Dale Hunter's bare feet pad quietly down the deserted hall at Piney Orchard Ice Rink. He is headed for the workout room, the bikes, the weights. He is alone. Half of his Washington Capitals teammates are on a preseason trip to Ottawa, and the other half are working out on the ice.
Hunter, serving a 21-game suspension for a late hit on New York Islander Pierre Turgeon during the playoffs last May, is not allowed to be part of the team. He is not allowed to work out with the Capitals, skate with them or travel with them. He also is not allowed to be paid by them during the suspension. His $150,000 from that time period is being forwarded to the league as a fine.
"I'm approaching it like I'm out hurt," he said this week after riding the bike for 45 minutes. "I've been hurt before. I was out for 50 games once when I hurt my leg. I know how to deal with it.
"I'm looking at it as a positive. When I get back, I'll be fresher coming down to the last half of the season and into the playoffs, when it really does count. I'll be fresher when it gets really tight."
He does not look back. He repeats he is sorry the incident occurred, that Turgeon got hurt. But more than that, he will not say. Does he think about it when he is riding that bike? "No comment." Does he expect the league to reconsider its decision? "No comment."
"I've got no comment on the incident or the situation," Hunter said. "I've said it to everyone. Hockey News, Sports Illustrated, anyone who has called me. I'm being fair about it. No comment. No comment."
Instead, he is concentrating on his conditioning program.
It is a three-phase program designed by the Capitals strength and conditioning coach Frank Costello. Phase I is designed to work on physical strength and general conditioning. Phase II, which Hunter will begin Oct. 1, works on explosiveness and quicker movement and also includes some on-ice testing.
Phase III, a combination of the first two, will begin the end of October and run to Nov. 12 -- two weeks before the Capitals' 22nd game and the date Hunter is allowed to begin working out with the team.
"Dale is in a unique situation," Costello said. "We can't train him like we train the other players, because we want him to be at a certain level of fitness when he comes back. In other words, we can't peak him too soon.
"We want him in position where when he gets back to training with the rest of the guys he doesn't have to work to catch up, but can just pick up, take off and go from there."
Because Hunter has been smart through his career, never letting himself get out of shape, Costello said the current program is not as hard as it otherwise might have been. And the fact Hunter is not skating at the moment apparently does not worry Hunter, Costello or Capitals coach Terry Murray.
Each says there is plenty of time to get on the ice.
"Eventually I'll skate, but I haven't thought about it too much yet," Hunter said. "I might go home [to Petrolia, Ontario]. There's a junior team there, the London Knights, that I can work out with. But I've got no exact game plan, so I can't say when that will be."
After all the center's years in the NHL, Murray said, there is no doubt Hunter will know what to do when he finally gets back on the ice. The first game Hunter is eligible to play is Nov. 26 against the Pittsburgh Penguins at USAir Arena.
"When Dale is able to come back, he'll be part of our team," said Murray. "But it is a long time until we're 22 games into the season. I know he could get very anxious over that time to get back. But Frank has him on a program that will keep him on target. He'll get some ice time later on."
Murray said when Hunter does come back, there will be no question about his status with the Caps.
"He got a little carried away, and he's paying the price," Murray said. "When Dale comes back to play, he will fit back in, and I'll have to make some player moves at that time."
* Rookie Pat Peake skated again yesterday, but Portland coach Barry Trotz, saying he does not want to rush Peake and risk another setback, decided he will not play Peake tonight in Hershey against the AHL Bears. Peake tentatively is scheduled to be in the lineup Friday at USAir Arena against Philadelphia.