The Minnesota North Stars visit Capital Centre tonight at 7:30, anxious to avenge the September overtime loss in Stockholm that enabled the Washington Capitals to win the Dagens Nyheter Tournament. Dennis Maruk, the Capitals' leading scorer, will be spurred by memories that go back a lot further.
Maruk was a 36-goal scorer for the Cleveland Barons in 1977-78 and, when the Barons disappeared in a merger with Minnesota, he expected to be one of the team leaders. Instead, after being kept on tenterhooks for months, he was peddled to Washington.
As one of only four 20-goal scorers in the NHL, playing for a team that ranks ninth among 21 and enjoys the momentum of a five-game unbeaten streak, Maruk has no complaints about his current status. However, he recalls the uncertainties of two years ago with little love for Minnesota General Manager Lou Nanne.
"Lou Nanne treated me like dirt," Maruk said. "I talk to him now, but you just don't forget. It was one of the worst summers of my life. I felt not wanted."
Maruk was teaching at a hockey school in Western Canada the summer of the merger and he kept hearing disturbing trade rumors.
"Minnesota had seven centers because of the merger and guys told me various teams were trying to obtain me," Maruk said. "I wanted to play in Minnesota and I figured I'd be one of their key guys. I wasn't worried about a job until I kept hearing the rumors of a trade."
"I called Lou Nanne and asked him, if he was trying to trade me, to please do it before training camp. Camp opened on Sept. 18 and on the 16th Nanne wouldn't okay the furniture company to move my stuff. I finally got the okay on the 17th, but I knew something was fishy.
"You want to get up for the start of the season, but I couldn't do anything. I wanted to buy a home and when I got there, he (Nanne) told me to buy a house. But I called (agent Alan) Eagleson and he said there'd be a deal soon. He told me to rent a place, something I could get out of. I rented a house and I'm glad I did.
"I played one shift of one game and five shifts of another and two days after that I got traded."
Maruk adjusted well to life in Washington. He set a club record of 90 points that first season; his wife Joni presented him with their first child, Jonathan, and the horizon was rosy. Then last year, after scoring eight goals in eight games, he needed knee surgery and sat out the next 53.
This season, Maruk has been sensational, posting two consecutive hat tricks and reaching the 20-goal mark in just 23 games. The Roaring Twenties Line, featuring two wingers who were not wanted either, Jean Pronovost and Bob Kelly, has accounted for 19 goals in the Capitals' last nine games.
"My first year here was pretty good, but the team didn't go anywhere," Maruk said."Now we have good coaching and we have new faces, maturing faces. Guys like Jean Pronovost and Bob Kelly have been with playoff teams and know what it's like to win. We're starting to build a good team, with good young players and good older players.
"We have a good record on the road (3-3-6) and the team is really on an uphill rise. It takes time and people are anxious for a playoff club in Washington. There was a big comeback last year and we're improving more and more. We're getting better every game. I'm sure we'll make the playoffs this time and anything can happen once you're in the playoffs.
"The playoffs are my only goal right now. This is my sixth year and I don't know what the feeling's like. The other guys say it's a great feeling, but you don't know until you're there. Getting there is the important thing now. If I have to score every game to help the team get there, I will."
Maruk would like to score a few tonight, for old time's sake. In five regular-season games against Minnesota as a Capital, he has managed only one goal. He was the villain in that extra period at Stockholm, though, and that winning goal gave him such a feeling of satisfaction that he would like to provide Nanne more unpleasant memories.
While Maruk owns 20 goals, no Minnesota player has more than 11. At that figure are Bobby Smith, Steve Payne and Tom McCarthy, the man Nanne grabbed with the draft pick from the Maruk trade. . . Gilles Meloche, 13-5-2 against the Capitals, is due to be the North Stars' goalie tonight, if Coach Glen Sonmor sticks to his rotation. Wayne Stephenson starts for Washington. . . The Capitals were 5-2-6 in November.Only better month in the team's history was January 1979, when the record was 9-5-1.