On the eve of their departure for Sweden, the Washington Capitals conducted a game-style intrasquad scrimmage tonight. The purpose, according to Coach Gary Green, was to give every candidate a chance to break into the traveling lineup, to display his talents under conditions of maximum exposure.
"We want to give everybody an opportunity at camp, from the first man to the 54th," Green said. "We already know what the top 19 can do."
Absent when the teams stepped on the ice were most of the veterans and all members of the three "set" lines. Yet out there for the opening faceoff, with kids fresh from junior and journeymen seeking a last chance, was the man folks were recently calling "The Franchise," center Guy Charron.
In his first three seasons with Washington, despite recurring knee problems, Charron played every game and scored 102 goals. But last year, pulled thigh muscles reduced his playing time and an operation for torn ligaments in the right knee finally terminated his season, on Jan. 24. He finished the abbreviated campaign with 11 goals in 33 games.
Once, Charron was the Capitals' No. 1 center and double-shifted on the power play, a minute up front and a minute on the point. He killed penalties, too, and seemed to prosper with all that ice time.
Now, it is apparent that Charron at age 31 will start this season as, at best, a fourth-line center or specialty player in extra-man situations. At worst -- well, nobody wants to speculate any further.
"I see Guy as part of our hockey club, no question," Green said. "His abilities can certainly be utilized, but we're still analyzing everybody and center is a very strong position.
"It's difficult for me to say right yet, whether he'll be used in specialty areas as well as perhaps center on a line. He hasn't reached the age where he can't skate with anybody in the league and he has recovered very well from knee surgery. He's working on his timing and he has to be patient. He's working hard. That's all I can ask."
General Manger Max McNab was more complimentary.
"Guy is looking great," McNab said. "He has every possible skill. He is capable of being our most versatile and contributing player. The first couple of years, with his 36 and 38 goals, it was his responsibility totally to make the power play go.
"Now, if we come up with four lines that are solid, none of our forwards figures to be in the top 10 in scoring. Gary Green's team wear you down. It's a total team concept. I'm hoping all the players understand.
"Guy is smart and he's capable of being a bulldog checker if he so makes up his mind.He wants to be a Capital; his offseason activities indicated that. hAnd nobody can forget that he played 80 games with a torn cartilage. That takes a lot of determination."
Charron certainly has a lot of determination. A lesser person, if not a lesser player, might grumble about the treatment he has received here, after such outstanding contributions in the past. But Charron declines to voice either complaint or disappointment.
"My confidence is good," Charron said."I worked hard during the summer and I don't recall coming into camp in such good shape. It's the first time I can say I feel no pain whatever and my legs are stronger than ever before.
"I have to come in with the idea I have to make this hockey club. When you come off an injury and have been out a long time, the most important thing is to come to camp in shape. I've done that and now if I show I can do the job, there will be room for me on the hockey club."
One thing Charron apparently can forget is concern for the knee. In a drill last week at Fort Dupont, he collided with Ryan Walter and the resulting shock would have disintegrated a weak joint.
"I was a little scared something was wrong, but everything was okay in testing the next day. I can't worry about the knee; it might affect my playing. I can't hold anything back."
So there he was centering a couple of guys named Todd Bidner and Rob Jones and scoring a couple of goals, missing a couple of setups and enduring the taunts of veteran teammates seated comfortably in the stands. Meanwhile, he was trying not to wonder about Sweden, about opening night, about his future with the team he once captained.
"Hockey is my living. I want to play as long as I can," Charron said.
Dennis ververgaert enhanced his employment possibilities with four goals and Tim Tookey netted two as the white team won the scrimmage over the Charron red outfit, 8-2. Bart Hunter was the victimized red goalie . . . After Pete Scamurra and Brent Tremblay were terminated, Greg Theberge suffered a hamstring pull and suddenly there was a shortage of defensemen for the scrimmages. So McNab today brought in Dan Haskins, a Providence College graduate cut by Philadelphia, and John Haddad, a Michigan Tech product. Haskins (bruised shoulder) and Howard Walker (charley horse) left the scrimmage with injuries . . . The ropes were out again at this morning's practice, with skipping down the ice an added event. Bengt Gustafsson was superb at this, as he is so many other things . . . Gustafsson flattened Rick Green five seconds after morning scrimmaging began. Green's bareheaded reaction was to find his helmet . . . The practice degenerated into a friendly free-for-all and Gary Green shouted, "All right, you clowns, let's go." But he was smiling. "They're enjoying it and that's important," Green said.