Beginning Monday at 8 a.m., Washingtonians can spend the week watching something unique in sports -- professional athletes working hard, without pay.
Official start of training camp for the Washington Capitols is Sept. 14 at Hershey, Pa., but unofficially the entire team will commence workouts Monday at Fort Dupont.
The early start was initiated by captain Ryan Walter, probably the hardest loser in sports. It will be remembered that Walter, after losing a fight to the Islanders' Bob Nystrom, was discovered at game's end in the weight room, punching a bag and vowing the defeat would not be repeated.
Walter feels the same way about the team's failure to make the playoffs last season. As long as he is a Capital, which figures to be at least a decade, barring injury, Walter is determined not to miss Stanley Cup action again.
"Ryan spent a good part of July and August on the telephone with the players setting this up -- and we have the bills to prove it," said Coach Gary Green, who will be confined to the role of observer at the precamp. "The players' association agreement says camp starts the 14th, so the players have until the 14th to be on vacation. But they collectively decided to come to training camp ahead.
"A lot of the guys are already in pumping weights. There is a great atmosphere and enthusiam. I'm pretty tickled they'd come in as a hockey club and run their own training camp. Not many pro teams come back to work a week early unpaid."
As a workaholic himself, Green is especially pleased to see some of his work ethics rubbing off on the hired help. Although he owns a boat and a summer house on a lake, he has indulged in little vacation activity this summer, instead promising his wife, Sharon, "we'll do it next summer."
Green made biweekly visits to Washington for Tuesday meeting of the team's executive committee" -- Green, owner Abe Pollin, General Manager Max McNab and attorneys David Osnos and Peter O'Malley.He corresponded regularly with the players and was prominent at most coaching clinics in North America.
One weekend that proved atypical, even for Green, began with a cross-continent Thursday night flight to Victoria, B.C., where he spoke at the University of Victoria Friday. Afterward, he met Walter in Vancouver, then took the midnight flight to Toronto, moving on to Detroit for six hours of lectures and discussions on systems Saturday.
Sunday, Green flew to Ottawa for a player testing session, but Monday morning he had to break away and fly to Toronto for a press conference relating to the Ontario Summer games. He was back in Ottawa for lunch.
With that kind of schedule, it is easy to believe Green's description of a brief "vacation" with Sharon earlier this week.
"We decided just to go out on the boat and get away from it all," Green said. "But we hadn't seen a movie for a long time, so we docked and saw a Peter Sellers film. But we both fell asleep halfway through. So we got back on the boat and really got some good sleep for a change.
"The next day people asked us if we'd suffered any damage from the storm. We asked, 'What storm?' They told us we must have been in an air-raid shelter not to have noticed it. And here we were out on a boat."
Green's tentative plans for the season call for six defensemen to dress in most games, with three lines and two extras specializing in penalty killing. This will come as good news to defenders like Pierre Bouchard, who laughingly claimed to be "tripping over my tongue" during that shift on-shift off procedure of last season.
"If the defense is better rested, it can play more physically," Green said.
"Going with four makes it difficult, no matter how good shape they're in. We kidded the defensemen last year about being flat noses, leaning against the plexiglass to get some rest.
"What I'd really like to see is the rule to dress 20 players. It would make everything so much easier."
Every coach would like that change, since a boost from 19 to 20 would permit six defensemen and four full lines. Green, however, with a reputation as one of hockey's foremost thinkers, will undoubtedly find ways to to turn the situation to his advantage.
The current issue of Hockey News has mention of Green, along with the word "genius" and the phrase "Albert Einstein of hockey."