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Wilson, McPhee team up to launch Caps’ new era

June 10, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Washington Capitals can’t expect to charge higher prices at their new arena and still play 2-1 hockey games. Therefore, the catchword for owner Abe Pollin is entertainment.

The Capitals on Monday introduced new coach Ron Wilson and new general manager George McPhee at the site of the team’s future home, the MCI Center. Pollin talked about winning the Stanley Cup, but he spoke mostly about drumming up a following for a team that thrived on defense under former coach Jim Schoenfeld.

``We have been able to hire two young people who we know are going to lead this organization to a new era of exciting hockey,″ Pollin said. ``We’re convinced that these two gentlemen are going to turn this town around.″

They might even win a few games along the way.

``My objective is to create new excitement for the fan-base here, and to turn on more fans than ever to this hockey club,″ McPhee said. ``And naturally our goal is to bring the Stanley Cup to Washington.″

The Capitals will be moving this winter from the USAir Arena to the MCI Center, so Pollin is eager to attract new fans and erase memories of the Capitals’ worst season since 1981-82, a 33-40-9 disaster that ended Washington’s 14-year playoff run.

Wilson replaces Schoenfeld, who on Monday was named coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. Schoenfeld’s defense-oriented style did not seem to fit a Washington team with offensive-minded players such as Peter Bondra, Adam Oates, Chris Simon and Joe Juneau.

``My job is to get them to play a little more open offensively and to get them to have a little more fun,″ Wilson said. ``I think if the players are having fun, the fans will have fun, too.″

Wilson, 42, signed a three-year contract worth a reported $2.1 million. He spent the past four years as coach of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, compiling a 120-145-31 record and guiding the expansion team to its first playoff appearance this season.

The Capitals were among several teams to interview him for a coaching opening.

``It was like being the flavor of the month,″ Wilson said. ``Everybody’s taking a lick, but you don’t know if they’re going to buy the whole ice cream cone. (The Capitals) finally bought the whole cone.″

Wilson also coached Team USA to the 1996 World Cup of Hockey championship.

McPhee assumes the responsibilities of David Poile, who served 15 years before being fired last month. McPhee, at 38, becomes the league’s youngest general manager. He has never been a GM, although he did plenty of front office work with the Vancouver Canucks as their vice president of hockey operations.

``I’d better be circumspect when talking to the other general managers because the veteran guys are going to take advantage of the young guy,″ McPhee said. ``What I’ve got to do is watch a lot of videotape and get to learn this team as quickly as possible.″

He won’t have much time to settle into his new post _ the NHL draft takes place on June 21.

Wilson and McPhee are not strangers to each other. Both worked together in Vancouver when Wilson was an assistant coach with the Canucks.

``We know each well enough that I think this is going to be an easy transition,″ McPhee said.

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