THE NHL / STEVE SPRINGER : Ciccarelli Tries to Make Up With Washington Fans

The conversation, at first, seemed no different from any of hundreds that go on every year in every sport:

Caller: Hello, Mr. Jones, I understand you have decided to cancel your season tickets.

Jones: Yes, I have.

Caller: Well, that’s unfortunate. We hope you’ll reconsider because we here at the Washington Capitals feel we’re going to have an exciting and successful year.


Jones: Well, if I change my mind, I’ll give you a call.

Caller: Great. Just tell them you talked to Dino Ciccarelli.

Dino Ciccarelli?

The team’s leading scorer last season with 79 points and leading goal producer with 41 reduced to being a phone solicitor?

Those with a forgiving nature called it part of the healing process.

Cynics called it a slick public relations move.

Pragmatists called it the first logical step toward Ciccarelli’s return to the Capital Centre ice.

Fans throughout the Washington area don’t remember those 79 points or the 41 goals or the Capitals’ march to the conference finals, where they were beaten by the Boston Bruins.

All the fans remember is what allegedly happened next, in the wee hours of a Georgetown morning after a season-ending team party.

A 17-year-old girl claimed she was forced to have sex in the back seat of a limousine by Ciccarelli and three teammates--Scott Stevens, Geoff Courtnall and Neil Sheehy.

A grand jury refused to return indictments against any of the four, but they had already been indicted in the minds of many fans.

A highly successful season for the Capitals ended in embarrassment and disgrace. Season-ticket sales dropped by about 800.

Since then, three of the four accused Capitals have been removed from the scene.

Stevens signed for $1.2 million with the St. Louis Blues. Courtnall, unable to deal with the pressure, asked to be sent somewhere else as well. The day after Stevens was officially gone, Courtnall joined him in St. Louis, moved in a trade for Peter Zezel and Mike Lalor.

Sheehy broke his ankle in the exhibition season and hasn’t played yet.

Ciccarelli told The Washingtonian magazine: “I’m married. I shouldn’t have been there. If I was single, I would have stood up to the charges because, believe me, there’s not a damn thing we did wrong. It was tough to sit back and swallow all the stuff that was coming out in the media.”

That was his last interview on the subject. Ciccarelli has since refused to talk about the incident.

But he apologized on television and in the newspapers, and he talked to season-ticket-holders, calling two a day during the off-season to try luring some back.

Some he could. Some he couldn’t. The Capitals’ attendance average is down about 1,100, but so is the average of many other teams in the league.

This, though, was not Ciccarelli’s first brush with the law.

While playing with the Minnesota North Stars, he pleaded guilty on charges of indecent exposure.

In a game in Toronto, he struck a Maple Leaf with his stick and was found guilty of assault by a Toronto judge. Ciccarelli actually served a few hours behind bars, the only player in league history to be so punished for an action during a game.

“We’re trying to put this behind us,” Capital General Manager Dave Poile said. “No charges were filed, but a lot of people were hurt by it. Dino has had to face this alone. He lives here and was around all summer. He’s taken the heat and I can’t say enough about the way he has responded. This is just another test for him. He just wants to get back to being Dino Ciccarelli, hockey player.”

That hasn’t been easy.

When the Capitals visited Madison Square Garden to play the New York Rangers, one of the songs played was the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There.”

Among its lyrics:

“She was just 17.

“You know what I mean. . . . “

Gone, but not forgotten: Marcel Dionne, the leading scorer in Kings’ history, will return to the Forum tonight to have his number retired in pregame ceremonies.

But, he says, even though he has been gone only three years, it seems like another era.

“It’s all different now,” he said. “Different colors, different organization. (Wayne) Gretzky’s there now.

“But I don’t live in the past. Better players than me have retired and the game goes on.”

Brightest Blue: In four of the Blues’ first eight victories, Brett Hull knocked in the game-winning goal.

That gives him an early shot at the league record of 16 game-winners in one season, held by Phil Esposito of the Boston Bruins and Michel Goulet of the Quebec Nordiques.

Esposito did it twice, during the 1970-71 season and again the following year.

Quotebook: The Calgary Sun, obviously enjoying the Edmonton Oilers’ dramatic plunge from last season’s Stanley Cup championship to the bottom of the Smythe Division, is running a standing headline that reads: View From the Cellar.

Responded Edmonton Coach John Muckler: “Let them have their fun. We may be in the cellar, but tell Calgary we can still see the sunlight because it bounces off our five Stanley Cup rings.”