Mostly, Milan Novy communicates by nods, smiles and hand signals that would do a third base coach proud. He has been a member of the Washington Capitals and a resident of the United States exactly three weeks, after giving up a successful hockey career in Czechoslovakia for a shot at the National Hockey League.
If his command of the English language is scant, Novy's hockey skills require no translation. He has played for the Czech national team in two Olympics and two Canada Cup tournaments. A playmaker, schooled in the passing game, Novy scored twice on power plays and had an assist in his squad's scrimmage today.
"On the ice, there is no problem," said Coach Bryan Murray. "He's picked up drills, never messes up his lines. An unselfish kind of player.
"He came to me and said, 'Mr. Murray, you coach, me play.' But away from the ice, he's a stranger to the whole social situation. We have to remember that."
On opening day of training camp, Novy's medical form had to be completed, basically, by sign language. As far as the Capitals can determine, he's never been injured.
Novy must be frustrated and perhaps confused by the chaos that is training camp's first week. Players move through a minimaze of weight training, locker room and ice time. They yell good natured insults and turn up the dressing room stereo so loud that workers outside Hersheypark Arena can hear Bob Seger singing, "You're still the same."
Novy skates, works out and sometimes sits quietly, observing his new teammates. He tries to cope with the situation at hand. Speak to him in English, slowly enough, and he can comprehend a question.
His roommate is center Bengt Gustafsson, who does not speak Novy's language. Actually, no one in camp speaks Novy's language.
"Sometimes I feel kind of sorry for him," said General Manager Dave Poile. "You want to talk to him, and you find yourself saying things louder (in English) as if louder will help him understand better." Poile said an English tutor probably will work with Novy to speed his education.
Mike Gartner has little trouble communicating with Novy. "I drove up here (from Washington) with him, and we talked. A lot of hand signs, but he can get his point across," he said.
Novy is willing to test an idea in English now and then. A tennis devotee, he was keenly interested in Ivan Lendl's play in last week's U.S. Open. Pantomining a serve, he said, "Connors better. Lendl not hit."
Does Novy play tennis? "Some. No time." Indeed, this training camp schedule, heavy with competition, has Novy a touch tired at the moment, and he's reserving his energy for hockey. But he is used to a rigorous regimen of hockey.
Back home, he said, hockey's season filled most of the year. "Only break, six weeks," he said. "Here is better." He is interested in the fate of his fellow countrymen, Quebec's Stastny brothers, who did not report to the Nordiques' camp. "Bucks," Novy said with a grin. "Stastnys want bucks."
Although Murray is not sure where Novy will play, he has paired him with aspiring players. "They can learn a lot from him," he said.
Gartner agrees that Novy is an asset. "He does the hockey part by instinct," he said. "We communicate pretty well on the ice. Of course, I don't know if he goes back to his room and talks to himself. But he won't have to do that for long."