There is a National Hockey League division that bears his surname, and his cousin is general manager of the New York Rangers. His grandfather built that team nearly 60 years ago. His father and uncle played for and coached the Rangers.

With all that hockey clinging to the family tree, why would Dick Patrick eschew life among the sticks and skates for a legal practice?

"Mostly because I was encouraged to get an education, and back then, college and hockey didn't go together," he said. But at 35, Patrick is ready to make his first official foray into hockey.

Patrick was introduced by Abe Pollin, owner of the Capitals, two weeks ago as one of four potential investors in the club. Patrick and his associates will buy 50 percent of the team if specific conditions are met by Aug. 19. Maryland businessman Albert Turner, Patrick, attorney Jim Lewis and Marty Irving, his partners in a Virginia real estate development company, will make the deal if the Capitals can sell 7,500 season tickets, sell out their first 10 home games, get a rent reduction on Capital Centre and obtain a tax decrease from Prince George's County.

"I'd rather call them goals than conditions," said Patrick, who said he is hazy on just how those specifics evolved during discussions among his associates and Pollin. Patrick isn't even sure just how things reached this point, although he admits he and Pollin have a number of mutual business acquaintances.

Earlier this summer, when Pollin announced he was seeking investors for the Capitals, Patrick's name was mentioned. So were Eric Sevareid; former Capitals coach Gary Green; a Virginia Cadillac dealer; Ed Rabel, a CBS reporter; Art Kaminsky, a New York agent-attorney, and about anyone else with more than $3.98 in a checking account.

Like all the others, Patrick professed he was not buying the Capitals. "We (my business partners and I) have talked about someday maybe buying into a sports team," he said at the time. "But right now, no."

What changed Patrick's mind about investing in a franchise that has lost more than $20 million?

"My interest is in the hockey team itself. I'd like to see it stay here," he said. "Certainly, all the citizen support for the team started us thinking. We all look at it as a business deal, yes, but I'm sure everyone has investment deals that could be more prudent. But if everything happens right, this team will be a solid investment."

Patrick talked the deal over with his father, Muzz Patrick, and his cousin Craig, now running the Rangers. "They both thought it sounded positive," he said. Craig Patrick could be slightly biased; he used to play for the Capitals.

Of his cousin, Craig says, "He's someone I respect and look up to, even though we're the same age. He's been tremendously successful in what he's done, and I think he's suited for business. Hockey too, because in our family, it was a topic all year long. You understand more about it, growing up with the game."

Dick Patrick doesn't play the game any more, although he did at Dartmouth, and says he probably qualifies for "the old men's league now." But if all works out with the Capitals, he'll serve as sounding board for Abe Pollin on hockey matters.

He does not foresee a major role for himself with the team.

"It (his part) hasn't been defined yet," he said, reluctant to discuss it. "Hockey wouldn't take up much of my time, since I intend to continue in what I'm doing now. But Abe did ask if I'd act as his consultant, and I'd want to do whatever I could on the management-owner level."

It would be nothing new for Patrick. His cousin Craig frequently phones for his opinions on trade possibilities.

"There's no conflict with him, because I wasn't involved in hockey anywhere else," Dick Patrick said. "Of course, with the Caps deal, I guess that could change."

The Washington Capitals will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. today to announce their status halfway into the team's 30-day countdown.

Owner Abe Pollin said two weeks ago that if the four conditions set by potential investors were not met within 30 days, the team would be sold and moved, merged with another team or disbanded.

Through yesterday afternoon, the team had sold 4,571 season tickets and 13,375 individual ones.