock is going up.

"Everybody loves this kid (Mike) Ramsey, Buffalo took him on the first round last year, and he's proving them right. I like (Mark) Johnson, too. I like a lot of them."

The Capitals do not have the rights to any players, U.S. or otherwise, in the Olympics. "I don't know why," said Button, who joined the team last year. "I wasn't there at the time. I don't know if we could have had a shot at those guys or not. Sure, I'd love to have a couple of 'em on our side."

Bryan Watson, the former Captial defenseman who still lives in Washington, has been scouting the competition for his new employers, the Winnipeg Jets. "I'm having a ball," said bird dog Bugsy. "I haven't seen much international competition, and I've really loved the way some of these kids are playing.

"We're interested in a kid on the Canadian team, Glenn Anderson, one of our draft choices. What you look for is how they react under the pressure. oThese are really just like playoff games, and you can tell a hell of a lot about a guy in those conditions."

All of the scouts also have been spending some time watching the Soviet Union play. "They're unbelievable," said Watson. "But obviously, they are also unavailable."

Button said, "Every man on that Russian team could play in the NHL and most of them would be stars. Nah, I don't take notes on them. I don't drool over them, either. But I try to learn from them. They do things unlike almost anybody you'll see. It's just enjoyable to watch them."