(Fan 1: "Geez, he's big. He's even bigger than (former New Haven Nighthawk Rick) Chartraw."

Fan 2: "Yeah, but what good is it if he won't use it?" By Angus Phillips Washington Post Staff Writer

NEW HAVEN, Conn., Feb. 6--Paying customers of the American Hockey League have welcomed Paul Mulvey, all 6 feet 3 and 220 pounds of him, back to the inhospitable world of professional hockey.

Twelve days after he rocked the foundations of the National Hockey League by refusing his coach's direct order to fight an opponent, Mulvey found himself puffing and wheezing before 3,389 Nighthawk partisans at the New Haven Coliseum Friday night. If he proved anything by his performance against the Fredericton Express, it's that 12 days off the ice does a hockey player no good.

Mulvey is down in the minors, the victim of his own conscience, but he appears to have bypassed despair.

His new coach, Nick Beverley, a 12-year NHL veteran himself, seems convinced that the key to relieving tension is hard work. He has Mulvey practicing mornings and playing evenings, leaving no time for moping.

Mulvey, a handsome 23-year-old with dark eyes as gentle as a deer's, wants to put national notoriety behind him. On Thursday, he stood before a bank of microphones and told umpteen reporters for the umpteenth time how he rejected his NHL marching orders, and why. Said Beverley, "He was so tense the words just came pouring out."

That done, Mulvey thought he could forget the Jan. 24 incident when he said "no" to Los Angeles Kings Coach Don Perry. Mulvey wants to get back to his business, which is trying to play his way back into the NHL. But does the NHL want Paul Mulvey?

This morning, after his workout, Mulvey, who played from 1978 until 1981 for the Washington Capitals, had this to say: "Ability-wise, I'm average. But when I'm tough and doing my job, I think I can last in the NHL."

But Perry has made it clear he does not want Mulvey back on his team. Since the Nighthawks are a Los Angeles farm, that makes for difficulties. He would have to find another home as long as Perry stays.

Glenn Goldup, an eight-year NHL veteran and captain of the Nighthawks, said he wonders if there will ever be another NHL home for Mulvey. "I thought about it myself," Goldup said, "and I really have no idea. The fact that he passed waivers (before coming down to New Haven) means something. Is it because no one needed a left winger? Is it because they feel he can't play? Or are they blackballing him?"

What bugged Mulvey on the night of Jan. 24, he said today, was not that he was expected to help a teammate in trouble on the ice, but that he was being specifically instructed "not to leave the bench to help, but to go out and fight someone."

Mulvey said his instructions came before the incident grew into a bench-clearing brawl between the Kings and Vancouver Canucks. About 10 players were hanging onto each other, Mulvey said, when Perry told him, "You better be ready, and I don't want you to dance."

Mulvey had a "gut reaction" against the order, he said, and when Perry told him to go over the boards, in direct conflict with NHL rules, he didn't budge. Eventually he joined the fray, he said, wrapping up Canuck Ron Delorme, but it was too late. He'd balked at his orders.

Mulvey felt he was being typecast as an enforcer or "goon" by his new coach, who left New Haven to take over the Kings Jan. 13. "He obviously felt that that was in my game plan," Mulvey said. Not so.

"I consider myself a good, tough hockey player," said the former Capital, "one that will stick up for my teammates and get good hits when I can, to slow the other club down and change the momentum. That's what I've tried to be.

"In Washington, I tried to look after Mike Gartner, to protect him and look after my linemates; to play good, strong hockey in the corners and along the boards. It's that simple.

"If there's a fight and someone is getting hurt, or if we're at uneven strength in a fight, I would say to myself, 'Geez, I better get out there and help.' But that's not what my instructions were (from Perry).

"There's a fine line," Mulvey said.

According to Goldup, Mulvey is a typical sort of player. "He's a worker, a workhorse. These are the guys that make up the rest of the league," as opposed to superstars. And according to Goldup, there is no shortage of "rest-of-the-league" type p ayers. If one of them displeases management, it's no great loss to send him down. "That's the position I'm in myself," said Goldup.

So while the swirls and eddies of national controversy whip around, Mulvey is trying to get back in shape and avoid more stressful encounters with newshounds. It's no fun for him, particularly when he is made out to be the darling of liberals who would see all violence banished from pro hockey.

"If they see me as a hero, that's silly," said Mulvey, relaxing in jeans and denim jacket before tonight's bus ride to Springfield for a game.

"Basically, I did it for a gut reaction and that was it. The same circumstances would have happened eventually to someone else and it would have come out the same way. It's just that Perry went to the media. I wish it could have just stayed between him and me."

For his trouble, Perry won himself a $5,000 fine, a 15-day suspension and the continuing support of the Kings.

And Mulvey found himself in trouble. "It was the hardest thing in my life, this last week," he said.

On June 12, he will marry Kerri Reynolds of Springfield, Va., whom he met a couple of years ago at then-teammate Robert Picard's wedding in Washington. Reynolds has been with him through his ordeal. "When I was weak and confused and didn't know what to do," said Mulvey, "she held the pieces together."

Now support is coming from other directions. After the Fredericton game, which the Nighthawks won, 8-4, Harold Phillipoff, an enforcer on the Express, stopped to pat Mulvey on the back. "He just told me, 'Good job; you did the right thing,' that they're all behind me," said Mulvey.