The unusual rivalry between Pat Riggin and Al Jensen will enter its second decade tonight when the two goaltenders divide duty in the Washington Capitals' nets during an 8 o'clock Capital Centre exhibition against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Each will be rooting for the other to hold the Flyers scoreless. Yet each will be hoping that he himself looks a little better in doing so. The stakes are the No. 1 job, carrying with it prestige and considerable extra work.
"You always want the team to win, but you want to be the guy who's doing most of the winning," Riggin said. "Al and I keep each other honest. I'm looking forward to a good start, but if something happens, it's good to know you can depend on your partner. Al and I have worked well as partners, because it seems that when one is hurt or going bad, the other guy has come up big."
It is only since Riggin joined the Capitals in 1982 that the rivalry has been on such a friendly level. It was much more spirited when it began in the mid-1970s in junior B competition in Ontario, with Riggin playing for London and Jensen for Hamilton.
After they moved up to junior A for the 1976-77 season, Riggin was the OHA's first-team all-star that year, and Jensen settled for the second team. But the following season there was a role reversal; Jensen, the OHA's No. 1 man, led the Hamilton Fincups to the Memorial Cup and Riggin was rated No. 2.
Afterward, Riggin moved underage to the World Hockey Association and became an NHL goalie in Atlanta and Calgary. Jensen, after fighting oblivion in the Detroit organization, preceded Riggin to Washington by 11 months. They have been dueling for the No. 1 job here ever since.
In 1983-84, Jensen was voted the starting goalie on the Prince of Wales all-star team, but a back injury forced him out and Riggin came to the rescue. At season's end, they shared the Jennings Trophy for best goals-against average in the NHL, Riggin ranking first and Jensen third individually.
Last season, Riggin carried the load while Jensen struggled with knee problems, and the result was second place in the Jennings competition behind Buffalo.
"Pat and I came up together and it's been a battle between us for years," Jensen said. "It's competitive and it's a good rivalry. We both have to work hard. I know he's a good goaltender and if I want to be No. 1, I have to work hard all the time.
"Even though you want to be the top man, you've got to be a team player and root for the other guy. In order for any goaltender to be recognized, your team has to win. That comes first. Individual goals are secondary."
Teamwork came to the fore during last year's playoffs, when Riggin was affected by dizzy spells and played only the first and fifth games against the New York Islanders, with Jensen in the net for the middle three.
"I was real sick in New York one night and played, anyway, and it more or less gutted me," Riggin said. "I never regained my strength. I had a bad cold in the playoffs and I was having dizzy spells. If there was an intense play on the ice and I'd get backed up, I got dizzy.
"I told them I could play, but Al was doing a pretty handy job himself -- he was great in that 2-1 double overtime. (Coach) Bryan (Murray) and Al and I talked about it and worked out who would play which games."
They yielded only 14 goals in the five games, but the Capitals scored just 12 and New York won. The result left both goalies feeling empty, but Riggin at least got the chance to play for Canada in the world championships in Czechoslovakia. He played superbly, beat the Soviets and came home with a silver medal.
"It was a great experience and now I feel more confident going into the season," Riggin said. "I've played the Russians three times now and I haven't lost (two victories and a tie). Not many can say that. It helped me get over the playoffs, because I wasn't ready to be done with hockey when the Islanders put us out . . . "
There was one negative aspect of the trip, however. After Riggin beat Team USA, he made some remarks that were construed as anti-American, with resulting feedback from fans here.
"I worried all summer about what I said and what I was supposed to have said," Riggin said. "There was a bad choice of words on my part and I think a lot of it was taken out of context . . .
"I can't really blame people for being upset, though. I'm going to have to get off to an excellent start to get the fans behind me again."
A power failure at Mount Vernon Ice Rink forced the cancellation of yesterday morning's practice session. The players did not get on the ice until 2:45 p.m., which means they will have only two full days of practice behind them when they face the Flyers tonight.
The Capitals and Flyers also will play a rookie game at Capital Centre today at 3. Anyone with a ticket to the night game may come early and watch it.