The last time Wayne Gretzky played at Capital Centre, on Jan. 1, he scored the game-winning goal in the Los Angeles Kings' 7-4 victory over the Washington Capitals. He also received two roughing penalties for retaliating against the physical and verbal assaults of Neil Sheehy.

Sheehy was at Capital Centre yesterday, maneuvering on a walking cast instead of crutches. He said he expects to be skating by mid-December and back in action as quickly thereafter as possible.

"I'm excited every morning when I get up, because it means I'm one day closer to getting back out there," Sheehy said.

Gretzky, asked about the condition of his tormentor, said he was pleased Sheehy was recovering on schedule, but added he would not miss him on the ice tonight. "I've seen too much of him already," Gretzky said.

Sheehy recalled: "Last year, I distracted him, he got two penalties and I was never out against him the rest of the game. We had a three-goal lead and lost. I was sour after that one."

Injured center Peter Zezel and goalie Don Beaupre were on hand, too. Zezel has an ankle so severely sprained he must wear a cast for three weeks before even thinking about rehabilitation. Beaupre's groin-muscle pull will keep him out at least two weeks.

"I got a good deal from Sheehy on crutch rental," Zezel said.

"I've got the wrong roommates," said Beaupre, who rooms with Zezel on the road and shares an apartment with Alan May, who has been out of action for two weeks with an injured hand and still cannot grip a stick well enough to play.

Beaupre insisted his absence from training camp had nothing to do with the injury he suffered while moving across the goalmouth in Vancouver Tuesday.

"That had nothing to do with it," he said. "I had played for three weeks without any problems. It was a freak thing, the same as I hurt it in the playoffs last year. It was just the way I moved. But it's tough to come in and work so hard after missing the start of camp, get it going and then have this happen."

One man's misfortune, of course, is another's gift. For goalie Jim Hrivnak, summoned from Baltimore to replace Beaupre, the call was a welcome one and Hrivnak could only smile when Beaupre said: "You owe me one."

Hrivnak had been scheduled to leave Saturday on a 10-game, 20-day trip with the Baltimore Skipjacks that will take the farm club as far as Sydney, Nova Scotia. Instead, Olaf Kolzig was promoted from Hampton Roads of the East Coast League for that chore.

"It's nice to miss a road trip like that," Hrivnak said. "But there are positives and negatives. I would have played a lot of games. I hope I get to play here."

Coach Terry Murray indicated Hrivnak might get the starting role in Saturday's game against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

Dino Ciccarelli skated yesterday for the first time since he suffered a fractured thumb Oct. 20. He said it was strictly for conditioning; he cannot play until mid-December.