Alfie Turcotte sat waiting, wringing his hands, like the expectant father he was until about 10 days ago. But this time he was waiting for a meeting with Coach Terry Murray after the Washington Capitals' optional practice yesterday at Mount Vernon Recreation Center.
Turcotte has had lots of such meetings in a star-crossed career that everyone thought was going to be so bright when it began. But that was many trips back to the minors and a long time ago.
"I wish I had scored last night. I wouldn't have to sweat it so much," Turcotte said of the two scoring chances he had in the Capitals' 3-1 victory in Pittsburgh.
Turcotte's concerns about being sent back to Baltimore were relatively muted. The scar tissue from past disappointments protects him from too much pain. "My first two years were impossible," Turcotte said the other day.
Born in Gary, Ind., Turcotte grew up near Detroit, spending much of his time playing hockey. His father is French Canadian, so when the Montreal Canadiens chose him with their first pick (17th overall) in the 1983 draft, everyone was thrilled.
"Growing up, I was always one of the top players, and in juniors I was one of the top scorers," said Turcotte, who had 49 goals and 127 points in his only full junior season, with Nanaimo and Portland of the Western Hockey League.
Turcotte played 32 more junior games the next season, but then the Canadiens called him up and he played 30 with them. Those numbers were not as important as the fact he was 18.
"When I was 18, I probably should have gone back to juniors and played until I was 20," Turcotte said. "But at the time, I wanted to play in the NHL and I didn't think it would matter. That No. 1 tag helped me then, but since then it has hurt me."
Turcotte is 5 feet 11 and 185 pounds, which is not big by NHL standards, even for centers. That is among the reasons usually cited for why he never managed to post the numbers with the Canadiens he did as a junior.
Because of his size, he needed to stand out as a scorer, and the pressure resulted in hesitancy. That doesn't breed offense, and once the Canadiens gave up on him, it became a life of suitcases.
He spent all of 1984-85 with Montreal, but played in just 53 games and had only 24 points. He played only two games the next season before being shipped to the minors. When that season was over, he was traded to Edmonton for future considerations.
The Oilers sent him back to Montreal for cash. From there, it was to Winnipeg, but mostly to the minors -- three teams in 1987-88. Boston signed him as a free agent in June of 1989, but traded him to the Capitals for Mike Millar three months later.
Some adolescents thrust into major league sports flourish from the outset. Some do not, but hold on no matter the circumstances. Some disappear.
"I've been on teams that say, 'He's had his chance,' " Turcotte said, without apparent bitterness. "I'm not crying or anything and I'm not disappointed with my life. I still like to play the game. If it has to be in the minors, then that's where it will be."
Turcotte now is 25, and he has responsibilities. His wife, Suzanne, has a 6-year-old daughter, Stephanie, from a previous marriage, and just gave birth to Nicholas Jake.
So when Turcotte was called up to the Capitals last weekend, it meant another chance at the NHL, but also a few extra dollars for diapers. Turcotte set up the game-winning goal in Saturday's victory over the Islanders and played well with the fourth line against Pittsburgh.
But yesterday, as he sat waiting to find out if he would be around for tonight's 8 p.m. game against New Jersey at Capital Centre, he wasn't optimistic.
"I think I'm going down," he said. But Rob Murray, another center, came out of Murray's office with a glum look, and it turned out he was going to Baltimore. That didn't mean Turcotte wasn't following him up I-95. When he emerged from the coach's office, however, he was wearing a thin smile.
"I'm staying," Turcotte said, although he knows it might only be for a few games. "I survived."
Capitals Notes: Terry Murray said he still isn't sure when he's going to play Dino Ciccarelli, who has been out since Oct. 20 with an injured thumb. "I'm waiting to hear when he's 100 percent," Murray said. Ciccarelli is anxious to play. He said there is no pain, but acknowledges the healing might not be complete and the surrounding muscles not yet at full strength. "It's not going to be 100 percent for a while," Ciccarelli said. "But I feel like I can play with it now." . . . Goalie Mike Liut (groin muscle) is better, so Olie Kolzig was sent back to Baltimore. . . . Peter Zezel, who has been out since spraining his ankle Oct. 30, skated for the first time yesterday, as did Tippett (shoulder).