The stated objective of the workout was to improve the conditioning and endurance of the Washington Capitals' rookies and draft picks. But as a boxing instructor put them through a fighter's paces, Capitals assistant coach Tim Hunter acknowledged that it doesn't hurt young hockey players to learn the proper way to throw a punch or two.

So the Capitals brought in Butch Minor, a Prince George's County police officer and boxing instructor at Bowie Racquet and Fitness Club, to condition about 30 recent draft picks and minor league prospects with small weights and punching bags at the club yesterday.

"All of this is primarily for their muscle endurance," Hunter said. "But it also helps their confidence by teaching them the mechanics of being a good boxer. We tell all the kids that in hockey, it's not about fighting, it's about standing up for your teammates. It's good for them to know how to protect themselves, though. You don't want a guy to embarrass himself. This shows them how to hold their own and if worse comes to worst, you just hang on."

After a standard, two-hour weightlifting session with Frank Costello, the Capitals' strength and conditioning coach, one group of players donned boxing gloves and pounded punching bags. The other group lifted small weights while walking around the gymnasium perimeter on their toes, something that proved far harder than it looked for players used to bench-pressing hundreds of pounds.

"This is a killer," said defenseman Mike Farrell, an eighth-round pick in 1998 who played last season at Providence College. "It works all those little muscles that you don't work in regular weightlifting, which prevents injuries down the road."

Minor, who has taught boxing for six years, sounded every bit the drill sergeant, shouting, "You say you're tough, you say you work out hard -- well I want to see it!"

Not surprisingly, the players had no problem going after the punching bag. Forward Kevin Caulfield, a fifth-round pick in 1997 who has one year left at Boston College, and forward Matt Herr attacked a bag so vigorously that it became partially dislodged from its moorings. But lifting those tiny weights was a different matter.

"By the time we switched to the weights, my arms already felt like lead," Caulfield said. "This is a new thing for us. You don't realize how tough it is to train for [boxing] until you do something like this. We were all dying out there."

Sure enough, the players wore out before the weightlifting portion of the workout was over, and Minor mercifully switched to teaching boxing techniques. He demonstrated the boxing stance with both fists guarding the chin and taught the players how to jab with their lead hand and throw a straight punch with their strong hand.

"Keep your elbows in, keep your elbows in, keep your elbows in," Minor said. "I know you are getting tired of hearing me say it, but once you take one blow to the stomach, you'll know why."

Minor, who will work with the Capitals during three more sessions next week, wasn't surprised that his pupils found the drills so difficult.

"Having been around this type of training as long as I have," he said, "I knew it was going to break every one of them down eventually."

Capitals Notes: The Capitals re-signed forward Mike Eagles to a one-year contract. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but sources close to the team said it is worth $350,000. Eagles, 36, registered 4 goals, 2 assists and 50 penalty minutes in 52 games last season and was an unrestricted free agent. This season will be his 14th in the NHL, sixth with Washington.