The Skipjacks haven't been winning many games lately, but they have been winning a lot of new friends.
In conjunction with the Grant A Wish Foundation, the Skipjacks are making some unfortunate youngsters happy. The team usually has one or more ill youngsters as its guests at games at the Baltimore Arena.
"We've been doing it for about three years now," said Al Rakvin, vice president and assistant general manager of the Skipjacks. "This is a chance to get the kids out of the hospital and into a different environment. Give them a chance to have a little fun and also to meet some players."
The youngsters, many of whom are cancer patients, are usually in the Skipjacks locker room after games. They get to meet the players and are given sticks, pucks and souvenirs. Players sign autographs and talk to the youngsters.
"The players have been very cooperative," said Rakvin. "Many have visited the hospitals and worked on various fund-raising projects for the Grant A Wish program. In all, we've raised between $28,000 and $30,000, and they have the Skipjacks Booster Club to thank for that because it is that group who got us involved in the work."
The key people in the booster club who are working with Grant
TC Wish are Lorraine Kelley and Al Ortt, and both have been involved since its inception three years ago.
"These kids just grab your heart," said Kelley. "I feel like a grandmother to them."
Most of them aren't hockey fans when they come to a Skipjacks game, but after they see a game, they all want to return, she said.
"The hardest part is when we lose one of them," Kelley said. "We had a little boy, Jimmy Norris, a couple of years ago whose main wish was to go on a road trip with the booster club to watch the Skipjacks play. We took him to Adirondack and the Skipjacks won. He was just so happy. But he had terminal cancer, and he died in November of 1990. He was only 13."
Ortt said if someone wants to bring a youngster to a Skipjacks game, they should call Brian Morrison, director of Grant A Wish.
"We have a certificate printed up that makes each kid an honorary Skipjacks team member and give each a Skipjacks pin and banner and bag of small souvenirs and trinkets," he said. "During the game, each gets cotton candy, pizza and soda, and they get to meet Tom Ebright [Skipjacks owner] and his wife, Joyce. They also get their names in lights on the arena scoreboard, are announced over the arena public address and mentioned on the radio by Kenny Albert.
"After the game, I take them to the locker room and they get to meet the players. The players couldn't be nicer. They have all opened their hearts to these wonderful youngsters."
Ortt said the first Grant A Wish reunion will be held at the Baltimore Arena on April 3 and that 15 to 20 families are expected to attend.
Milestones: Defenseman Rod Langway played in his 700th game as a Washington Capital last night.
Down on the farm: Center Mike Boback of Providence won the scoring championship in Hockey East with 22 goals and 47 assists in 34 games. Center Pat Peake of Detroit was named Ontario Hockey League Player of the Week for scoring seven goals and handing out three assists in four games. Peake leads the league in scoring with 37 goals and 52 assists in 49 games. Goalie Duane Derksen of Wisconsin suffered a lacerated tendon in his hand and is out indefinitely. Derksen is 17-11-3 with a 3.30 goals-against average. Left wing Brian Sakic leads the Western Hockey League in scoring with 41 goals and 68 assists in 65 games.
Trading block: The Minnesota North Stars have traded left wing Steve Maltais, a former Capital, to the Quebec Nordiques for center Kip Miller, brother of the Capitals' Kelly Miller.