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Pahlsson makes an impact with his defense

by Larry Wigge

Samuel Pahlsson is a 50-goal man when you consider he usually gets 10 or so and erases another 40 or so goals by opponents.
He’s the X-factor. The secret weapon. A 50-goal man when you consider he usually gets 10 or so and erases another 40 or so goals by opponents. The perfect role player you need to win a Stanley Cup.

Anaheim Ducks center Samuel Pahlsson is a quiet guy with close-cropped blond hair and a baby face. He’s also tough -- to score on; a Swede who packs a punch and is relentless in his ability to check an opponent into submission.

The defending Stanley Cup champs are having trouble finding their identity early this season -- especially on offense without top guns Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne. But Pahlsson and shutdown linemates Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen haven’t lost a beat from their playoff run in which they stuffed out offensive threats like Minnesota’s Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra, Vancouver’s Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk -- then not only shut down Ottawa’s high-scoring trio of Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley in the Stanley Cup Final, but outscored them, 5-4 and contributed three game-winners. Moen actually scored the Cup-winning goal in Game 5.

But to Rob Niedermayer, Pahlsson is the heartbeat of their line.

"He strong and smart. Give him an assignment and he’s relentlessly passionate about completely shutting down that player or that line," Niedermayer said.

After Game 1 of the Final, Ducks GM Brian Burke said of Pahlsson: "Sammy's a Swede, but he thinks he's from Red Deer (Alberta). He’s gritty and tough as nails to play against. A definite impact player.”

In the four seasons he’s played in Anaheim, Samuel Pahlsson has helped the Anaheim Ducks make it to the Stanley Cup Final twice and the Western Conference finals in 2006.
  Diary of a throw-in
Larry Wigge | columnist

Throw-in. Afterthought. Add-on. That's what most observers would call Samuel Pahlsson. We all map the results of the star player first, right? Then the next key player in the deal. But what about the throw-in?

Pahlsson still remembers March 6, 2000, when he was about to board a flight in Sweden and his cell phone rang.

"It was one of my friends telling me I had just been traded," Pahlsson recalled. "He was babbling on and on about seeing the item on the Internet. I was playing for MoDo in the Swedish Elite League, and I really hadn’t given a lot of thought about playing in the NHL ... and I didn’t get all the details."

Pahlsson was 23 at the time, and it had been nearly four years since he was Colorado’s 10th choice, the 176th pick overall, in the 1996 Entry Draft. His mindset was far from North America. But he was still curious about that phone call, which was hurried because his team was boarding the plane.

On the flight he began wondering about the news that the Avalanche had traded him -- somewhere, for someone.

There was no ESPN or TSN to turn to for the news of the moment, so he had to wait until the plane landed. It was then that he learned that his rights had been traded along with Brian Rolston, Martin Grenier and a first-round draft choice for Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque, plus Dave Andreychuk.

"Because I come from the same town in Sweden that Peter Forsberg does (Ornskoldsvik) and he won a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 1996, I knew that Colorado was a team that everyone wanted to play for. So I was shocked ... a little, because I had sort of dreamed of playing for the Avs," Pahlsson recalled. "I had to ask some friends about the Boston Bruins."

A few months later, Pahlsson was in Bruins camp, but not for long. Then-coach Mike Keenan saw no upside in the 5-foot-11, 212-pound center and got him shipped to Anaheim for defenseman Patrick Traverse and tough winger Andrei Nazarov.

In the four seasons he’s played in Anaheim, Pahlsson has helped the Ducks make it to the Stanley Cup Final twice and the Western Conference finals in 2006 — and don’t forget Sweden’s gold medal in the 2006 Olympics at Turin, Italy.

Coincidence? Doubtful.

"He’s been a big part of our group," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "At first, when I came here a year ago, I didn’t know much about him. But when you see what he does defensively, on faceoffs, in all the traffic areas along the boards and in front of the net, you don’t look at him as a five-goal scorer or a 10-goal scorer. You appreciate his skill level in other ways and start to count up all of the goals he prevented."

Former Ducks GM Bryan Murray, who was behind the bench for Ottawa in the Final, also praised his former player, noting that, “Once we found a role for him when I was there, he became a tremendously valuable contributor.”

What no one knew was that while Pahlsson was doing his part in that Stanley Cup run, he was battling through a sports hernia that did not heal during the summer, forcing him to have surgery on Sept. 2. Think about that for a moment and try not to call this 29-year-old Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, native anything but a warrior.

"He’s so strong and quick, but he’s also very, very smart," said St. Louis Blues forward Paul Kariya, a longtime Duck who remembers seeing Pahlsson struggle to find his way in the NHL when he first arrived in Anaheim.

The smarts probably come from Pahlsson’s parents, Olle and Inger, both of whom are teachers. His folks got to share the Stanley Cup with him this summer.

"I was just thinking about my dad singing folk songs back in Ornskoldsvik when we shared the Stanley Cup with the rest of my family and friends there."

Anything else about your day with the Cup? "Yeah, we ate spaghetti out of the Cup," he said.

Pahlsson is hard-working, smart, tenacious — and skilled, too.

"I’m not different from anyone else. I love to score goals, too,” he said. “I dream about it. Don’t ever think I wouldn’t love to score 50 goals in a season, but ... "

A devilish smile grew across Pahlsson’s face before he continued, saying, "But that's not me. I can't do that. I have a role on this team. I get my peace of mind from winning."

For all of Pahlsson’s one-for-all, all-for-one attitude now, however, he didn’t understand that theory as well in his earlier years.

"It seemed like after I got over here in 2000, I kept hearing coach after coach tell me that I couldn’t score in North America — and I didn’t like it one bit," he recalled.

Life was especially difficult for Pahlsson when Mike Babcock took over as coach of the Ducks in 2002 and told him he was being sent to Cincinnati of the American Hockey League. Pahlsson packed his bags and flew home instead.

"I felt I was good enough to play in the NHL, and didn’t want to play in the minors," Pahlsson remembered. "It wasn't the best time of my life. I thought I made a good stand, but when I got back home to Sweden I began to have second thoughts. So I came back and played a couple of weeks in Cincinnati and then got recalled."

When Pahlsson returned to Anaheim, he was put on a checking line with rookie Stanislav Chistov and 39-year-old journeyman Steve Thomas. The trio became invaluable in the playoffs as the Ducks went on to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the New Jersey Devils in seven games.

That was the series that convinced Pahlsson of his value as a shutdown player. When Randy Carlyle took over as coach in 2005, he put Pahlsson with Niedermayer. Moen joined the duo later that season.

"When I got here, I could see that Sammy was a no-maintenance player looking for an even more important role on the team," Carlyle said. "He was still under the radar, but he showed us that no one else plays in the trenches better than him.

"We still had confidence that with the right linemates there would be opportunities for him to provide some offense against those offensively lines he always faces ... when they get frustrated and give up some chances in their own zone like they forced against Ottawa in the Finals. We only had one matchup that we really wanted before that series ... that was Sammy’s line against Spezza’s line."

"It was all about finding a comfort zone," Pahlsson said of his unit and his role on the Ducks.

After Pahlsson played on a line with Alfredsson and P.J. Axelsson and helped Sweden win the gold medal in the 2006 Olympics at Torino, Italy, there was tangible evidence for the world to see just how good he could be under pressure.

Now, after winning a gold medal and a Stanley Cup, “Samuel Pahlsson” no longer is the answer to the trivia question: “Who was the throw-in that was once traded from Colorado to Boston for Hall of Famer Ray Bourque.”

With eight goals and 26 points last season, Pahlsson is no Ray Bourque. But that’s OK with the Ducks — because the Swede has proven he’s become a real impact player for them at both ends of the rink.


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