It might have been the first day of school, with medical checkups, copies of schedules to be studied and posing for yearbook pictures. "Will my mustache show?" wondered Alan Haworth, who spent all summer cultivating the fuzzy growth.
"Ready for another season?" That question was asked by almost every Washington Capital to every teammate, as training camp officially opened here today.
In between morning photo sessions and evening skating, players were gathering formally for the first time since most were shaking hands with the New York Islanders, who ousted them from last spring's playoffs.
"What's the difference this year? There's not all that moving," said defenseman Brian Engblom, one of the four Montreal players traded to Washington two days before last year's training camp.
Thirty-six of the 47 players present played for Washington last year; since last Sept. 10, only one, Dave Christian from Winnipeg, has been added from another NHL team. The rest have been affiliated with the Capitals' organization.
"What we want to do is be able to promote from within," said General Manager David Poile, stressing again the stability he wants for the franchise. "Of course, they have to show us what they can do to deserve it."
Poile, Coach Bryan Murray and the players seem visibly more relaxed this time. "We'll be trying more line combinations, taking time to look at what more people can do, instead of trying to get set too early," Murray said.
The Capitals will work through two weeks here, with no cuts until Sept. 25, when they break camp. Unsigned juniors will be returned to their own teams, and at least 26 players will participate in the club's first three exhibition games later this week.
"Every player will take part in games, either for the Hershey club or Washington," Poile said. "Last year we got down to 20 players by making choices that led to changes two weeks later. This time we want to be more open-minded, fair to more players."
The tempo of camp this year has moved up a beat, too. Instead of eight exhibition games, the Capitals play 11 times, only three at Hershey. The opposition this time includes such teams as the New York Rangers and Minnesota instead of New Jersey.
"Last year we sat around too much," Murray said. "Now we want to start the season ready." During the offseason, the Washington players worked on individual conditioning programs, and, in the last few weeks, several of them skated through impromptu skates at the club's new practice facility in Virginia.
Scott Stevens, last year an awed 18-year-old rookie, came into camp exuding the confidence that comes from a productive NHL season. He spent part of the summer power skating to stay in shape. "You skate around the rink on one leg, then on the other, and you really feel it in your thigh muscles," he said. "You're tired after that, but it helps you get ready to skate here."