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The Official Site of the New York Islanders


by Staff Writer / New York Islanders

by John Wiedeman
Bloomberg 1130's Voice of the Islanders

Orr Called the Oilers, Potvin the Sabres

It's  strange how things turn out sometimes in the game of hockey. On St. Patrick's Day, March 17th,  the Islanders were down in Sunrise, Florida for  a game against the Florida Panthers. On my way down the hallway to our broadcast booth, I peered through an open door to the Panthers TV booth and spotted  none  other  than  Bobby  Orr,  who in my opinion was the greatest player  in the history of the game. It turned out to be a conversation I'll never  forget  as Islanders legend Denis Potvin, Orr and I got together and talked  hockey  over  a  cup  of  coffee.  Unless  Denis or Bobby sought my opinion, I stood by and did a lot of listening.

The  conversation  centered around golf until Denis asked Bobby point blank:  "So  who  do  you  like in the playoffs?"  Bobby's answer made both Denis and  I  do  a  doubletake: "Well," Bobby began, "I like the Edmonton Oilers." At the time we had good reason to doubt the Oilers even making the playoffs  as they were struggling just to land the last playoff spot in the West.  Orr then proceeded to tell Potvin that he felt Edmonton had the best room  of any of the teams going to the playoffs and liked nearly everything about them and felt they could go all the way.

I should also point out that in this same conversation, Denis said he liked  the  Buffalo  Sabres  chances  for nearly the same reasons. So as we fast-forward  a  few  months,  we  find that the Oilers are on the verge of eliminating  Anaheim  in the Western Conference Finals, while Buffalo stole the  home  ice  advantage from Carolina and is back in Buffalo for games #3 and #4 with the series tied at 1-game each.

For the older, veteran players, surviving to the Conference Final and dealing  with the cuts, bumps, bruises, strains, sprains and even fractures that  tend  to  accumulate over a season or several seasons, is all part of being  an  NHL player. Staying motivated through all of the carnage at this point  in  the  season is easy and one unspoken motivating factor for these vets  is  fear. Not the fear of a tough opponent physically battering their bodies  during  games,  but the fear of never getting another chance to get this  close  to  the cup. Each team still in contention has at least one of these  veteran  players who might be in a position they'll never see again. They  are: Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks; Dwayne Roloson of the Edmonton  Oilers; Teppo Numminen of the Buffalo Sabres and Rod Brind'Amour, Doug Weight and Glen Wesley of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Teemu  Selanne,  who  at  age 35 is in his second stint with Anaheim, might not get too many more kicks at the can. Nicknamed the "Finnish Flash" during  his  rookie  year  in the NHL, the 1992-93 season with the Winnipeg Jets,  Selanne set a rookie record for goals and points in a season with 76 and  132  respectively.  Things were great for Selanne until he sustained a knee  injury  in  the  mid  '90s,  was traded to Anaheim in 1995, then sent packing  again  to  San  Jose a few seasons later. Selanne then signed with Colorado for the 2003-04 season thinking he was finally joining a team that would  win  a  Stanley Cup. But the knee injury that burdened him for eight years began to affect his play more than it ever had and he hit rock bottom with  the  Avs,  registering career-low numbers. So instead of returning to Finland  and  playing  hockey  during  the lockout, he opted for surgery to rebuild  his  knee. Now healthy, Selanne is back to his old ways, and if he has  learned  one  thing  through  the ordeal it's not to take anything for granted.  The  only  thing  he  cares about is a Stanley Cup, and now, he's closer than he has ever been.

At  36 years of age, Dwayne Roloson has seen his youth pass him by as he  toiled  in  the  Calgary,  Buffalo  and  St. Louis organizations before catching  a break in 2001 with the Minnesota Wild. Things came together for Roloson  in  Minnesota as he and Manny Fernandez were the goaltenders union that took the Wild to a first ever playoff run that saw the Wild go all the way  to  the  Western  Conference  Finals  in  2002-03.  That season helped establish  Roloson  as a bonifide NHL goaltender, so when the Oilers raised many  an  eyebrow  by  sending  a #1 draft pick to the Wild in exchange for Roloson  at  the  March  trade deadline, it signaled to Roloson that he had arrived  as  a #1 goaltender in the NHL. At this writing he has his team in the  driver's  seat in the Western Conference Finals as the Oilers now lead the  series 3 games to none and can close out Anaheim up in Edmonton with 1 more  win.  Roloson  would  then be in position to realize a dream he might well have given up on years earlier; his name inscribed on the Stanley Cup.

In the Eastern Conference, the Buffalo Sabres are a team on the young side  but one Sabres player who can only say that he's young at heart is 37 year  old  defenseman  Teppo Numminen. By NHL standards, Nummimen is an old player, but has played competitively even though he's been diagnosed with a heart ailment in the past few seasons. Numminen has courageously gone about his work with the Sabres, by stabilizing the blueline and the dressing room with  his  veteran prescence. Checking the record, Numminen skated with the Winnipeg  Jets  for  eight seasons, then moved with the team to Phoenix for seven  more  when  the  Jets  became  the Coyotes. In all Numminen spent 15 seasons  with  a team that never went past the first round of the playoffs, if  they  made  the  playoffs at all. One season with the Dallas Stars paid slim  dividends  and  Numminen  went  looking  for  the right mix again. He believes  he's found it in Buffalo, playing for Head Coach Lindy Ruff where the  young Sabres have outgrown their doormat status and now are commanding respect  around the NHL. His time with Buffalo can now be seen as something of  a reward for toiling with teams that had little chance of playing for a Stanley  Cup,  so  Numminen, like Roloson, Selanne and the others is now as close  as  he'll ever get to winning a Stanley Cup. Though he's been slowed by  a  groin injury, you'll probably see him playing through the pain as he plays  the position like a man possessed. Given the circumstances, wouldn't you?

The  Carolina  Hurricanes  have four players who are 35 or older. But Rod  Brind'Amour and Doug Weight who are each 35 years old, and Glen Wesley who  is  37,  are all hoping that this will be their year. Weight has never played  in  the  Cup  Finals;  Brind'Amour  played  in the 1997 Finals with Philadelphia  and  the  2002  Cup Finals with the Canes. Wesley, the senior citizen  on the Hurricanes has played in three Stanley Cup Finals, two with the  Boston  Bruins  in  1988 and 1990 and one with the Hurricanes in 2002. This  group  of  veteran  players combined with youthful enthusiasm, skill, speed  and the solid goaltending of Cam Ward, looks to have a better chance to win the Stanley Cup this spring than in 2002.

The  Islanders missed this season's playoffs but Islander fans should take  heart  and  look at the Anaheim Mighty Ducks to see how a hockey team can  bounce  back  after a down season. They missed the playoffs during the 2003-04 season, but the youth they'd drafted and developed, along with free agent signings have gotten them back into the hunt. Their roster looks very different  from the year they went to the finals in 2003, as only 6 players remain  from  the  2002-03 roster. They are: JS Giguere, Vitali Vishnevski, Ruslan  Salei,  Samuel  Pahlson,  Andy  MacDonald and Rob Niedermayer. Free agent  additions  Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne have helped Anaheim's ascent  while their young players have risen to the challenge of playing in the  NHL.  As a team, Anaheim reached a level of cohesion and symmetry that is crucial down the stretch.

Where would the Mighty Ducks be if they did not unite the Niedermayer brothers,  Rob  and  Scott?   Scott  said  no to a lucrative deal which was offered  to him by the Devils last summer so that he could play on the same team  with  his  brother  in  hopes of winning a Stanley Cup. Without Scott Niedermayer,  the  Mighty  Ducks  would  have  been a good team anyway, but without  him  on  their  blueline,  who's  to say they'd have even made the playoffs.  All  in all, uniting the brothers Niedermayer was a good move by Anaheim for now and the future.

With Ilya Bryzgalov now the starting goalie in Anaheim, how long will Jean Sebastien Giguere wear a Ducks sweater?  I think Giguere is headed out of Anaheim, possibly at the upcoming NHL Draft in Vancouver. In my opinion, possible  suitors  could  be: Tampa Bay, Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and St. Louis.  In  case  you  forgot,  Giguere  won  the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Stanley  Cup  Playoff  MVP in 2003 when the Mighty Ducks were beaten by New Jersey  in seven games. Giguere was incredible in those playoffs and should easily be considered a starting NHL goaltender.


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