While Anaheim Ducks
defenseman Chris Pronger
considers it a privilege to be invited to his sixth All-Star Game, he’s quick to point out that he and his defensive mates will be plenty sore by the end of the night.
Pronger and Anaheim teammate Ryan Getzlaf will represent the Western Conference when the 58th All-Star Game is held Jan. 27 at Philips Arena in Atlanta. Getzlaf is making his first All-Star appearance.
”As a defenseman, you really just have to enjoy yourself at the All-Star Game since it’s obviously a show for the offensive stars in the League,’’ Pronger told NHL.com. “The games played over the past few seasons have been pretty high-scoring affairs and we defensemen get hit in waves. I still feel there comes a point in the game when the competitive juices start to flow for us (defensemen), and we begin to play at a higher level. You certainly want to put on a good show, but at the same time you don’t want to get hurt.’’
This season, Pronger has 33 points (nine goals, 24 assists) to rank fifth among the League’s defensemen in scoring. He leads the NHL in average ice time per game (27:38), and no one’s spent more time on the ice (1,299:04). He’s in the top 11 in the NHL in power-play points (21) and power-play assists (16).
Pronger’s entire career, it seems, has revolved around using his 6-foot-6, 213-pound frame to its fullest potential.
Although he missed 16 games last season with a broken toe, he was runner-up to Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings for the Norris Trophy as the League’s top defenseman. The 15-year veteran finished in a tie for sixth in the League among defensemen with 52 points, and was sixth with 40 assists during Anaheim’s Stanley Cup run last season. He led the team with a plus-27 and had three goals and 12 assists in 19 playoff games.
Getzlaf sees no reason for Pronger to change the way he plays the game.
”Chris is a player that loves to win and loves to compete,’’ Getzlaf said. “He’s a pretty black-and-white kind of guy. You’re going to know what you’re getting right away. That’s something we young players can learn from and take down the road.’’
Pronger will be making his first All-Star appearance as a member of the Ducks.
”Obviously you’ll be with guys that you haven’t played with, so there’s not a lot of chemistry out there. Sometimes, though, you have an opportunity to play with guys you knew from previous All-Star Games,’’ Pronger said. “If you’re with a defensive partner you know, it really makes things a lot easier.’’
Pronger will see one familiar face along the blue line in this year’s game in Lidstrom, who will make his 10th All-Star appearance. Pronger and Lidstrom were teammates on 2004 Western Conference squad.
Pronger has many memories of past All-Star appearances, but there’s one in particular he never will forget.
”My first one, in 1999,’’ he recalled. “It was special because it was the last one for Wayne Gretzky, so that put a pretty memorable spin on it. I remember he won the car as the game’s MVP and that was very special to witness.”
Pronger notched two assists in that first All-Star appearance, which was held at the Ice Palace in Tampa. Gretzky had a goal and two assists in the game, in which North America defeated the World team, 8-6.
Despite his success, the 33-year-old father of two admits he never has stopped learning.
”I’m just a competitor and have always strived to be the best,’’ he said. “I’ve got a lot of hockey left in the tank, no doubt about that. I don’t think you’re ever really done learning the game or improving. Maybe when you do, then it’s time to pack it in, but there’s always a level that you want to reach and strive to get to. You want perfection.’’
Following a successful stint with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, where he racked up 32 goals and 107 assists in two seasons (1991-93), Pronger was selected second overall by the Hartford Whalers in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. His NHL debut came during the 1993-94 season, when he played 81 games and earned a spot on the NHL All-Rookie Team.
|In 1999-2000, Pronger became the first defenseman since Bobby Orr in 1972 to win the Hart and Norris trophies in the same season.
”I’m proof that anyone can follow their dream and accomplish anything, so long as they work at it,’’ Pronger said. “I’ve always been passionate about hockey, whether I’m playing or practicing. If you’re passionate about something, you’ll do whatever you can to succeed.’’
In 1999-2000, Pronger became the first defenseman since Bobby Orr in 1972 to win the Hart and Norris trophies in the same season. He scored 14 goals and 48 assists (a League high for defensemen), and sported a League-best plus-52 rating in 79 games that season. Pronger spent nine seasons with the Blues before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers on Aug. 3, 2005.
On June 5, 2006, Pronger became the first player in NHL history to score a penalty shot goal in a Stanley Cup Final game. Edmonton lost the seven-game series to the Carolina Hurricanes, but Pronger finished the 2005-06 playoffs with a team-high 21 points (five goals, 16 assists), and a plus-10 rating in 24 games. He was traded to Anaheim on July 3, 2006.
During Pronger’s Stanley Cup celebration tour last summer, which included a family gathering where his two boys, a niece and a nephew consumed cereal out of the Cup one morning, he was given a key to the city of Dryden, Ontario, and his high school rink was renamed the Chris Pronger Arena.
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org