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Small of stature, big in games, Pavelski's a winner

by Larry Wigge

Despite his slight stature, Joe Pavelski, center, has come up very big for the Sharks, including on Friday night when he helped San Jose to stave off elimination in Game 5 by scoring the game-winning goal in overtime.
WATCH Pavelski's Game 5 OT game-winner
We all heard the theory that big players play big in big games. But there's an addendum to that. You don't have to be that big to make a big impact.

San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski is just 5-foot-11, 195 pounds and skates with a choppy stride. Both of those were nits that were picked by NHL scouts who dismissed him until the San Jose Sharks picked him in the seventh round, 205th overall, in the 2003 Entry Draft. But when you talk about the size of the fight in the dog, “Little Joe” has a heart the size of the Pacific Ocean -- and that makes him a man in motion and a man of action every year when the Stanley Cup Playoffs come around.

With the Sharks' backs squarely bolted to the wall, down 3-0 in their Western Conference semifinal series against the Dallas Stars, the 23-year-old from Plover, Wisconsin, wasn't on the score sheet for either of San Jose's goals in a 2-1 victory in Game 4 -- a shorthander by Patrick Marleau and a power-play goal by Milan Michalek -- but he was on the ice for both of his team's goals and was easily one of the most active players on either club, finishing with 22 minutes and 35 seconds of ice time and having a game-high five shots on goal. But two nights later, it was all Pavelski in a fabulous comeback from a 2-0 deficit after two periods.

And in overtime, Pavelski, the too-small, but too-talented-to-stop center sent the series back to Dallas for Sunday’s (9 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN, RIS) Game 6 when he scored an all-hustle, unassisted goal, stealing the puck along the boards from Antti Miettinen and winding all the way around to the slot before whipping a wrister high over Marty Turco's glove just 1:05 into overtime for a 3-2 Sharks’ triumph.

Pavelski has the knack of winning over everyone eventually. His resume started at Stevens Point Area Senior High School with a team that won the 2002 Wisconsin State Championship. That same year, his Midget 16 AAA team, Team Wisconsin, won the national championship. In 2004, Pavelski won a Clark Cup with the Waterloo Blackhawks of the Junior A United States Hockey League. And before he joined the Sharks, Pavelski led the University of Wisconsin to its sixth NCAA Championship in 2006.

But he'll never be “Super Joe,” “Big Joe,” “Jumbo Joe,” “Smokin Joe” or “Joe Cool” in San Jose, because those high-impact nicknames go to 2006 NHL scoring champion and Most Valuable Player Joe Thornton. But ...

"It started out as 'Joe Joe,' then it became 'Little Joe,' " Pavelski laughed.

"I just call him 'Pav,' " Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "I have said; 'Little Joe, your line is up.' But that's only if I'm trying to get a laugh out of the bench."

But after seeing Pavelski score 19 goals and 21 assists in his first full NHL season, “The Big Pavelski” has five goals and four assists in the first 12 playoff games this season -- and that includes the game-winning goal in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs, plus the series-clinching goal in Game 7 against the Calgary Flames, as well as the overtime winner in Game 5 against Dallas.

Big game, big player?

"He's just a hockey rat," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. "He's highly competitive, passionate and plays to win. He's in on every play at both ends of the rink, which is exactly what we look for -- players who can be used in all situations.

"It doesn't take long for you to see that he's a leader, a competitor. I remember going to see him at Madison (U. of Wisconsin) for the first time and it was clear to me that he was the heartbeat of that team."

Pavelski learned about hockey by watching his dad, Mike, a wall paperer and painter in Plover play, as well as his older brother, Jerry, who is into home improvement. Mom, Sandy, works the books and runs the office for the company that the Pavelskis all work for.

"I don't know what it is about this game, but I've always loved to practice, loved to shoot pucks and loved to play in our driveway," Joe said, laughing at the fact that there was this Sharks’ mini-stick at the house. He didn't know who it belonged to. It was just there.

On his driveway, Joe tried moves like his favorites -- Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull and Steve Yzerman. He played for the Flames when he was really young. Later, it was the Blues, because he was enamored with Brett Hull's one-timer.

"I loved winners," Pavelski laughed. "I liked Detroit, Colorado -- they were always battling, always fun to watch. They would bring it every night, could connect the dots, pass, snap the puck around, score goals and win a championship. That's kind of fun. I grew up liking the Dallas Cowboys. I would jump on the bandwagon, I guess you could say. But there's something about winning that draws me to it."

Funny that Brett Hull and Dallas Cowboys connection now that the Sharks are competing tough and nail with the Stars.

Still, Pavelski knew that his dream of playing in the NHL was a long, long way off.

"It was always my size and strength," he said of the obstacles he had to overcome to get to this level. "When I got to the USHL, my goal was to get to college and get my education. But I also began to see players I was playing against making their way to the NHL. Same thing at the University of Wisconsin. That's when I began to say to myself; 'He's there. Can I do this?' "

And we all know that this go-forward-and-take-no-prisoners approach that got him to the NHL won't stop because of the pedigree he's established in big games leading up to this year's playoffs.

"I always looked at those game, those tournaments as my Stanley Cup," he said.

Serious. Confident without being cocky.

"Before I got here, I had been the go-to guy the last few years," he said, referring to the Wisconsin Badgers and Worcester Icecats of the American Hockey League. "It's funny, but I think the more you play in big games the better you are going to get. Playing in those big-time moments, you take so much away and put it in your back pocket. Being on a winning team, knowing what it takes to win, knowing that nothing comes easy."

Even if Pavelski was victimized for Brad Richards' goal to tie Game 2, 2-2, just 32 seconds into the third period when he lost his edge and Richards swopped in and quickly scored an unassisted goal, “Little Joe” isn't about to crumble under the playoff pressure.

Pavelski added; "When you have to fight the obstacles and perceptions I have over the years, you learn to never give up."

You know the theory: Big players play big in big games.

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