The Washington Capitals closed their rookie camp yesterday with an intrasquad scrimmage at Piney Orchard Ice Arena. After watching the game, General Manager George McPhee and Coach Ron Wilson said they were pleased with the two-week camp.

"I think this is an outstanding group," McPhee said. "They really worked hard and there are a few of these kids that are going to be very good hockey players."

McPhee said the purpose of the camp is almost exclusively physical conditioning and that players were not evaluated on their performances.

"There are a couple guys who we might say, 'You need to work on fitness between now and training camp,' but generally this is just designed to get them in shape and let them get to know each other."

Center Matt Herr, who played in 30 games for the Capitals last season but chose to attend the camp for the third time, said he liked the timing and duration of the training.

"In past years they have had a six-week camp and that makes it difficult to stay motivated," Herr said. "This time you could see that it would only be two weeks, so everybody worked harder each day. It's also a good time of year because it's not too close to training camp where you get burned out but not so far away that you get out of shape."

An added bonus this year was the presence of Dale Hunter, the longtime Capitals center who announced his retirement Thursday. He began his new job as the team's player development instructor this week by patrolling the ice dropping occasional bits of advice and one-liners.

"He really knows how to lighten the mood but keep you serious about what you're doing," said center Jeff Halpern, who grew up in Potomac watching Hunter play for the Capitals. "He is more approachable than some of the coaches and every time he opens his mouth, you listen."

The rookies will reconvene at Piney Orchard on Sept. 7, when they will be joined by the returning players for the start of training camp.

Capitals Note: Butch Minor, the Prince George's County police officer who the team had hired as a boxing instructor, was killed yesterday in a car accident while off duty [See story on Page B3, Metro]. His patrol car overturned and spun off the road in Largo about 3:20 a.m., police said.