Gary Inness finally got a break today. Unfortunately for the Washington Capitals' star-crossed goaltender, it was in the form of a broken bone in his right hand.

The injury actually occurred Monday morning, when Inness was struck by a puck during a shooting drill. It was not until after he had completed this morning's practice, however, that Inness went to the Hershey Medical Center for X-rays. He returned to Hersheypark Arena wearing a cast.

"It started to get bad Monday afternoon, so we iced it down. Then I had a lot of trouble holding my stick this morning," Inness said.

Inness, the hero of Capital Centre fans just 18 months ago, has been working with the B group at the training camp here. He is entering his option year on a termination contract and it will take a complete turnabout in management's thinking to earn him a job with the team this fall. The broken hand could not have been more inopportune.

Inness came to the Capitals in December 1978, after his Indianapolis team in the World Hockey Association folded. He was sensational, playing 21 straight games in one stretch and finishing with a 14-14-8 record and 3.70-goals-against mark.

Instead of giving Inness the No. 1 job a year ago, the Capitals brought in Wayne Stephenson and Coach Danny Belisle played him repeatedly despite infrequent success. Inness was brilliant in his rare early appearances, then deteriorated from lack of work.

"Once Gary Green came, for some unknown reason I didn't play up to my capabilities for a few starts. I went sour for a bit and they can't afford to wait for you," Inness said.

Rollie Boutin was called from Hershey and became an instant hero, starting 10 straight games in goal. But it became apparent that he could not play every night and someone else needed to get into playing shape. Inness was selected for the backup role and assigned to Hershey for two weeks.

While Inness was with the Bears, Boutin faltered and Stephenson came to the rescue, playing well enough to earn the No. 1 job the rest of the season. Inness returned to find that he was no longer needed. Finally, after weeks of idleness, he went back to Hershey to complete the season and help win the Calder Cup.

"I thought about retiring when they sent me back down," Inness said, "but the situation in Hershey got critical, (Dave) Parro got tired and I went. It worked out pretty well, but I didn't like being away from my family."

Inness had the better goals-against record in the Calder Cup playoffs, 2.82 to Parro's 4.26, but questions posed to General Manager Max McNab on the subject wound up with answers praising Parro.

"They alternated except for one key game against New Haven, when they picked Parro and he came up big," McNab said. "It was their (hershey's) decision and that should tell you something."

The statement is true, but there was an extenuating circumstance. The odd game fell on Parro's birthday and Coach Doug Gibson simply played a hunch.He returned to the alternating system thereafter.

Further prodding about Inness' lack of status brought from McNab the following: "A slight attitude difference answered our questions as to who should stay and who should go. Maybe there was no problem from Gary's standpoint, but there was not an ideal arrangement. Everyone wants to play. Things weren't quite right."

Inness, as rabid a team man as the Capitals have had -- he once received a bench penalty for disputing a referee's call while serving merely as backup goalie -- concedes that he was not happy to go to Hershey. But what player wants to be demoted?

"I made sure Mac knew I didn't like the idea of going to the minors," Inness said. "But I've got no bones to pick with Max. He's always been fair and honest with me. I like the organization and I'd like to stay here.

"I've got to think I was just a victim of circumstances. I've always had a good attitude and if I keep a good attitude, I think things will work out." a

What he could use is a better break.

Today's conditioning featured players pulling each other with ropes, to put pressure on the legs, the same way the Soviets use heavy elastic attached to the boards...An 8 p.m. intrasquad scrimmage here Wednesday will decide the last couple of berths for the trip to sweden.