Dave Parro has a tough assignment for himself this season: playing his way back into goal for the Washington Capitals.
Parro and six other goaltenders are in the Capitals' camp, but like the rest of the Washington roster, the goalie quota for this season's club will be filled by two players who performed well in the 1982-83 season.
"They (Capitals' management) have said the two guys from last year, Pat Riggin and Al Jensen, have their jobs guaranteed," said Parro, who spent most of last year with the club's Hershey team. "But I still believe I can do the job. It's just a question of performing well enough."
Indeed, with Riggin and Jensen returning to Washington, Parro is likely to begin the year with Hershey, and the remainder of the goaltender contingent--Peter Sidorkiewicz, Jamie Reeve, Alain Raymond and Marty Abrams--will probably be considered future stock for the Capitals and return to their junior clubs.
"Whether or not they get signed (at some point) depends on the kind of years they have there," said General Manager David Poile. "It was our philosophy to draft some goaltenders, and we will see how they develop."
Another prospect, Paul Ostby, the third goalie for the 1984 Olympic hockey team, is due in camp next week.
In keeping with his policy of stabilizing the club, Poile said he told last year's goalies they had the jobs, "because they played well, and because goaltender is a position you need to show a lot of confidence in.
"But yet, it's different this year. Both guys were told that last year our goaltending was good but not great," he said. "This year, ideally, for the team, I would like to see one of the two move a step up and be better than the other."
Last year, Jensen joined the team after Parro had difficulty coming back from a shoulder injury. "Al had been virtually written off as a good minor league goalie with maybe a possibility of being called up," Poile said. "Not too many people believed he was ready for the NHL. But there is no question that he has the skills to play here."
Poile credits Jensen with helping steer the Capitals back on course after a 2-6-1 start.
Jensen and Riggin split the duties almost equally, playing 40 and 38 games, respectively. Both came into camp this week in shape and confident of themselves and their teammates.
A year ago Riggin was concerned with establishing a more consistent level of play, and his attitude, one of more responsibility, hints that he will play more evenly this season.
"I had about four games last year where I may as well have stayed home, where I let the team down," he said. "But now, between the work ethic this team has, and the relaxed feeling we have (thanks to team stability), it's nice to reflect on how far we've come, and I want very much to be a part of it."
Poile's wish for one goaltender to become dominant stems from his feeling about successful hockey teams.
"We are quite cognizant of the fact that all the teams that are considered the top ones were or are blessed with a great goalie," Poile said. "Bernie Parent for the Flyers, Ken Dryden for Montreal, Gerry Cheevers in Boston, and of course, Billy Smith for the Islanders. They are all outstanding, and if our team is to develop and progress, Pat or Al will have to assert himself and become that top goalie."
Jensen agrees with Poile's assertion because "it's like a baseball pitcher. Seventy-five percent of games are won or lost because of the goalie. But I still think good, steady goaltending is part of it."
Jensen is playing his way through camp as if he must prove the job is his, and says the only way to improve is simply by learning a lot more.
The Capitals have ensured that the goaltenders will have an opportunity to learn. Warren Strelow, who was goalie coach of the 1980 Olympic team, and was once a U.S. national team goaltender, was hired to work strictly with the players in the nets.
"Goaltender is not a position most coaches are that familiar with unless they've been goalies themselves, and it's somewhat neglected," Poile said. "We're banking on him to have a positive effect on Riggin, Jensen, and some of the younger kids. Because if you don't have quality goaltendeing, you can't win regardless of how many star defensemen or forwards you have."
Twenty-six of the Capitals in camp will leave Hershey for a three-game road trip beginning Thursday night at Toronto, followed by two games with the Minnesota North Stars in Kitchener and London, Ontario, Friday and Saturday . . . The smallest-ever Capitals camp is also the most tightly structured, with little time between skating sessions . . . The Red team, coached by Rod Langway, Riggin, Doug Jarvis and Mike Gartner, met the White team coached by Jensen, Brian Engblom, Ken Houston and Jay Johnston, today in what Poile referred to as "the most important game of the season, so far." The White team won, 8-5.