Tucked away in the Adirondack Mountains in New York for th next three weeks,the National Hockey League's Washington Capitols will attempt to find the right combinations to build on their success of last spring.
General manager David Poile has trotted the team off to Lake Placid, N.Y., for a series of practices that will determine who goes where when the organization returns south for an exhibition doubleheader Sept. 29 at the Baltimore Arena, against the Philadelphia Flyers organization.
Before that,though,local fans in Baltimore will get the first look at the 1990-91 Caps this Friday night, when they face the New York Rangers at the Arena.
The Capitals open the season Oct. 5 hosting Pittsburgh; the Skipjacks, who will get the leftovers, open the following night in Hershey.
Despite the hazy optimism of coach Terry Murray and his staff, the Caps find some harsh realities to overcome while practicing on the same magic rink that brought a U.S. Olympic victory in 1980.
Many unpleasant events have occurred since the night of April 27, 1990, the most glorious in franchise history, when the Caps defeated the Rangers at Madison Square Garden to take the Patrick Division title.
Eight days after that, four Caps -- Scott Stevens, Geoff Courtnall, Neil Sheehy and Dino Ciccarelli -- were accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl in the back of a limousine at a team party in Georgetown.
A grand jury dismissed the case, but two of the players are now with the St. Louis Blues -- Stevens left as a million-dollar free agent and Courtnall went to the Blues in a trade for defenseman Mike Lalor and center Peter Zezel.
This week,top defenseman Kevin Hatcher and No. 1 goalie DoBeaupre haven't come to camp due to contract disputes. Hatcher, who has three years remaining on his contract worth a little less than $600,000, wants more money, and Beaupre, who made $225,000 last year, wants something comparable to the $455,000 deal Mike Liut signed with the team last week.
Owner Abe Pollin said the club won't even speak to Hatcher's agent until the 24-year-old All-Star laces up the skates in Lake Placid.
No, it's not a happy time at Camp Capital.
for all of the question marks the team has, both on the ice and in the public relations department, it is a time for many of the organization's young players to prove their worth.Jobs are available and everyone knows it.
Players like Steve Maltais, John Purves and Steve Seftel coul win NHL jobs in the next three weeks. Others like Tim Bergland, Steve Leach and Nick Kypreos have to solidify their standing as NHL players. Some, like Sheehy, could find themselves left out.
At a pair of inner-team, optional practices in Mount Vernon, Va., last week, virtually everyone in the organization looked to be in top shape.
WHO'S FIGHTING WHOM?
The battles currently being waged at Camp Capital:
* GOALIES: The situation appears to be set in Washington. If Don Beaupre ever makes it to camp, he and Mike Liut would have jobs. The Skipjacks would again get Jim Hrivnak, while Shawn Simpson and Olaf Kolzig would fight for the second spot. It is a possibility that Kolzig could play in the ACHL to get extra ice time.
* DEFENSEMEN: Assuming that Kevin Hatcher comes back, it looks like he, Rod Langway, Bob Rouse, Calle Johansson and Mike Lalor are locks. Veteran Neil Sheehy, who could suffer some abuse from fans, could be on thin ice at 30. Bill Houlder, Mark Ferner, Chris Felix and Kent Paynter are the challengers. Bob Babcock, Wade Bartley, Kevin Lovsin, Jim Mathieson, Rob Mendel and Czechoslovakian import Jiri Vykoukal are tabbed for Baltimore. Alain Cote and Dennis Smith are gone.
* CENTER: Dale Hunter, Mike Ridley and Peter Zezel are shoo-ins. Rob Murray again appears to have the inside track on the final spot, but Alfie Turcotte and Tyler Larter will challenge. Czech Peter Bondra, Tim Taylor, Harry Mews and Vic Gervais are expected to be Skipjacks.
* RIGHT WING: Dino Ciccarelli, John Druce and Alan May are the only givens. Tim Bergland and Steve Leach will be given a run by the bulked-up John Purves for the final spot. Expected in Baltimore are Swede import Thomas Sjogren, Reggie Savage and tough-guy Steve Martell. Robin Bawa was supposed to play for the Jacks, but signed a contract with Fort Wayne of the IHL last week.
* LEFT WING: Kelly Miller has a job. But it's anybody's guess as to whom among Bob Joyce, Michal Pivonka, Jeff Greenlaw, Steve Seftel, Steve Maltais and Nick Kypreos will be with the Caps in October. Joyce and Pivonka are probable, and Maltais came on strong in the spring. The Jacks will get Todd Hiushko, Dave Lorentz and Randy Pearce.