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Patience is a virtue

by Phil Coffey

The Tampa Bay Lightning were rewarded for the patience they showed with all-star Vincent Lecavalier early in his career.
We do not live in very patient times. Thanks in large part to electronics, computers and the like, we want what we want when we want it and we want it now!

The point? Very simply, patience is a virtue, and this week, Ice Age offers some points on the value of patience.

First, let’s look at Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier. One of the NHL’s top players? You betcha. Perhaps even the best in the eyes of some.

Despite all his great talents, Lecavalier is perhaps the prime example of the value of patience. Remember a few years back when he and coach John Tortorella couldn’t agree on the time of day or whether the sun was shining? Oh yeah, big time clashes between player and coach. The kind that often lead to a trade or a firing.

But Bolts' GM Jay Feaster is a patient man. He told both that neither was going anywhere and to work it out. No panic trade to get 50 cents on the dollar. No rash firing to bring in a more laid-back coach.

With a Stanley Cup in 2004 and Lecavalier appearing to be well on his way to the next level in his career, Feaster should get props for being a patient man.

But getting to see Lecavalier put on a show is reward enough. Wednesday night, for example, Lecavalier had a hand in five of the six goals the Lightning scored in a 6-1 win over the Hurricanes.

“I hate to make comparisons because sometimes it’s not fair to the player, but the only guy that comes to mind is Mario Lemieux,” former Devils, Maple Leafs and Canadiens coach Pat Burns told the St. Petersburg Times. “He could change a whole game like that and take control of it.”

Keep in mind that Burns isn’t prone to fits of praise. You earn it from him.

“That’s really nice,” Lecavalier said of Burns’ remarks. “But I have to say there are many good players. It’s nice to hear that from a respected coach, but I get a chance to play with (linemates) Marty St. Louis and Vaclav Prospal. I’m lucky to play with those guys.”

I’m sure the feeling is quite mutual.

Look out for Avalanche! -- Our second story of patience comes from the Rocky Mountains.

Remember last season when the Avalanche appeared to have sprung a leak and were a middling .500 team? The knee-jerk reaction was to make a trade, any trade, to shake things up and get rolling.

Avalanche GM Francois Giguere didn’t opt for the quick fix, and there are some who say it cost Colorado when the Avs’ comeback fell short of the last playoff berth in the Western Conference.

Please note for the record the term “Avs’ comeback” here. Because while falling short, Giguere’s patience in his players was rewarded by a spirited stretch drive that nearly KOed the Calgary Flames from the playoff hunt. As it is, that great play down the stretch has carried over to this season and Colorado didn’t have to surrender any assets in a panic trade.

Nope. No panic deal and hence, no loss of young, core players like Paul Stastny or Wojtek Wolski, who are leading the charge this season. Since last season’s trade deadline, the Avs are 26-7-3 in 36 games.

Ah, the beauty of patience.

“At the end of the day, we’re a staff and you have to trust your instincts and your staff’s instincts,” Giguere told Adrian Dater of the Denver Post. “There were some offers for some of our younger kids or some of our older, character players. But there comes a point where you believe in some things, and you have to have enough confidence and faith to go with it.”

“I think maybe it gave us some confidence,” Avalanche captain Joe Sakic told Dater. “We knew we could be a good hockey team, and we still had a chance to prove it.”

After 17 games this season, Colorado is tops in the Northwest Division with an 11-5-1 record.

“We know our athletes very well,” Giguere said. “We see things in them that maybe our fans don’t have a chance sometimes to see. We feel we see the big picture well now. But there’s still room to grow. We have to stay even-keeled.”

And patient.

Co-GMs seeing Stars -- Dallas is the third stop in our sojourn on patience. Earlier this week, the Stars dismissed longtime GM Doug Armstrong, and team president Jim Lites will be moving on to other duties within owner Tom Hicks’ businesses.

Heading into play Thursday night, the Stars were 7-7-4 and struggling more than we are used to seeing a Dallas squad. Now, Les Jackson and Brett Hull will be running the team, and everyone seems to have their ears perked up for a big change in personnel.

In this case, is patience justified with the team still in the hunt? Tough call. It will be interesting to see how the Hull/Jackson tandem assesses things. Whether a move or two will restore the luster to the Stars, or whether it’s time to dismantle and start over again.

“I know one thing,” the always outspoken Hull told Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News. “Now I have to put my money where my mouth is and go out and do the things I’ve been telling everybody else to do. It’s a challenge, but it’s a great challenge. It’s something I’m really looking forward to.”

But in the era of the salary cap, the challenge also requires patience because a rash move can haunt a team for years.

“We can’t just come in and change things immediately,” Jackson said. “We have to take our time and we have to assess the situation. There are things I think we both would like to look at, and some things are easier done than others, but we still need to think things through.”


This line is fine -- Used to be that lines stayed together through thick and thin and really could develop chemistry. Today, permanent units are on the endangered species list. Hmmm, could it be a lack of patience?

Anyway …

In Atlanta, the Thrashers have been living off the offensive exploits of Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa and Todd White.

In the past six games, 16 of the Thrashers’ 22 goals were scored by Kovalchuk, Hossa or White. For the season, the three players have scored 26 of Atlanta’s 47 goals.

“That’s a pretty powerful line,” rookie center Bryan Little told Craig Custance of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “They have the ability to put up a lot of points every game, so obviously they’re going to do a lot of our scoring. When the tougher games come here, we need more than one line going, and that puts the pressure on the rest of the lines to produce.”

“It’s really important to us that when (Hossa and Kovalchuk) are scoring, that the other lines play solid,” defenseman Niclas Havelid said. “They can’t score forever, in every game. There will be guys stepping up, absolutely. We’re pretty well run right now. Our fourth line plays well, our third line is a solid killing line, our second and first line can put the puck in the net. Right now, we’re in good shape.”

Penner hitting his stride -- New Edmonton Oiler Dustin Penner wants to justify his team’s faith in him. Things appear to be falling into place for Penner, who was signed as a restricted free agent from Anaheim this summer.

Oilers' forward Dustin Penner has had to
adjust to playing more minutes per game
then he did when he was in Anaheim.

Penner got off to a slow start, but has started to pick up some points of late and has three goals and six assists in 18 games.

Part of Penner’s problem is he wasn’t used to the ice time he’s getting as an Oiler. He played roughly 13 minutes per game last season. Now, he’s on the ice for 18 minutes a night or more.

“I have to condition myself to play 18 minutes now, and that’s been an adjustment, playing five more minutes a night on average,” he told the Edmonton Sun. “I haven’t played this many minutes since I was in Portland (AHL). And 18 minutes in the NHL is a lot different than 18 minutes down there.

“Right now I don’t have the wind to play 18 minutes the way I want to, but I’m getting there with my off-ice routine. I want to get to the point where I can play 18 minutes the same way I was playing 13 in Anaheim.”

A lasting impression -- Alexei Kovalev was with the New York Rangers in 1994, and the leadership abilities of Mark Messier left an indelible impression on Kovalev.

“I remember when I got to the League when I was 19 and right from the beginning, he wanted to help me,” Kovalev told the Montreal Gazette. “He asked me if I wanted to stay in his apartment or if I wanted help learning English. It amazed me, the star that he is, the things he’s done and the way he handles himself on and off the ice.

“As a young player coming from a different country, I never thought I would play with a player like him. But eventually, I would play with the three greatest players, and one of them was Mark,” said Kovalev. The other two? Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

No warm welcome -- In his first game in New Jersey as a member of the New York Rangers, Scott Gomez wasn’t expecting a tribute video and warm applause from the fans.

He wasn’t disappointed Wednesday night as the fans at Prudential Center gave him an earful each time he touched the puck. Gomez did get to come away with a 4-2 win, though.

“When I had the puck, it kind of drowns out (the boos),” Gomez said. “You’re so involved in the game, it drowns it out.”

“Jersey fans are passionate,” he said. “I didn’t think I was getting a ceremonial puck drop to come back. Not many people are happy with me.”

Material from personal interviews, wire services, newspaper, and league and team sources was used in this report.



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