After the bus carrying the Washington Capitals had been stalled in the rain for 40 minutes on the Trans-Canada Highway near Drummondville, Quebec, Monday night, rookie Bobby Carpenter yelled, "Okay, the joke's over. Get moving."
Five minutes later, the driver, Denis Langlois, managed to turn over his flooded engine, and eventually the team rolled into Quebec City, the weather-battered capital of the province of Quebec, at 10:50 p.m., 6 hours 50 minutes late.
It was one more example, should any be needed, of the folly of any youngster who follows the credo: "Play hockey and see the world."
Monday, following the victory over the Rangers the night before, the team was in high spirits as it filed aboard a bus at a midtown New York hotel at 11:30 a.m., with an itinerary that put it in Quebec 4 1/2 hours later. Before the bus departed, however, it was learned that an ice storm in Montreal had made a shambles of flight schedules, and Air Canada 745 had been reset for 2 p.m., rather than 12:40.
It took off at 3:10 and, after a tour of the skies over Montreal, landed at 5. There was no need for concern over the earlier connection to Quebec City, because the Quebec airport had been shut all day by ice.
When the equipment finally cleared customs and was loaded aboard a much-too-small bus, it was past 6. A "quick" stop was made at a "Poulet frit a la Kentucky" store. The lone cook was overwhelmed by the order for 30 chicken dinners, and it was 7 before this substitute for Quebec's famed cuisine could be distributed to unappreciative diners.
Langlois sang along with his radio music, while hecklers pleaded for silence. The bus plowed through water on the road until suddenly, about halfway into the 140-mile journey, it rolled to a stop.
While Langlois fiddled with the engine, then accepted a passing motorist's ride to a nearby store to phone for another bus, Crozier and Assistant Coach Yvon Labre calmed a fuming Coach Bryan Murray.
Langlois returned with the news, greeted by groans, that a replacement bus would be along in 90 minutes, then said, "That's my first time I stop like that in 28 years." Of course, in 28 years, he had never driven the Capitals.
While Langlois was gone, the flooded engine had settled to the point that it soon caught, making Carpenter something of a Wunderkind, and the trip resumed after Murray quickly dispelled Langlois' initial notion that he should wait for the replacement bus.
Murray rationalized the journey into a motivational tool: "Thank God this is our only trip here this year. I'm going to tell these guys tomorrow that if they screw up, they can come up here regularly in the American League (to snowbound Fredericton and Moncton, New Brunswick, and Halifax, Nova Scotia)."
Veteran Capital watchers compared this trip with others taken during eight years of glamorous big-league travel.
There was the flight from Vancouver to Edmonton, when the plane, struck by lightning earlier in the day, was forced to return a few minutes short of the halfway point. After taking a replacement aircraft, the team went straight to the rink in Edmonton, just in time to play.
Just a week and a half ago, the club left on a one-day trip to Buffalo, many players without a change of clothes, and got home five days later after fog canceled the Washington flight and sent the team on to Pittsburgh ahead of schedule.
Labre, experienced in adversity, produced the verdict, if not the last word: "This was the greatest."