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Gaborik honors lost friends, hopes for chemistry

by Dan Rosen
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- With heavy legs and an even heavier heart, Marian Gaborik returned Saturday to the Rangers and went right to work at training camp.

It was maybe the best medicine for the star right wing, who is still grieving the deaths of his close friends and former teammates, Derek Boogaard and Pavol Demitra.


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"It's been a crazy offseason," said Gaborik, who eulogized Demitra at his funeral Thursday in Slovakia. "To see Boogie go, Pavol and a couple of other guys were lost as well -- this summer has been tough, but you have to move on. Obviously I'm never going to forget these guys. I'm always going to have them in my heart, but I have to move on."

Gaborik spent six days in his native Slovakia and didn't return to North America until Friday, meaning he missed the Rangers first day of on-ice fitness testing here at the MSG Training Center. Gaborik, though, skated three times with fellow Slovaks such as Marian Hossa and Zdeno Chara, who were also in for Demitra's funeral, "to get my mind off things."

He said the funeral for Demitra was first-class, providing the kind of goodbye that his friend deserved. Gaborik wrote his eulogy and spoke on behalf of the 10 hockey players who were on stage at Demitra's funeral.

"There were a lot of people there and they really did a great job of organizing it," Gaborik said. "It was really tough, but life goes on."

Life for Gaborik goes on with training camp and the upcoming season. These, of course, are signs that things are getting back to normal for him and, well, the rest of the hockey world, which is also grieving the deaths of Boogaard, Rick Rypien, Wade Belak and the members of the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team, including Demitra, that were lost in the plane crash in Central Russia on Sept. 7.

"Now I have to turn the page and focus on hockey, focus on the camp, focus on the upcoming season," Gaborik said. "It's not going to be easy right from the get-go, but I have to try to do it as best as I can to focus and to give 100 percent out there to get ready for the year."

Gaborik said he will honor Boogaard and Demitra in some way this season, but for now he is simply thinking about training camp and establishing chemistry with his new center, Brad Richards.

Richards and Gaborik have to use training camp as their chance to get to know one another and mesh together. Gaborik's absence from the team's informal skates in the week leading up to training camp put the multi-million dollar duo behind the curve.

"I'm hoping Gabby and I work, that's the plan, but we've got some work there to do," Richards said. "I'm happy Gabby is a right winger with a left shot. I've played with a lot of guys like that. We've got that going for us, but after that, you never know."

"This summer has been tough, but you have to move on. Obviously I'm never going to forget these guys. I'm always going to have them in my heart, but I have to move on." -- Marian Gaborik on Derek Boogaard and Pavol Demitra
Gaborik can't see any reason why he and Richards won't instantly click.

"We skated maybe two or three times together, but you can see how he handles himself on the ice," said Gaborik, who struggled last season with injuries and inconsistent play leading to only a 48-point season. "He's a natural playmaker. The plays he makes, they're just great. You know you're going to get it on your tape. I think we're going to get used to each other pretty quickly."

While Gaborik and Richards learn about one another, the big question early in Rangers camp is who can play on their left side? Tortorella said Wojtek Wolski will be given the opportunity to earn a spot there, but Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Stepan are viable candidates as well.

Dubinsky played most of last season with Artem Anisimov and Ryan Callahan. But, if Tortorella is looking for a physical winger who will bump, grind and crash the net to play with the playmaker Richards and the shooter Gaborik, the Alaskan-born Dubinsky may just be the guy.

Marian Gaborik. (Photo: Getty Images)
"I know that's going to be a hot topic along the way here, but I'm going to try different people there," said Tortorella, who is notorious for changing up his lines often. "Is it another talented player where they just keep the puck? Is it a player that needs to go get the puck sometimes? That's something we have to figure out along the way here and see what meshes. We'll see how it goes."

Neither Richards nor Gaborik have a preference on what type of winger they'd like to see on their left side. Richards wants to make sure it works with Gaborik before thinking or worrying about who is on the opposite wing.

"Whoever is there, we'll have to get used to each other and hopefully we can stick together as much as we can," Gaborik said. "If we stick together it means we're doing good."

If they stick together, it means Gaborik has overcome the most emotional offseason of his life and is back to playing the type of hockey everyone knows he's capable of.

"I've talked to Gabby right on through this...and continue to have a conversation," Tortorella said. "He'll be OK. He'll be OK. Everybody grieves losses of people and it's been hard for a lot of people, but I believe Gabby will be OK."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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