A year ago, right wing Bobby Gould was chosen the Washington Capitals' "unsung hero."
Now, since Gould was cited as the full-time player with the fewest minuses in the National Hockey League at midseason, his praises are being sung widely and he is considered a leading candidate for the Frank Selke Trophy, presented to the "forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game."
Gould owns a plus-18 rating, best among the Capitals, despite the fact that he and linemates Gaetan Duchesne and Glen Currie regularly go up against the opposition's best offensive units.
Gould has been on the ice for only 22 opponents' goals this season, while scoring 19 himself. Five of the 19 were game-winners, including a sensational score late in a 3-1 victory at Philadelphia, when he took Bengt Gustafsson's pass, cut through the slot and beat Pelle Lindbergh with a drive just under the crossbar.
There are other memories of Gould moves, plays more associated with flashy playmakers than with grind-it-out forwards. In Quebec, Gould was deprived of a hat trick after he successively faked out two Nordique defenders, because his maneuvers left him so close to the goalie that his sharply angled shot went inches over the crossbar.
It was Gould's sensational move past Vancouver defenseman Jiri Bubla and subsequent feed to Currie that produced the tying goal in Friday's 2-1 victory over the Canucks. Saturday, as the clock wound down toward a tie in Los Angeles, Gould put an artful fake on defender Jerry Korab, only to have the puck knocked off his stick as he shot.
"I thought Bobby was going to win it for us," said Coach Bryan Murray. "He has a lot more offensive ability than I thought. He's going to learn and improve even more in that area. He has a couple of moves that really open things up for him.
"He's certainly well worth what we paid to get him from Calgary--a second-round draft pick. He's one of the most responsible and good defensive wingers in the league. He's as good as anybody on the boards--and certainly our best. He compares to Guy Lafleur in our end, the way he gets the puck off the boards and gets it moving."
Gould, 25, had played only 20 NHL games and was languishing in Oklahoma City when the Capitals pried him away from Calgary in November 1981. If he is a late bloomer, it is because he followed the advice of his high-school teachers in Petrolia, Ontario, and obtained a degree from the University of New Hampshire--where he was a teammate of Rod Langway--rather than taking the quicker junior hockey route to the NHL.
After graduation in 1979, Gould signed with the Flames, who had drafted him in the seventh round two years earlier, and began a tour of minor-league affiliates in Tulsa, Birmingham, Fort Worth and Oklahoma City.
"The first year I knew in training camp I'd be sent to the minors," Gould said. "But the second year I thought I'd have a chance and I didn't. I was frustrated the whole season when they kept me down, but by luck I did get to play in the playoffs.
"I started out great last year, with a hat trick against St. Louis, but the Flames were losing and my ice time slowed down. It became a mind game, whether you'd play tonight or not, and I lost my confidence. They had to make changes and I was pretty happy to come to Washington."
Gould quickly earned a reputation as a tireless checker, but he also contributed 18 goals in 60 games with Washington. This season he has continued to improve in both areas and it is no accident that his line, reunited in Vancouver after a two-game breakup, has accounted for 13 of the Capitals' 29 game-winning goals.
"One stat I look at is the plus-minus," Gould said. "I want to be a plus player. Gaets and Kid (Currie) and I all have to be two-way hockey players and concentrate on keeping the other team from scoring. Our goals have been a bonus.
"As the game gets tighter, we seem to get more ice time and being out there in important spots we get the chance to score big goals. We can all score if the opportunities come, but we don't give up anything defensively.
"In college to get noticed you have to be a scorer, so I leaned toward offense there. But even at that time I worked hard on defense, because I always figured to make it to the NHL I had to be a two-way hockey player. I knew I wouldn't be a 50-goal scorer."
As far as the Capitals are concerned, 20 goals will be just fine, so long as the rest of his play continues to be as good as Gould.