Capital Centre spectators accustomed to rooting for the underdog will be confused tonight, because Washington's Dennis Maruk will be playing for the heavily favored Prince of Wales Conference in the 34th National Hockey League All-Star Game.
The opposing Campbell Conference features the most publicized player in the game, Edmonton center Wayne Gretzky, and a lot of young legs, with a team averaging only 23.4 years to the more experienced Wales' 25.5.
Minnesota Coach Glen Sonmor, who will guide the Campbell team, thinks the general scorn shown for the western teams could be a big point in the Campbell's favor, a useful bit of psych in a game that often lacks the intensity of a normal hockey game.
"A lot of eastern people say the eastern two divisions are so much tougher, and statistically they have a very good point," Sonmor said. "But I think they're mistaken when they say the Wales winner will be an almost automatic Stanley Cup champion.
"This game gives our players a chance to let hockey people know that we have some pretty good players and we play pretty good hockey in our conference, too.
"From the coaching aspect, it's just a privilege to be associated with this kind of talent. I remember when Wren Blair was coaching and he'd get mad and tell his players, 'Any five go out and tell me when they score.' In this game, I think I can say, 'Any five go out and tell me when we score.' "
Sonmor's big line will have his own Dino Ciccarelli and Edmonton's Mark Messier as the wingers for Gretzky, the man who has 69 goals and 152 points in 58 games.
Other Campbell units have Dale Hawerchuk, the youngest All-Star at 18, centering John Ogrodnick and Dave Taylor; Minnesota's Bobby Smith with Brian Sutter and Rick Vaive, and Al Secord and Don Lever flanking Denis Savard.
Wales Coach Al Arbour declined to name his lines, claiming he had not had time to work them out, but he did say his three New York Islanders--John Tonelli, Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy--would be together, as they have been in recent games while the Islanders have been winning nine in a row.
"They say you should have a checking line like a regular game, but I think in a game like this you should let them play and let the people all over North America know what talent they have," Arbour said.
The Wales' big edge is on defense, with a sextet of Randy Carlyle, the Norris Trophy winner; Larry Robinson, a two-time Norris recipient playing in his sixth all-star game, most among tonight's players; Rod Langway and Mike Ramsey, the only Americans in the contest; Barry Beck and Ray Bourque.
Rookie Grant Fuhr, 19, of Edmonton will share the Campbell goaltending duties with veteran Gilles Meloche. For the Wales, the netminders are Michel Dion, his head finally back to normal after he took Darren Veitch's shot on the mask Saturday, and Don Edwards.
Gretzky was the center of attention, as usual, yesterday and it was amusing to hear him say, "It's been kind of lonely the last couple of years. Now I've got some of the other guys (three other Oilers) along, though. The idea is to have fun and the best way to have fun is to win."
Maruk is playing in his second all-star game, having represented Cleveland in 1978. This is the seventh all-star game since Washington entered the NHL in 1974 and the Capitals have had different representatives each time: Denis Dupere, Bill Clement, Guy Charron, Bob Sirois, Robert Picard, Mike Gartner and Maruk. Only Dupere scored a point, getting an assist in 1975.
"Being named to an All-Star team is always a thrill, but this is something special," Maruk said. "My mother and father are here--they didn't make it last time--and I'm sure playing in front of the home crowd, I'll be all pumped up."
Faceoff is scheduled for 7:35 and a spokesman said a few seats were available as of last night. The teams' practices at Capital Centre today will be open to the public, with the Campbell workout set for 10 a.m. and the Wales for 11:30.