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Satan showing he still has gas left in the tank

by Larry Wigge
Miroslav Satan considered the phone message he got in the wee hours of the morning July 3 a pretty good wakeup call.

"I think the message came in about 2:30 a.m.," the 34-year-old wing said about the call to his home in Topolcany, Slovakia. "But ..."

He smiled. Satan said he had to rub his eyes and make sure he was awake before returning the phone message his agent left him that the Pittsburgh Penguins had offered him a one-year, $3.5 million contract this past summer.

"You don't usually wake up and have someone tell you that you might get a chance to play on the same team with a guy like Sidney Crosby," he recalled, before answering a question about how long it took him to say yes to the Penguins. "Uh ... I think it took me about two hours. I had to talk to my wife and agent. But after playing against that team and those players last season, I knew this was a chance I could not pass up."

Truth is, after the Penguins lost heavily in free agency -- with Marian Hossa going to Detroit and Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts and Adam Hall all signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh needed a little lightning strike of its own. And Satan has proven to be a pretty nifty goal scorer throughout his 12 NHL seasons with Edmonton, Buffalo and most recently the New York Islanders, where he slumped to just 16 goals last season.

"I remember when I was a kid in Buffalo," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, said chuckling a little at the thought that this rest of his comment might make Miro sound old. "I remember seeing him score 40 goals one season. I'd be sitting there in the arena or watching on TV and say to myself, 'He's not very fast. How does he do that?' But after playing against him, I've learned that he's pretty slippery."

Said Crosby, "Miro is a guy who has that sense of how to find open spots in the defense and then just sits there and waits for the puck."

Satan knows the business.

"There are no promises. No guarantees who you will play with," Satan said, knowing full well that the contract he signed was for just one season. "But when I have the opportunity to play with Sid, the key is trying to keep up with him. He can make faster plays than most other guys, so you have to be ready all the time. You don't have time to wonder what he is going to do. You have to react and play and be on the edge all the time."

You can play the word game all you want with a skilled player like Satan. No, he is not the Grim Reaper. Not Lucifer or the real Lord of Darkness. Rather Miro's name only means darkness only for opposing goaltenders. The fact is, he hasn't needed a Crosby to help make him a noted goal-scorer. In his 40-goal season with Buffalo in 1998-99, when Satan helped the Sabres make it to the Stanley Cup Final against Dallas, Satan was the team's co-MVP with all-world goaltender Dominik Hasek -- and he achieved those heights with defensive center Curtis Brown and Michal Grosek as his linemates.

Slippery? Yeah. But Satan was kind of an everyman in the 1993 Entry Draft -- taken in the fifth round by Edmonton.

While Miro was a sort of cult hero in his native Slovakia for scoring 9 goals in 8 games in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, he was ripped by the Oilers for his lack of production after he scored only 18 and 17 goals in his first two seasons. Then he was sent to the Sabres in March 1997 for left wing Barrie Moore and defenseman Craig Millar. He had only 22 goals in his first full season in Buffalo before his breakout season.

"The Oilers told me they wanted a hockey player, not a figure skater," Satan remembered. "They said I was too fancy. Not gritty enough for their taste. They think I could not help the team. Well ..."

Satan bit his tongue before the "I-showed-them" smile crossed his face.

The frustration started for Satan, when the Oilers sent Miro to Detroit of the International Hockey League, where his skills were not gritty enough to get off the bench. That's when Satan offered to return his $100,000 signing bonus to get a new assignment. But it was no different when Edmonton loaned him to San Diego. More sitting. Before his trade to Buffalo, he actually thought about returning to Slovakia for good.

"I didn't speak English very well," he recalled. "What I didn't understand even more was the mentality that hitting people was more important than scoring goals."

The trade to Buffalo was magic, for him and the Sabres, where it became kind of Satan's workshop.

Now' he'll settle for being admired in Pittsburgh, especially in light of a 16-goal, 25 assist season with the Islanders. In 48 games this season, Satan already has 13 goals and 14 assists.

"Last year was last year," Satan explained. "It wasn't a good year for me. I'm looking forward to turning the page. Hopefully, this style here is going to fit me better."
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