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Getzlaf gifted at finding second gear

by Larry Wigge
When asked at what point his second wind kicked in during the Anaheim Ducks' 4-3 triple-overtime victory Sunday over the Detroit Red Wings in Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal that evened the series at one game apiece, power forward Ryan Getzlaf said, "It didn't. I was running on fumes out there."

Those fumes were pretty good if you consider that the 6-4, 221-pound center played 38 minutes, 59 seconds of hard-nosed hockey, recording one goal and two assists with six shots, five hits and one blocked shot. Getzlaf also took 28 faceoffs.

"If that was fumes then I need to stand next to him and get a second wind," said checking center Todd Marchant, who scored the winning goal 1:15 into the sixth period. "He's a big man, plays big minutes and helps us get big goals."

"All of the young guns — Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — have great hands, but Getz has the best hands I’ve ever seen," said 38-year-old teammate Teemu Selanne, who has been right in the middle of impact player talk with his 579 goals and 1,212 points in 16 NHL seasons. "I haven't seen a more dominant player than Getzlaf in the League.

"He's unbelievable. I don't know if he knows himself how good he can be. I don't see any reason why he can't be the best player in this League. He has all the tools. I think it's only a matter of time before he realizes it."

Captain Scott Niedermayer added, "Getzy's our go-to guy. He's just a horse. A thoroughbred. He's especially dangerous when we need him the most."

And together with linemates Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan, "they're hard to handle for anyone anytime because they all have size, strength and a great drive," Niedermayer said.

Big and strong. Prototypical power forward, with fury and snarl. But Ryan Getzlaf isn't any ordinary in-your-face forward, he's also got the touch and patience of a diamond cutter. That's a rare combination, and a combination rarely seen so soon.

Getzlaf was a big part of Anaheim's drive to the 2007 Stanley Cup over Ottawa, when he led the Ducks in scoring with 7 goals and 10 assists as a 21-year-old. He's 23 now and he's more mature, more of a leader. And after just two games in this series against Detroit, he already has 2 goals and 3 assists, and has played a whopping 66:54, including the 38:59 he played in Game 2

You could argue that Getzlaf, who leads all scorers in the playoffs this year with 13 points in eight games, has an inside track early on for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

"We're hoping that the more he plays, the more he's going to run out of gas. What did he have, 37 (minutes) tonight?" Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "I think we all feel this is going to be a long series -- and that's what you try to do, wear the other team out."

One day earlier, Babcock was asked why Getzlaf is so difficult to handle.

"Getzlaf's one of the best players in the world," Babcock said. "He plays down the middle and he shares the puck as good as anybody. He shoots it. He's big, he's good on penalty kill, he wins faceoffs, he can be mean and he passes the puck on the backhand as good as anybody in the game. Real player."

Getzlaf was projected to be good when the Ducks picked him 19th in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft out of Regina, Saskatchewan, and he has surpassed expectations. He's had 173 points during the past two regular seasons and was an All-Star each year. He ranked third in the league with 66 assists this season, setting a franchise record, and sixth with 91 points. He's only the third Duck in team history to surpass the 90-point plateau.

"Ever since I came here, I've wanted to be an impact player -- and a player the Ducks can count on down the road," Getzlaf said after Game 2. "I'm just not a big stats guy. I just want to play and I've been lucky to have had an opportunity to learn from some great players."

Those athletic genes are what every team in sports is looking for, and the Getzlaf family is oozing with great skills. Chris Getzlaf, older by 2 1/2 years, got his kid brother into hockey.

"I remember what a good hockey player he was back then and how tough he was to play against," Ryan recalled. "I grew up wanting to be better than him, so I took my lumps against the older guys and then fought back."

"Ever since I came here, I've wanted to be an impact player -- and a player the Ducks can count on down the road.  I'm just not a big stats guy. I just want to play and I've been lucky to have had an opportunity to learn from some great players." -- Ryan Getzlaf
But these youngsters went the gamut in sports -- Ryan won a national peewee baseball championship for Saskatchewan in 1998, plays a mean game of volleyball, shoots in the mid-80s in golf and was a pretty fair slotback in football. But his affinity was always for hockey, going from being captain of the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League to first-round NHL draft pick to All-Star. Chris, on the other hand, went on to become a star slotback for the University of Regina football team and now plays for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League.

"I wanted to be a quarterback, but nobody would ever let me," Ryan said, laughing. "I played running back. In the summer I still love going out and throwing the ball to Chris, getting him ready to go to camp."

If you ask most general managers in the NHL, they will tell you that character is <i>the</i> intangible they look for most in a player. Well, growing up quickly is just a part of that. And Getzlaf showed his ability to fend for himself on the ice and off at an early age.

"I stayed on the ice after school until my hands froze up," he said. "Then, I'd go home and make dinner."

Make dinner? Yes, that was just one of those chores Getzlaf got because his parents, Steve and Susan both worked -- Steve for Ipso Steel and Susan for the Saskatchewan Phone Co.

The true character in Getzlaf came shortly thereafter, when his parents were divorced. Chris and Ryan learned to grow up a little quicker than most kids might be asked. But it’s clear they both turned out well-adjusted and driven.

And that’s where those intangibles like character, passion, dedication and determination clicked in.

"It wasn’t that bad," Getzlaf said. "Mom worked a lot when I was a kid and Dad moved just down the street. Cooking? That was just one of the things I tried to help out around the house.

"Actually, I loved to experiment in the kitchen, although I’m not good at following recipes. I usually had a cupboard and fridge filled with food and it was often up to me to make something edible. I made a pretty good steak and my lasagna was pretty tasty. I’m not afraid to try anything, but I won’t deny that some of my meals wound up wrapped in tin foil and buried at the bottom of the garbage can."

On the ice, Getzlaf’s hunger has led to this evolution from promising youngster to leader and All-Star. A mighty Duck.

And despite what he said Sunday evening after Anaheim's triple overtime victory in Game 2 against Detroit, he's found his second wind in a career that is flourishing.

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