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Free LCS 1997-98
Reader Hockey Pool
head coach: Ken Hitchcock
roster: C-Mike Modano, Guy Carbonneau, Joe Nieuwendyk, Bob Bassen. LW-Dave Reid, Greg Adams, Benoit Hogue, Juha Lind, Bob Errey, Patrick Cote. RW-Todd Harvey, Pat Verbeek, Jamie Langenbrunner, Jere Lehtinen, Grant Marshall. D-Derian Hatcher, Craig Ludwig, Darryl Sydor, Shawn Chambers, Richard Matvichuk, Sergei Zubov, Craig Muni. G-Ed Belfour, Roman Turek.
injuries: Richard Matvichuk, d (knee, 4 weeks); Greg Adams, lw (sprained left knee, 4-6 weeks); Patrick Cote, lw (shoulder, indefinite). Dave Reid, lw (back spasms, day-to-day). Eddie Belfour, g (back strain, day-to-day)
transactions: Reassigned Dan Keczmer, d, to the Michigan K-Wings (IHL); placed Jarrod Skalde, c, back on waivers; recalled Dan Keczmer, d, and Manny Fernandez, g, from Michigan K-Wings (IHL); claimed Jarrod Skalde, c, from waivers.
Western Conference - Central Division Team GP W L T PTS GF GA Dallas 57 36 13 8 80 174 115 Detroit 58 31 15 12 74 177 136 St Louis 59 30 21 8 68 173 145 Phoenix 57 24 22 11 59 162 159 Chicago 56 22 25 9 53 134 133 Toronto 55 19 29 7 45 129 162
1/26 Toronto W 5-1 1/29 at Florida L 3-2 1/31 at St. Louis L 6-3 2/02 at Toronto W 5-1 2/04 Philadelphia W 1-0 2/07 Chicago W 3-1
by Jim Iovino, Dallas Correspondent
80 Points and Counting
The Stars lost two games in a row for only the second time this season. While for mere mortal teams that might have meant that a long losing funk's a brewin' -- for Dallas it just meant that the guys lost focus for a couple of games.
The Stars dropped one to Florida 3-2 and one two days later to St. Louis 6-3. During the first loss, Florida came out with more energy than Dallas, and used that to dictate the flow of the game. The Stars were only reacting during this first game, and a bit slowly at that. That wasn't good enough to get the job done, and the Stars lost it 3-2.
Most everyone involved with the game said that it looked like a team of imposters skating for Dallas. Several even said it looked like a sinister plan, one possibly cooked up by the Stars' arch-nemesis the Edmonton Oilers. Instead of knocking the Stars players out one by one through injury, they hired a team of imposters to take to the ice while the Oilers kidnapped, then cruelly tortured the real Dallas Stars mercilessly. The torture was rumored to include a taped loop of all of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's speaking appearances for the last two years. The Horror! The Horror!
Luckily for the Stars, a certain LCS correspondent read the devious sabotage perfectly and hatched a master plan to retrieve his hockey heroes from the throes of a death match with the Oilers. While the details of the rescue remain secret to this day, lets just say blood was spilled, and several "I'm gonna have to get medieval on his ass..." quotes were overheard.
But the plan was ultimately successful, and the REAL Dallas Stars were released with little fanfare back into the general public. Funny how no news publications picked up on the missing players.but I digress.
Anyway, Dallas recovered from their kidnappings just in time to dress for the next game against the St. Louis Blues. This time there was no caped, anonymous LCS correspondent to come to their rescue.
The Golden Quote (AKA Brett Hull) had his way with the Stars once again, personally scoring a lowly (for him) four points against Dallas. Seems like Hull scored four points the last time the two teams met, and that was pretty messy also. Oh, well. Ya can't win them all. Especially against Hully and Al MacInnis, the dynamic comedy duo of the NHL. "Why that's a 2-1 win in Dallas, for god's sake." according to the ESPN commercial. (You had to be there)
But, Dallas recovered from the short funk and went on to win the next three games straight, raising their record to 8-2-0 in the last 10 games. Last time the tote board was checked, that left Dallas with an overall record of 36-13-8 for 80 points. That, fellow LCS readers, is good enough for first place overall in the league.
The Stars are in the enviable position of going into the Olympic break with a commanding first-place lead. And, no one could have even dreamt that the team would be sitting so pretty - considering the extensive team injuries so far this year.
Dallas' coach Ken Hitchcock saw it much the same way. "Sixty-five points [going into the Olympic break]would have been a good total," said Hitchcock. "So we're excited as heck to have 80. This is as high as we could get, especially with all the key injuries we've had."
Verbeek get back on track
Following the 6-3 loss to the Blues, the Stars were showing signs that the good thing they had going all year may be starting to run off the rails. Everyone was talking about all the injuries to the Stars, but in the team's inside circle of influence, talk must have been shifting instead towards getting more production out of a few key players.
Word was that Ken Hitchcock had many things to say during the next day's practice session, just prior to the Feb. 2 Toronto game. Many colorful phrases were probably thrown about. Even after the practice had ended and most of the players had left the ice, Hitch still wasn't quite done saying his peace. He took Pat Verbeek aside, and gave the slumping winger about a 30-minute dissertation on the finer points of bringing energy and productive enthusiasm to games.
Now, many people don't know that the Stars' affable head coach has a dual personality. Before or after games, he has an easy smile, and is eager to help anyone in any way possible. But, during the games, or whenever else Hitch wears his coaching cap, he transforms into Mr. (wishyoucouldrunand) Hyde. If you haven't seen the transformation, you're not alone - word is anyone witnessing the change immediately goes blind. Hey, all I'm trying to say is that the guy gets a little animated and testy when the team doesn't play, practice, or scrimmage well.
It was said that Verbeek mainly stood there listening while Hitchcock said his peace. The conversation must have had something to do with the fact that Verbeek still wasn't living up to his $3 million contract, wasn't producing enough lately.
"It's important from any of the top six forward positions that we get production," said Hitchcock afterward. "With a guy like Patty, that has to be energy. The chat was really about not letting a lack of offense affect your mental outlook. From that position, we have to have fewer peaks and valleys. The way he plays is a hard way to play, so we talked in terms of how to find that energy at 7:30 every night. That's what this team needs from him."
Verbeek, as it is well known, didn't produce up to expectations the previous year. That was explained away as a lack of familiarity with the team. This season, Verbeek had recently only scored one goal (an empty-netter) and two assists in 13 games, and was a -8. Clearly, something was still missing from his game, and it must have been something mental.
"It was productive," Verbeek said of his chat with Hitchcock. "I've just got to play better. I think the team has gotten away from playing the way we have to play to win."
Well the chat must have worked, because the Stars went on to rip Toronto 5-1, and then outwork a very tough and physical Philadelphia team to a well-fought 1-0 win. Pat Verbeek just happened to score the game's only goal. For Verbeek, who wears number 16, it was his 16th goal of the year.
Patty wasn't quite finished. In typical Verbeek fashion, he saved the best for last. Verbeek was the hero of the day during the Star's last game played before the break, a 3-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks. Patty scored two goals within a 1:23 span during the second period to break open the game for Dallas to 3-1. Verbeek's first goal was the eventual game-winner, his second game-winner in as many games.
"We wanted to go into the break on a positive note. This gives us a lot of confidence because when we come back, there's not going to be a lot of games left in the season," said Verbeek after the game.
Funny what a little sense of urgency will do for a player, no?
Props finally go to Brots
The other positive outcome for the February 7 game against Chicago was that the Dallas Stars franchise finally paid proper respect to one of the best all-time American-born players in the history of the game. Fittingly enough, Dallas retired Neal Broten's number 7 jersey to the rafters of Reunion Arena on February 7, 1998.
It was no small consolation to Broten, who was summarily waived and forgotten by the Stars following last season. GM Bob Gainey played his cards perfectly and brought Broten back into a Stars uniform once again late last season, a time when the Stars needed some glue to hold them together for the home stretch of the year.
Broten performed as advertised, and gave the team the experience and depth they needed to carry them into the playoffs. Funny thing happened, though. Hitchcock barely played Broten at all during the Stars' first round embarrassment at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers, and that even wasn't until the sixth or seventh game, long after he could do any good for the team. It seemed kinda funny to bring in a guy you were counting on for playoff experience, then not play him during the post-season. But, who the hell am I to question Hitchcock's greatness?
The net result was that Broten was left hanging without any word from the team right up until training camp of this season. And the word wasn't good. The Stars didn't offer Brots a contract, and waited to see if he cleared waivers. He did. The Stars still let him go, despite the rumors.
"I guess now I'm a farmer," Broten was quoted afterwards.
Well, that must have left some bittersweet memories for Neal. And, he confirmed it by saying that he would have preferred to have his number retired in Minnesota, where Broten is as close to a god as a mere mortal can become. But, he was still happy that the Stars recognized his contribution to the franchise.
Broten has won arguably every award or championship possible for an American-born player. He has won a high-school championship, he was named one of the best collegiate players of his time, and he went on to infamy with the Miracle on Ice 1980's Olympic squad that defeated the Russian team. Broten also became the first American player to break 100 career points in the NHL, and eventually scored the Cup- winning goal for New Jersey the year that the Devils took it all home. Broten spent the majority of his career in his native Minnesota with the North Stars franchise, where his name is still on the top of nearly every scoring record the franchise has ever recorded.
So, to say that Broten has had a remarkable career is pretty much an understatement - especially to a player with 1,096 career NHL games, more that any other American player.
Broten finished his NHL career with 274 goals and 922 points. He is the Stars franchise's all-time leader in assists (593) and points (867).
Some notable quotes:
"I spent parts of 16 years with this organization, and the way they treated my wife, my kids, my family could not have been better," Broten said. "Feb. 7, 1998 - I'll never forget it as long as I live."
"It would be nice for me if my jersey was retired in Minnesota. I played there for 13 years, and I played in Dallas for about 90 games," Broten continued.
"But this is still a great thing for me. When you start playing this game, you just want to make the team and get a jersey. To think that mine will be retired here and no one else will wear No. 7 is an amazing feeling."
Thanks for the memories, Neal - and for being a great role model for any American hockey player. (Now doesn't that fit just nicely into the whole Olympic theme?)
No Skalde for the Stars
In a side note, the Stars tried to work some more waivers magic a-la Tony Hrkac by acquiring Jarrod Skalde, a center who has lately spent more time on the waiver wire than dressed for a team. Well, after playing in only one game, the Stars must have decided it was best to put him back where they got him. (Sorry, Jarrod). No word was given in explanation for the center's short stay, but it must have not been pretty. Oh well. Maybe Gainey can still pull off some GM magic after the Olympic break.
What got them here
Overall, Dallas is looking really good for the remainder of the season. Despite losing so many players to injury, the Stars still developed into one of the best teams in many categories: best power- play in the league, best faceoff win percentages, allowing among the fewest goals-against, the best road team in the league, etc. None of these accomplishments would have been possible if it weren't for the collective efforts of every individual Stars player. Many coaches in the league call Dallas the hardest working TEAM in hockey. That is no understatement.
While Hitchcock's witches' brew of a system (which includes a strange mix of offensive aggressiveness, and a relentless forecheck teamed with continuous puck pursuit) keeps winning, there is no mistaking that it is the team's defensive foundation (thanks, Bob Gainey!), along with the player's absolute commitment to each other that is really keeping them together.
The main reason Dallas now occupies the enviable top position is because of its defensive foundation. If it weren't for Belfour's great backstopping (once they learned how to keep out of his way) along with Roman Turek, the team would be giving up many more goals.
Of course, Dallas has arguably one of the best defensive squads in the game. They are directly responsible for allowing the netminders to face the fewest shots possible, a job they routinely perform flawlessly. There are many nights Belfour sees 14 shots or fewer.
That isn't the only contribution the blueliners make to the club. Dallas' defense has become one of the most mobile around, and can score with the best of them.
And, two of the most notable players in this scenario have been Sergei Zubov and Darryl Sydor.
Zubov has fulfilled his role as power-play quarterback. Once Modano and the other forwards learned Zubie's "unusual" playing style, and how it could work for them, the power-play goals started flowing freely. The forwards were used to having the pointman send the puck towards the goal so they can crash the net looking to sop up the rebound gravy train. Old Zubie had something else in mind. You see, the guy can hold the puck longer than any player, and then send in a beautiful, crisp-ass pass through a lot of traffic, right to the tape of the waiting forward. It is up to that forward to make the best of his gift from Zubov. Early in his Stars tenure, the forwards simply mistook that pass for a lack of willingness to shoot a bomb from the point. How wrong they were. Now, the forwards know Zubie will be looking for that sweet pass right to them, just as they are in the prime-scoring zone. If there isn't any chance for the pass, Zubov uncorks a howitzer from the point. Make no mistake about it: the boy can flat-out make that biscuit scream towards the net. More often than not, Zubov scores, just as he did for the first Stars goal against Chicago on Feb 7, which just happened to be on the power play. See how easy that works?
Now Zubov's partner in crime, Darryl Sydor, doesn't quite have the strong bomb, or the crisp passes that Zubov does. But Syd makes up for it by being in the right place at the right time. If he isn't performing acrobatic heroics keeping the puck in the offensive zone during the power play, Sydor is either quickly pressing up ice - dishing the puck off to a forward in good position, or he is sending in slappers from the point, many of which end up in the net either directly from his stick, or with a little help from deflections or rebounds along the way.
Sydor has broken nearly every career mark of his this year, including an offensive hat trick, and a four-point night (twice). Sydor is such a great positional player, is mobile enough, and has a nose for the net enough to have been given the job to fill in at the wing, when the Stars forwards were depleted due to many differing injuries. Sydor played on the wing effectively, and showed his versatile skills off by netting two goals as forward, one as a defenseman on the night he scored the hat trick.
Both of these guys saw their careers turn around in Dallas this year. Sydor was given up on by the LA Kings. Zubov was misunderstood in Pittsburgh. In Dallas, the two combine under Hitchcock's positive atmosphere to comprise the main reason why the Stars' power play is currently the best in the league: they have two of the best manning the points.
Many teams now recognize their contribution, and will actually target the Stars' defensemen during the forecheck, hoping to break up the ability for the mobile defenders to carry up the puck and pass it off to the forwards. That is an enviable position for any defense to be in, to be recognized as being so dangerous and effective.
* Dallas residents voted and approved a tax hike, which seals the deal on a new, $230 million arena megaplex for the Stars, and the Mavericks NBA team. It can't be built soon enough. The old barn is falling apart, and the ice SUCKS.
* Roman Turek has done a great job of filling in for the injured Eddie Belfour. Belfour's back has finally become an issue (knew it was just a matter of time). In his stead, Turek played well enough to record his first NHL career shutout against Philadelphia on Feb. 4.
Turek's great play has earned him some ominous quotes from his coach:
"Our goaltender won the game for us," coach Hitchcock said. "A lot of times when you have a big goaltender, they're at their best when there's traffic around the net. With the Flyers, there was a ton of traffic. There are basketball teams that aren't that big."
Hitch also added that "Belfour isn't' going to play forever.." or something similar, meaning that the coach has confidence in the netminder being groomed to eventually take over as the starter.
"I have puck from Calgary last year, my first win, and now I have first NHL shutout," Turek said. "It was pretty good game for me, I thought."
"Getting the shutout is nice," said Turek. "Every player feels better when they play more and more. In Europe I would play about every game like Eddie does here. Now I play once a week or maybe less. I had couple lucky saves tonight, but I had good saves, too."
Its great to see that Roman is developing into the goaltender the Stars knew he could be.
* The defense is missing Richard Matvichuk, who is still recovering from a (what else?) knee injury. Hatcher is now a little less- effective at stopping the opposing team's best forward(s) without the help of his partner in crime. The wear of this absence, along with too many of the forwards, puts a lot of stress on the Stars winning ways. The rest of the defense is still relatively healthy. Now if they could just keep a few more forwards on the bench..
* There's a few other things to note, but that'll have to wait until next time-my fingers are falling off. See ya on the flipside..
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