How did¬†Washington media react to the arrival of hockey here in September 1974,¬†and cover¬†the Capitals’ first-ever training camp? It was a question I formulated late this summer, and this week the Capitals graciously invited me to rummage through their print archives for clippings from that month 34 years ago. The Caps possess an impressive and exhaustive chronology of their history as it has been recorded by local print media over the entirety of the organization’s life, including coverage¬†dating back to¬†1972, when Abe Pollin began lobbying in earnest for a hockey team here to help anchor a new arena¬†he¬†would build in the¬†Maryland suburbs.
My mid-week extended lunch hour in the Caps’ archives¬†wasn’t just a pleasant, nostalgic stroll down Landover’s Memory¬†Lane; it was¬†a striking time-travel backward in sports culture, to an era of the helmet-less and toothless, and the Capitals’ print collections include not only news stories and columns of the era but primitive print advertisements alerting Washingtonians to the allure of the strange new sport in town. It’s a clippings collection that powerfully reminds its peruser that Washington does indeed possess a rich and novel hockey history.¬†And no exploration of the Capitals’ maiden season is complete without reference to Mike Vogel’s detail-rich reckoning of the leadup to opening night¬†of season 1. ¬†
The Caps conducted their first-ever training camp in London, Ontario, at the London Gardens, and¬†many clippings from both the Washington Post and the Washington Star-News that September bear London as dateline. There appeared to me to be a great deal of intrigue and enthusiasm lacing the news coverage¬†from that first training camp — the big papers in town sent reporters to Ontario to cover all of camp –¬†but there was as well an equal volume of foreboding in the coverage. Consider:¬†56 hockey players were invited to 1974′s first camp . . . and the overwhelming majority of them were NHL rookies (some of the news accounts suggest as many as¬†54!). Not quite what confronted, say, the expansion Florida Panthers in 1993, was it?
Among my perusings I found a fair bit of coverage directed at Mike Marson, a second-round Capitals’ selection from that summer’s draft. Marson made the Caps that fall, and in so doing became only the second black to play in the NHL. Marson’s would be one of the few positive storylines from ’74-’75.
‘Columbia Eyes NHL,’ by Mark Asher, Washington Post [publication date unknown]
“National Hockey League President Clarence Campbell announced yesterday in New York that the NHL will award two expansion franchises in May for the 1974-75 season and that he anticipated an application for a team in Columbia, Maryland.”
‘Pollin, Mayor Discuss Arena,’ Washington Post, July 11, 1972
“Abe Pollin, the man who has a professional hockey franchise for Washington, met with Mayor Walter E. Washington yesterday to discuss the possibility of building a sports arena downtown.”
‘Capitals Issue Reprieves to 12 Young Amateurs,’ by Robert Fachet, Washington Post, Saturday, September 14, 1974
“LONDON, Ontario — A dreary, drizzly Friday the 13th became unexpectedly bright for many of the embryo pro hockey players in the Washington Capitals’ rookie camp. General manager Milt Schmidt, planning to keep five amateurs in addition to his seven bonus babies, relented at guillotine time today and retained 12.
“Recipients of the good tidings were goalies Garth Malarchuk, Kelvin Crickson, and Peter Lambert; defenseman O.J. Simpson¬†and John Duncan; left wings John Nazar, Leo Koopmans, Dave McKee and Bernard Plante;¬†right wing Bob Goodenow¬† . . .¬†¬†
‘Capitals Cut Two Cooks,’ by Phil Hersh, The Evening Sun, September 19, 1974
“LONDON: The way the Washington Capitals’ first training camp is going, the last thing the hockey players need are the caloric delights of gourmet cooking.
“Just in case they couldn’t resist temptation, however, management pared a pair of cooks, Jiri Bar and Florian Lampert, from the roster.
“Bar, a Czech, returned to his job as executive chef of the Sheraton Airport Inn in Philadelphia. Lampert, an Austrian, now can go back to puffing pastry for the residents of Watergate.”
‘Capital Veterans Arrive on Scene,’ by Russ White, Washington Star-News, September 19, 1974
“LONDON: On the ice the Washington-Capitals are young men with long hair, exaggerated moustaches, toothless and tireless. Yesterday they shook loose from summer to skate up and down the slick surface of the London Gardens.
“There are 54 players in the camp. Only 20 will come back to Washington.”
Advertisement in the Washington Post: [Rudimentary hockey player in action silhouette pictured]¬†”Thwaaack! . . . If you think football season tickets are rough, get ready for NHL hockey¬† . . . [Hard break] Redskins’ tickets are hard to come by. [Hard break] Hockey’s gonna be worse.” [ ! ]
‘Capitals: Nothing to Lose,‘ by¬†Bob Fachet, Washington Post, September 16, 1974¬†
“LONDON: Thirty-four men, all considered expendable by previous employers, sat in London Gardens this morrning and heard the welcome words that someone appreciated their talents.
“The 34 professional hockey players with varying references will make up the core of the Washington Capitals, who open their initial NHL season in just 24 days.
“Some of you think you’re here because nobody else wanted you,” said Capitals’ general manager Milt Schmidt. “That’s not true. We want you . .¬†.”
“The Capitals are unanimously assigned to last place in preseason surveys, with the only question raised about them being whether Washington or Kansas City will break the New York Islanders’ NHL record of 60 losses in a season.
“The players publicly claim to ignore the slurs, but they have to hurt inside.”
‘Capitals Find Training Is Sink or Swim,’ by Russ White, Washington Star-News, September 20, 1974
“LONDON: When Milt Schmidt was awakened at 3:45 yesterday, he feared the ruckus outside his window came from some of the Washington Capitals hockey team.
“Five young men were skinny-dipping in the motel swimming pool.
“The Capitals’ general manager was relieved to learn that the swimmers — at sub-40 temperatures — were conventioners.”
‘Caps’ Mike Marson just wants to be a hockey player,’ Associated Press, September 12, 1974
“New York: Mike Marson wants to avoid labels, except for the one after his name, which reads, ” . . . of the National Hockey League’s Washington Capitals.”
“He’d prefer to be known simply as another rookie forward trying to make it big in the NHL this year after being the leading scorer for the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Junior Hockey Association.
“I’m no different than any other Canadian kid,” he says. “I¬†always wanted to be a hockey player in the NHL. I still have the little pair of skates my parents put on me when they dragged me out to a rink when I was about six years old.”¬†
‘Capitals debut Friday at Centre,’ by Ray Boss, Prince George’s Sentinel, Seprember 25, 1974
“LONDON: The Washington Capitals, the area’s newest entrant in the pro sports sweepstakes, make their local debut Friday night when the fabled Montreal Canadians invade Capital Centre for an 8 p.m. encounter.
“For the unitiated, Washington and Montreal both play in the same league, although it may not appear that way Friday night.”
Amazingly, the expansion Capitals tied the Habs 4-4 that night. Perhaps more amazingly, the Washington Post ran three separate photos of the exhibition game on its sports front the following Saturday morning, along with its game file.