Their hours are long and decidedly unglamorous. On a rainy midweek morning, when the aroma from the nearby chocolate factory is assaulting the nostrils, the Washington Capitals are straggling into Hersheypark Arena, getting ready to struggle through the first of the day's two practices.
"Day 12 for the hostages," said one player.
Weighing in, with such yelps as "Four pounds!", the Capitals make their way through some specified stretching exercises. "Stretch first, then ice," Milan Novy said. Novy, Washington's newly imported Czech center, may not know much English, but he understands training camp. "Tired, tired," is his frequent response to, "How are you?"
But players expect to spend these days between summer and the season in a state of perpetual sweat. "All training camps are the same. You're working to get yourself into shape for the year," said Doug Jarvis, whose other preseasons have been in Montreal. "It's work, it's hard, and it's supposed to be."
"Either you're sleeping, eating or playing hockey," Mike Gartner said after a limbering-up session. "Not in that order, of course, but you're either doing one or the other. Being on the ice four or five hours a day, the only thing you want to do is rest when you can. You can't even think much."
Actually, the only thinking necessary is on the ice. With camp now split into Washington and Hershey troops, Coach Bryan Murray is working with a lineup similar to the one that will skate at Capital Centre this year. He expects to see more offensive hustle and a more coordinated power play than the one that sputtered (four goals for 27 tries) in last weekend's games.
"We're spending mornings skating the whole group, then in the afternoons we'll break down into special teams," he said. "We can devote an hour, hour and a half, to penalty killing or power plays."
In the early sessions, all the Capitals circle the ice, picking up the tempo with each lap. Each line and defensive group works the puck up and down the ice in shoot-and-pass drills, while goalies hunker down like catchers, fighting off bucketfuls of shots.
Near the end of the workout, Murray shouts, "Take a light skate," and players zoom around the rink before heading for a quick shower. A short break for lunch -- a Wendy's here does more business than the New York Stock Exchange -- and they're back on ice again.
"Sure, you're always tired, and your body is drained," Gartner said. "The first few days of camp, you'd see guys playing tennis over at the hotel at night. Now look at the empty courts. Nobody much has the energy."
In one afternoon drill, Gartner and Bobby Carpenter, acting as defensemen, carry their sticks wrong end up, thus forced to defend with their bodies. But winger Ted Bulley "scores" a goal through the traffic, and Murray says, "You've got two goals, Ted? We'll get you 25 before camp is over."
If the players seem good-natured, the work is tedious and tough. A single Capitals practice makes Jane Fonda's workout book look like a guide for sedentary living.
"You couldn't do this over an extended period," Gartner said. "Your mind would start to go."
Craig Laughlin leans his stick against a table, swallows a cupful of water and dumps another one over his head. "Just another day at the office," he says, grinning.
Washington's roster is thinning. Goalies Robbie Moore and Al Jensen have moved to the Hershey lineup and center Jimmy McGeough has been sent to Nanaimo of the Western Hockey League . . . Scott Stevens skated Wednesday, but complained of tenderness in his hip; he suffered a hip pointer against Hartford Sunday . . . The Capitals begin a weekend series with the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight in Baltimore (7:30, Civic Center); the teams will play in Johnstown, Pa., Saturday, and in Hershey Sunday.