It took some time -- almost 50 minutes -- but once the officials took control, the Hershey Bears and the Skipjacks actually played some hockey at the Baltimore Arena yesterday.
The outcome, a sloppy 5-4 Hershey exhibition victory, seemed irrelevant compared to what might have been learned about the 1991-92 Jacks.
It doesn't look like this is going to be a passive team.
The hardest job yesterday belonged to Hershey trainer, Dan Stuck, who had to patch up three Bears for lacerations.
But that might have been expected.
In theory, this annual doubleheader, which ended with an exhibition between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers, is one of the last chances a marginal player has to show what he's got.
In practice, it has gotten pretty bloody three years running.
"We've got guys every year who come into this game looking for a job," said Jacks coach Rob Laird. "I had 11 rookies in the game and they played some strong veterans. The main thing I was looking for was competitiveness and I got it."
The Jacks, however, looked better with their fists than with their sticks. The Bears wasted no time in jumping on the listless Jacks, grabbing a 2-0 lead on goals from Bill Armstrong and Darren Rumble.
The Jacks were outshot 15-3 in the first period and never seemed to recover.
Harry Mews got the Jacks started with a goal at 6 minutes, 22 seconds of the fight-marred second period.
The two teams amassed 72 penalty minutes and six game misconducts during the middle period.
One feisty newcomer, left wing Trevor Halverson, the Caps' second pick in the June entry draft, grabbed a double-game misconduct as well as a bloody lip in a fight with Mike Stothers.
"I don't have a job yet so I'm going to do whatever it takes," Halverson said. "I have to show I can play both games in this league. I can produce goals and I'm not afraid to mix it up."
Right wing Todd Hlushko, in his second season with Jacks, said this is the game that sets the tone for the 16 games the teams will play during the regular season, beginning with the opener at the Arena Friday.
"Neither team wants to give the other an edge," said Hlushko, who scored the Jacks' third goal and assisted the fourth. "When someone cheap-shots your teammate you have to stick up for him now."
Even center Reggie Savage, known much more for his scoring than for fisticuffs, got involved in a scrap with veteran Mark Freer.
"It got a little out of hand but I would have been surprised if it didn't," Savage said. "It seemed like everybody forgot to play hockey. [With] every year and every game this rivalry goes to a higher level."
For all of their poor early play, the Jacks managed to battle back from a 4-1 early third-period deficit and draw within one goal with 1:26 remaining on a score from rookie left wing Bill Kovacs.
However, the Bears veteran defense, led by Rumble and Armstrong, sheltered goalie Ray Letourneau long enough for the win.
"At the end our guys were a little tired," said Laird, who had lost three forwards [Richie Walcott, Savage and Halverson] to misconduct penalties and another [Vic Gervais] to a shoulder injury.
"Almost the entire third period we were skating with just two lines," Laird said. "The guys we had in there showed a lot of hustle but we just couldn't get that last goal."
NOTES: Last night marked the return of organist Terry Martindale, who will play at all Jacks' games this season. . . . The Capitals scratched Rod Langway, Dimitri Khristich, Kelly Miller, Mike Ridley, Randy Burridge, John Druce, Al Iafrate and John Slaney, but started Jacks prospects Jim Mathieson, Craig Duncanson and Simon Wheeldon. Slaney, last year's No. 1 draft pick, appears headed back to junior hockey.