- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In an episode of the FX Network program “The Americans” — an espionage drama that takes place in the nation’s capital in the 1980s — a Soviet agent mentioned Washington Capitals center Dennis Maruk.

He referred to Maruk as a “wily” player.

Turns out the staff behind the show are big Dennis Maruk fans — which makes sense.

If you were a Washington hockey fan in the 1980s — especially a Russian hockey fan — you had to be a Dennis Maruk fan. He’s still the single-season assists and points record holder for the Capitals.

“My daughter lives in Los Angeles,” said Maruk, 59, who was in town Saturday night to be honored by the Capitals. “When she saw that on ‘The Americans,’ she texted me and asked, ‘Do you know them?’ I said no. She found out who the writer and director was, and we texted them, and they texted back and asked if I could send them some autographed photos. They wanted ten 8 by 10s.

“I texted it would be kind of cool to have a 60-goal scorer make a cameo appearance on the show,” Maruk said. “They texted me, anytime you are in New York, come down to the set. I could be a spy — a former hockey player who is now a spy. That would be fun.”

The irony of all this is wonderful — a show about Russian spies in Washington in the 1980s highlighting a Caps player, when now the star of that same franchise is a Russian player, Alex Ovechkin, who is good friends with the Russian president who is at odds with America.

Now that’s a TV show.

Maruk was the Ovechkin of his time, a scoring machine who arrived in Washington in a trade with the Minnesota North Stars in 1978. Before he came to the Capitals, Maruk’s career had been a roller coaster. He was drafted by the California Gold Seals in 1975, but the team moved to Cleveland a year later and became the Barons. Two years later, Maruk’s second team vanished, as the Barons merged with the Minnesota.

In Washington, he found a home — and a fan base that embraced him as the Capitals made the transition from a struggling expansion franchise to a playoff team.

“The Capitals were not very successful when I got here, but I felt like it was a place where I could do my thing and show them that I could play in the National Hockey League and score some goals,” Maruk said.

He did just that, scoring 50 goals and 97 points in the 1980-1981 season, and following that up with his record-setting year — 60 goals and 76 assists for 136 points. He represented the Caps at the All-Star Game that season — at the Capital Centre.

“I had a chance to go to the White House and meet President Reagan,” Maruk said. “It was special for my parents to be here. I was introduced as the last player on the ice and got a great ovation from the Caps fans there. It was an emotional moment, one I will never forget.”

But the Capitals were still losing.

“We had some up and down years, and it was frustrating,” Maruk said. “I really had to concentrate on my game and hope that either I would be traded or that somehow Washington would wind up a winning team. Then they made the great trade, and that changed everything.”

The “great trade” was the 1982 deal that brought Rod Langway, Doug Jarvis, Brian Engblom and Craig Laughlin from Montreal to Washington — the deal that changed the franchise, with its first winning season and playoff berth.

“It was an exciting time,” Maruk said. “The city and the fans were really into it. The crowds at the Capital Centre were really good. We had great support. It was our place to play, and we enjoyed it and had a good time.”

Still, Maruk was traded back to the North Stars the following year, and finished his career there, retiring in 1989 with 356 goals, 522 assists and 870 points.

Maruk still plays often, in charity games and other events throughout Canada, and runs a hockey school. He looks like he can still play — and, with a Fu Manchu mustache, could certainly pass for a spy.

He still follows the Capitals closely, and, like their fans, hope new coach Barry Trotz can finally deliver some Stanley Cup success to this franchise.

“They’ve got the players, but sometimes bad timing or bad goaltending during a series has kept them from getting over the hump,” Maruk said. “They need to find the right chemistry. What is that? It’s a season when the whole team is healthy and you have a really strong goaltender. He is the key. Now they have told [Braden] Holtby he is the main guy. The new coach seems determined to win.”

That chemistry and determination was nowhere to be seen Saturday night at Verizon Center when the Capitals lost to the woeful Buffalo Sabres 2-1.

“They need to sign me,” Maruk joked.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com


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