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Pacific: Ducks welcome military families to practice

by John Kreiser /
The Anaheim Ducks had company for their practice Saturday. More than 200 members of military families from the Southern California chapter of Operation Homefront attended the workout, then were guests during the afternoon for a barbecue and games in the Honda Center parking lot. Members of the Ducks' families were also part of the activities.

"This is so exciting, to meet these military families, and it's such an honor," Finnish forward Teemu Selanne said. "Obviously it's fun to have people watching our practices, and I hope it's a fun experience for all of them too. I don't think they see a hockey practice very often and to have all these activities here is so great."

Although they had just worked their way through an hour of practice, a number of Ducks players mixed it up with the kids on the street hockey court, in the hardest shot and accuracy challenges and in table hockey.

"They're doing a great service for us," George Parros said. "I've got some family (a cousin) in the military, so it's great to be able to talk to some of these soldiers and their families. There have been some trying times the last few years, and it's interesting to get more connected with these people."

One of those soldiers was Green Beret Aaron Anderson, who had a big smile as he looked over the scene in the parking lot. "This is wonderful," he said. "Just to be here with the players and the other families and for them to invite us out to have a good time like this and see the kids having so much fun, it's a great opportunity."

Operation Homefront is one of the country's largest non-profit organizations dedicated to assisting military families, with more than 30 locations across the country. The agency focuses on a range of issues from home and auto repairs to urgent financial assistance and emotional support.

Backstopping -- The arrival of Ilya Bryzgalov on waivers from Anaheim just about a year ago was the key to the Phoenix Coyotes' improvement after a dreadful start.

If the Coyotes are going to contend for a playoff spot, they'll need the kind of play Bryzgalov gave them this past weekend, when he allowed just three goals in back-to-back home wins against Florida (4-1) and San Jose (4-2).

"He's a top goalie in this league and gives us a chance to win every night," said center Olli Jokinen, who had 3 goals in the two games. "He's been doing his part lately and that's been the biggest reason why we are winning hockey games. We need him to play at the level he is capable of playing and it gives us confidence to have a goalie like him."

Coach Wayne Gretzky agrees that Bryzgalov is going to be vital to a playoff run.

"In order to be competitive in this League, you have to have outstanding goaltending, and we are definitely getting that," he said. "We are getting goaltending as good as anyone in the League right now. He's just making key saves and big saves. He's really in a groove right now and that's great to see."

Bryzgalov was superb in the final two periods against the Sharks, stopping all 24 shots he faced as the Coyotes overcame a 2-0 deficit against the Pacific Division-leading Sharks, who dominated Phoenix last season.

"It's a big test for us," he said. "It was a good test for us -- and we passed."

Parrish jumps in -- Defense, not offense, has been the Dallas Stars' biggest problem. But when the Stars had the chance to sign free-agent forward Mark Parrish, known more for his offensive skills than his work as a checker, they acted.

Parrish, who had 208 goals in 660 NHL games through 2007-08, was bought out by Minnesota during the summer and couldn't find a taker. He signed with the Islanders' AHL team in Bridgeport to get some playing time, then signed a deal with the Stars after three games in the minors.

The 31-year-old became the second Dallas player to score three times in his Stars debut when he scored 3 goals in a 5-2 win at Anaheim on Nov. 7. Fabian Brunnstrom had 3 goals in his Stars (and NHL) debut Oct. 15.

"I didn't feel like I had lost anything," Parrish said. "I was skating at my alma mater (St. Cloud State) and preparing for my chance and I wanted to make the most of it. I wanted to make a difference and contribute to a win and it feels good that we won tonight."
"I don't know too many guys that would pass up an empty net for a hat trick. I know I wouldn't." -- Wayne Gretzky
Parrish, a six-time 20-goal scorer, said he was glad to be a Star after two disappointing seasons with the hometown Wild.

"I was ecstatic when I found out I was going to have a chance to play with the Dallas Stars," he said. "Ever since the buyout happened there had been a lot of talk about other teams wanting me to join them, Dallas being one of them. It was frustrating sitting around waiting for someone to say, 'OK, let's do it.' I was hoping all along it would be Dallas."

Quicker on the draw -- Among the Los Angeles Kings' numerous problems last season were an inability to win faceoffs. The Kings were 27th in the 30-team NHL at 47.8 percent.

That's changed this season. Through the first month, the Kings were eighth in the NHL at 52.3 percent.

Two of the biggest reasons are centers Jarret Stoll and Michal Handzus, both of whom are in the top 30 in winning percentage. Stoll, who came from Edmonton with the reputation of being one of the NHL's better faceoff men, is living up to his billing with a 57 percent success rate (100 of 175). Handzus, who was hurt for much of last season, is 30th with 51 percent (122 of 239).

"The addition that (GM) Dean (Lombardi) made with Stoll was a good addition. He is good on the faceoff and Handzus is healthy," coach Terry Murray said. "He just wasn't healthy a lot of the year. He is where I have seen him before and doing the things he can do on the faceoff.

"Stolly is really good he has a quick stick, he reads and reacts when the puck is dropped. It is not anything magical that we did as a coaching staff, it is just players digging in and excelling in an important part of the game."

Handzus has been at his best on the power play, 30 of 46 faceoffs when the Kings have the man advantage. Overall, the Kings has won 73-of-126 (57 percent) with the extra man.

Ice chips -- The San Jose Sharks have their first member in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Igor Larionov, who led the Sharks to their first playoff victory in 1994, was among this year's entrants. Larionov played 2 full seasons with the Sharks before being traded to Detroit early in 1995-95. ... San Jose backup goaltender Brian Boucher's shutout streak reached 163:42 before Dallas' Loui Eriksson scored early in the third period of Saturday's 2-1 win. That's not even close to Boucher's best -- he had five consecutive shutouts and a streak of 332:01 while with Phoenix in 2004. "You can't go into games thinking shutout," Boucher said. "It's tough to do every night." ... Dallas hasn't won back-to-back games since February. The Stars missed their chance to end that string when they lost at San Jose on Saturday after their 5-2 win at Anaheim the night before. They did allow fewer than three goals in consecutive games for the first time this season. ... The game in Anaheim also marked the return of defenseman Sergei Zubov, who had missed the first month of the season after undergoing hip surgery. ... Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle gave his players two days off after home losses to Dallas on Friday and Florida two days later. "I told them to take two days, come back and be prepared to go to work on Wednesday. It's the first chance we've had in a long time to have a two-day break. We feel that this time is important for them to get rest, get their heads free of hockey for 48 hours, clean the garage and kiss their wife." ... The only good thing for the Ducks in the 5-2 loss to the Stars was that center Brendan Morrison finally scored. "It's always nice to contribute," said Morrison, who signed as a free agent during the summer. "The last three games it feels like it's starting to come, so hopefully it's a sign." ... Los Angeles defenseman Jack Johnson, out since the second game of the season due to a shoulder injury, skated before Monday's practice. There's still no word as to a possible return date. ... Monday was the one-year anniversary of a game the Kings refer to as the "Royal Rebound," a contest against Dallas in which they trailed 4-0 with 7:15 remaining, scored three goals in a 5:07 span, allowed a sixth-attacker goal by Dallas' Mike Modano and then won in overtime. "That is a fun game to look back on," said forward Anze Kopitar, who had the game-winner. ... Viktor Tikhonov became the fourth Phoenix rookie to score his first NHL goal when he connected 12:07 into the first period of Sunday's 4-2 victory against San Jose. His father, Vasily, was on hand for the goal. "I am very proud," he told the Coyotes' Web site. "Now I can call my father and tell him Viktor scored." Vasily's father, of course, is the legendary Soviet hockey coach, also named Viktor. ... One of the four rookies, Mikkel Boedker, became the first of the Coyotes' freshman to get two goals in a game. Boedker, Phoenix's top pick in last June's Entry Draft, scored twice in Saturday's 4-1 win against Florida. Coach Wayne Gretzky gave Boedker several attempts to finish the hat trick, but he couldn't do it. "I don't know too many guys that would pass up an empty net for a hat trick," said Gretzky, the NHL's all-time leading scorer. "I know I wouldn't."
Material from wire services and team Web sites was used in this report.

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