- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

In the midst of their darkest season in 26 years, the Washington Capitals celebrated their 30 greatest players last night at MCI Center.

“It’s awesome to be back and be with some of the guys that I played with and tell old stories,” said Dennis Maruk, who set Caps records with 60 goals and 136 points in 1981-1982. “That was a phenomenal year for me. The players I played with, Ryan Walter and Chris Valentine, were very supportive. We worked together as a line and we really jelled. I played for four teams, but Washington is the place in my hockey career.”

Maruk, who was current Caps center Darcy Verot’s first pro coach at Lake Charles (La.), now coaches high school hockey and has a store in Aspen, Colo. Walter, 45, broadcasts Vancouver Canucks games on pay per view and is working toward his master’s degree in business.

Walter captained the Caps during his first three NHL seasons until general manager David Poile stunned him with a 7 a.m. phone call on Sept.9, 1982, telling him he had been traded to Montreal. Rod Langway was the key player going the other way in a deal that propelled the Caps from pretenders to perennial playoff contenders for the next 14 seasons.

“David made a good trade for the Caps, and going to Montreal was good for me because I learned how to win, which was a valuable lesson, not only for hockey but for life,” said Walter, who won the Stanley Cup in 1986 and reached the finals in 1989. “But at the time, the trade bothered me because we had a team in Washington that was ready to take off.”

Maruk and Walter were among nine of the 30 players on hand last night. The others were current Caps goalie Olie Kolzig — the only member of the all-time starting six — as well as Don Beaupre, Sylvain Cote, Al Iafrate, Yvon Labre, Kelly Miller and Mark Tinordi.

“We used to have a great team and a bad building,” said the ever-opinionated Iafrate, thinking back to the now-imploded Capital Centre. “It’s too bad they have the opposite now.”

Mike Gartner, one of the all-time six, scored three milestone goals against Glen Hanlon when the current Caps coach was a goalie.

“When Garts got his 400th, I was wrestling to get the puck out of the net because I wanted to throw the puck in the stands so badly,” Hanlon said, laughing at the memory.

Hanlon and Walter have been pals since they were 19-year-old prospects in Vancouver.

“One time there was a brawl in [the Canucks’] old building,” Hanlon said. “I skated up the ice to try to get into it, but someone grabbed me. It was Ryan. It was like one of those cartoons where one guy is flailing and swinging and the other guy is just holding him. Ryan is so level-headed. He had a big smile on his face trying to get me to calm down.”

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