Although he will be wearing a Washington uniform, Ted Bulley expects to hear generous applause tonight when he skates onto the Chicago Stadium ice, where he spent the past five seasons in the Indian head jersey of the host Black Hawks.
"Those are great fans in Chicago," Bulley said. "They never booed me once in five years. They really back their team. Even as a visitor, I don't think I'll be booed.
"It was tough to leave Chicago and I've been thinking about the first game back since the day I came here. I'm nervous. I don't know what it's going to be like on the visiting side."
Bulley came to Washington with defenseman Dave Hutchison in August, for a fifth-round draft choice in the last deal engineered by Roger Crozier before he was fired as the Capitals' general manager. Hutchison later moved on to New Jersey in the waiver draft.
Bulley had to battle his way onto the club in training camp and was a tentative fourth-line left wing for a while. He recorded the Capitals' first goal of the season in New York and has not scored since.
For his homecoming, however, Coach Bryan Murray has given Bulley maximum opportunity to shine. Murray has shifted him to the No. 1 line, alongside Bengt Gustafsson and Mike Gartner.
"I know Ted really wants to do well in Chicago and he adds toughness to that line," Murray said. "I'm assuming we'll get a real good game out of him."
"Playing with Gus and Garts reminds me of playing with Tim Higgins and Denis Savard," Bulley said of two Black Hawk standouts. "Garts can fly and Gus is great with the puck. I hope we can get something going. You don't want to come here and wear a different-colored jersey (on a different line) every day at practice.
"I'm finding it a little harder adjusting here than I expected. Part of it is the atmosphere outside. Chicago is cold and the city is hockey-oriented, one of the original six. Here it's Nov. 3 and it's 85 degrees. It's more golf weather than hockey. And with 14 new guys, it's taken a while to grasp the system. Now, I think we're a lot more disciplined than we were when the season started."
Although he left part of his heart in Chicago, Bulley has no complaints either with General Manager Bob Pulford for trading him or with the Washington fans who have been slow to accept him and many of the other new faces.
"When I came up to Chicago six years ago, it was in the middle of a change, because they had older guys like Dennis Hull, Stan Mikita and Pit Martin winding up their careers," Bulley said. "Then, three years ago, when the underage draft came in, Chicago had a lot of picks and you knew they were looking at those guys for two or three years down the road.
"Even though we went to the Stanley Cup semifinals last year, there has been a big turnover, with six or seven guys gone. And you sure can't fault them, because they're playing well.
"As much as I didn't want to leave Chicago, hockey is my life and this move will prolong my career. I had finished my option year, I wasn't playing much and I didn't expect to be back.
"I just hope we can win some games and get the people turned on. If 12,000 people can make that much noise, I'd like to hear it when the Centre is full."
Pat Riggin will be the Capitals' goalie tonight. Murray felt he was sharper than Al Jensen at yesterday's practice . . . Chicago has lost only twice in its first 12 games and just completed a three-game West Coast swing in which it tied Edmonton, Vancouver and Los Angeles.