Ask anyone about Washington Capitals veteran center Dave Poulin, and one of the first characteristics they'll mention is his intelligence.
Yesterday, the 36-year-old gave a major demonstration of just how smart he is.
Poulin announced his retirement -- effective at the end of this season's playoffs -- at the same time he announced he will become the head coach of the hockey team at Notre Dame, his alma mater. He played for the Irish for four seasons and was a league all-star as a senior in 1981-82.
"I wanted to go out while still an effective hockey player and on my own terms," Poulin said. "I did look at playing another season as an alternative, but this opportunity, coaching at Notre Dame, fits exactly what I would have chosen to do if I could have chosen what I wanted to do when I retired.
"Many athletes dream of coming back to their alma mater and coaching, and right now it has become a reality for me."
In his 12-year NHL career, Poulin has become recognized as one of the league's premier defensive forwards, winning the Selke Trophy in 1986-87 and finishing as a runner-up in 1992-93. He won the King Clancy Trophy for leadership and community service in the 1992-93 season while playing for Boston. Since joining the Capitals last season, he has continued to provide leadership on and off the ice.
The intelligence and leadership won't be wasted at Notre Dame.
"My main objective," he said yesterday, when introduced iSouth Bend, Ind., "will be to improve each and every individual as a hockey player and, more importantly, as people. I want to open their eyes to the Notre Dame experience that has been the foundation of my success in life."
Poulin told the Capitals on the bus on the way to the airport afteMonday night's game against the New York Rangers. Yesterday, Caps general manager David Poile said "he is uniquely qualified to move directly into the coaching ranks," and his teammates began giving him the names of their 6- and 7-year-olds who should be ready for scholarships a dozen years from now.
Feeling the pain
New York Islander Steve Thomas has just 13 goals this season, and for the veteran left wing, who scored 107 in the past three seasons, it has been less than pleasing, in this, the last year of his contract.
But Thomas, 31 and the father of a 3-year-old and a 15-month-old, got a dose of reality last week, when he and his wife, Laurie, were watching television and saw a father expressing his agony for his two children, who had been in the day care center of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
"As bad as it has been for our hockey team, there are people who are really suffering, clinging to life," Thomas told Jeff Williams of New York Newsday. "It puts what we do in perspective. . . . Why do we get ourselves so mentally screwed up over this game when things like this, real tragedies, are happening?"
The Thomas family sent flowers to Jim Denny, the father who had been speaking of his son, Brandon, 3, who is near death, and his daughter, Rebecca, who suffered fractures. And the Thomases were stunned when Denny tracked them down through the florist to say thank you.
"He's a big hockey fan," Thomas said. "I told him, 'We don't know what you're going through, but our prayers are with you.' "
Thomas had the Islanders dedicate Monday's game against the Boston Bruins to the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. He also had his teammates and all the Bruins sign a big get-well card for the Denny family and is sending it along with an
autographed sweater, posters and hockey cards.
The whoop-whoop birds
No one can miss hearing them at Capitals games at USAir Arena.
"Whoop-whoop" comes the high-pitched sound.
But where are they? Ask an usher. "Do you know where the 'whoopers' are?" He rolls his eyes and points to Section 103.
A year ago, the only time you would hear the sound was when Pittsburgh was in town and defenseman Larry Murphy handled the puck. Then the entire arena would whoop because Murphy used to play for Washington and was considered something of a wimp by many fans. Thus the derogatory whooping.
But now some opposing player gets "whooped" at every home game.
"We try to pick a key player and hope we can throw him off his game," said Columbia resident Casey Evans, 21, who is one of the five whoopers.
There are only five of them, though they sound like a large flock.
"Some of the people around us don't like that we do it," said Allison Evans, Casey's 20-year-old sister. "But we're trying to help our team."
Besides the Evanses, who are both students at Howard County Community College, there is their brother Sean, 14, their friend Shaun Dunbar, 21, of Arbutus, and Michaela McAuliffe, 32, a paralegal from Annapolis, who just happens to sit in the seat beside them.
"I join in to get the opponents off their game," said McAuliffe. "You know, it's anything we can do to help our Caps."
Opponent: New York Islanders
Site: USAir Arena, Landover
Radio: WMAL (630 AM)
Outlook: The Islanders are out of the playoff race, but they could help determine who gets in. Tonight, they face an old nemesis and come into the game off a 5-3 victory over Boston. Washington is two points behind fifth-place New Jersey in the Eastern Conference but also just two points from the eighth and last spot. Islanders D Darius Kasparaitis (right knee), D Dennis Vaske (broken left ankle) and D Rich Pilon (broken left wrist) are out. Washington reports D Mark Tinordi (sprained knee) is expected to be out for a week but will be re-examined before tonight's game. D Igor Ulanov (knee) also is out.