A kid growing up in Canada might root for Toronto, if he lives in the neighborhood, yet he yearns to skate for Montreal. Playing in the Forum, where championship banners hang from the rafters like a week's worth of laundry, "is an awesome experience."

So says Doug Jarvis, who spent seven years in a Montreal sweater and many more seasons savoring the Canadiens' winning tradition.

"I lived in Brantford (Ont.), west of Toronto, but cheered for Montreal, always," he says. At the moment, Jarvis is adjusting to his new identity as a Washington Capital, a transition that may take a bit of time.

"There is so much pride and tradition throughout the (Montreal) organization because it has been around so long," he said. "You've heard about guys like Yvan Cournoyer and Jacques Lemaire, then there you are in the same dressing room with them."

At the thought of Montreal's wealth of hockey tradition, Jarvis' normally serious face creased in a slow smile. "It (playing there) really lived up to all my expectations," he said.

Jarvis, defensemen Rod Langway and Brian Engblom and left wing Craig Laughlin were traded to the Capitals in exchange for Ryan Walter and defenseman Rick Green less than two weeks ago.

Their on-ice presence provides a much-needed dose of credibility for Washington, and the former Canadiens' association with pride and victory is expected to help the club in subtle ways.

"I'm sure the great winning tradition has just been built up, developed over the last 50 or 60 years," Jarvis said. "A player has always had to earn his way into the organization. There's been a policy of breaking in the new fellows slowly."

With the luxury of developing home-bred talent gradually, Montreal groomed new recruits outside the Forum, bringing up youngsters only when their skills proved them ready.

"Up till a couple years ago, when you joined you went straight to Nova Scotia (Montreal's farm club)," said Jarvis. "Not so much anymore, and maybe that's a sign that the depth isn't there as much now. And with all the trades lately, maybe the pressure is on because they haven't won the Stanley Cup in three years."

Laughlin, who spent half of last season with Montreal, wasn't thrilled with the Canadiens' way of handling new blood. "You might get a chance to play, but if you make a mistake, you sit down for five or six games," he said. "How can you learn like that? The confidence comes in play, not practice. It really didn't help new players."

When Langway, from Boston, arrived in Montreal for the 1978-79 season, he was happy "just to be able to practice with (Guy) Lafleur and (Larry) Robinson," whom he had previously known only as names engraved on the Stanley Cup.

"They, meaning Montreal, make an average player look better because of the quality of play," he said. "When I got a chance to be a regular, I knew I was a good player."

But Langway sees Montreal falling on rough times. "A few years ago, Montreal always had plenty of draft picks. They could tease a team with a veteran forward or defenseman and get something for the future out of it," he said. "They just kept rolling over those draft picks. But now everybody hangs onto draft choices. That's the way the Islanders have grown strong."

Not to say that Les Canadiens are no longer special. "Some guys think it's just as good to sit out in Montreal as it is to play any other place," Langway said. "It's a tough place to play."

Goalie Dave Parro, recovering from a bruised shoulder, skated today in full pads and faced shots . . . Alan Haworth skated Monday, but apparently aggravated his injured right ankle and skipped this morning's work.

Tickets for the Capitals' regular-season games will go on sale today at 10 a.m. Seats are priced at $12.50, $10.50 and $7.