The foreign relations obstacles that threatened to keep right wing Peter Bondra from playing for the Washington Capitals this season apparently have been overcome.
Jack Button, the Capitals' director of player personnel and recruitment, has reached an agreement with the Czechoslovakian hockey federation that will allow Bondra to play this season. From Vienna, Button relayed the news to Coach Terry Murray late Tuesday night.
"He spoke with the Czech hockey federation and all of the details have been worked out with the federation, so the release is set," Murray said yesterday before the Capitals left for their exhibition game last night against Buffalo in Albany, N.Y. "Peter Bondra is free to play for the Washington Capitals."
Bondra was the top scorer on his Czech team, Kosice, with whom he had a contract that ran through 1999. The Capitals were hoping to avoid paying a transfer fee, but an agreement with a foreign team and its federation probably involved one.
Capitals General Manager David Poile could not be reached for comment.
Bondra and Jiri Vykoukal arrived in Washington in late August and each signed a three-year contract with the Capitals. Vykoukal, who is just 19 and will play for the Baltimore Skipjacks, had no contractual obligations to his former team, Sparta Praha. The case was different, however, with Bondra and Kosice.
Bondra and the Capitals argued the Kosice contract was invalid because it was signed when Czechoslovakia was run by a repressive government that prevented players from leaving the country. However, the NHL has agreements with foreign hockey federations to honor contracts, and, according to the Capitals, the NHL rejected Bondra's deal with the Capitals.
League President John Ziegler could not be reached for comment. However, the NHL generally has approved contracts of foreign players once an NHL team and the federation of the country involved have reached an agreement.
"He's happy everything is worked out," Michal Pivonka said, translating for Bondra after practice yesterday. "He knows he's got a chance to play for the first team, and he will play as well as he can and try to make the team."
Bondra, by birth a Ukrainian (and thus a Soviet citizen), arrived here speaking almost no English. With help from translator Paul Pechacek, Pivonka and English courses, he seems to be learning quickly. In practice, he watches a drill, falls in line and follows suit. In the locker room, players have taught him a few phrases that allow him to participate in what passes for snappy repartee.
Bondra has a good chance to make the squad. Although he has room for improvement defensively, he has speed few Capitals can match.
"He has natural instincts that I can't teach -- the reaction to the puck, jumping into holes and being a goal scorer," Murray said. "It is a gift and he has it. I'm not going to reign him in, though there are a few guidelines he has to play with." Ciccarelli Is Sore
Right wing Dino Ciccarelli did not practice yesterday because of a sore hip flexor. He may skate again Friday and could play in the final exhibition game Saturday night in Baltimore. "It's not a major concern, but it's better to take off a few days now," Murray said.