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Southeast: 'Canes' Olympians all bring home medals

by Mike G. Morreale
Carolina Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford must have been grinning ear-to-ear seeing the flags of Canada, the United States and Finland being raised to the rafters at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver on Feb. 28.

That's because all four Carolina players participating in the Winter Games -- Canada's Eric Staal, Team USA's Tim Gleason and Finland's Joni Pitkanen and Tuomo Ruutu -- each brought home a medal. The 'Canes, in fact, are the only team in the Southeast Division to have four medalists at the Olympics.
Staal, of course, was the big winner. Canada scored a thrilling 3-2 overtime decision against the United States in the gold-medal contest, sending an entire country into a state of euphoria.

"It's pretty cool how all of us left (for Vancouver) with nothing and came back with some medal," Staal told The Fan 99.5 FM in Carolina. "But I'm glad mine is gold -- I'll say that."

Staal, who finished tied for third in the tournament with 5 assists and tied for 10th with 6 points, became the 23rd member of the "Triple Gold Club" -- players who have won Olympic gold, a World Championship and the Stanley Cup. He won the Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes as a rookie in 2006 and the World Championships in Moscow one year later with Canada.

"I'm just hoping to add to those totals now," Staal said. "Winning more Cups would be the No. 1 thing. I want to win as many of those as I can. I'm proud of the fact I'm 25 and have won those three things; it's a pretty elite company to be in."

The Carolina captain is the first active player in franchise history to win Olympic gold. The franchise's only other gold medalist was Mark Johnson, who won gold with the United States in 1980 before joining the Hartford Whalers in 1982.

"It's tough to compare (a gold medal to winning the Stanley Cup)," Staal said. "I'm not sure if the Europeans do, but when I was a kid, I dreamt of winning the Stanley Cup. You usually don't dream of winning a gold medal, you dream of winning the Cup. Now, being older and watching the Olympics and watching NHL players playing, you want that really bad, too. So they're very close and similar in that respect -- the intensity in that gold-medal game was right up there with the Stanley Cup Final. It was tight-checking, physical and hard-nosed. The overtime and atmosphere were very similar. Both were great in their own respect."

Staal also admitted to gaining a new friend during his two-week stay in Vancouver.

"I have to give props to my roommate, Joe Thornton, who I lived with in this tiny room," Staal said. "He's a great guy and obviously a great player. After we won the gold on the ice, we were all yelling and screaming and when we saw each other we were like, 'Roommate! Roommate!' and shared a big hug. It was a lot of fun getting to know him a lot better. But the whole experience with all the guys was great. We really became close and it'll be great now to play against them, and hopefully, see them again down the road."

Waddell satisfied -- Atlanta Thrashers General Manager Don Waddell feels his team got bigger, stronger and faster at the trade deadline.

First came the acquisition of 6-foot-4, 255-pound forward Evgeny Artyukhin from the Anaheim Ducks on March 1, followed by the pickup of forward Clarke MacArthur from the Buffalo Sabres two days later.

"Clarke is a good skater with good hockey sense," Waddell said. "He's not overly big (5-11, 191), but plays bigger than his size. Speed is becoming very important in the game and it's important to have guys who can skate so as to make it hectic on the other team's defense."

They proved their GM right when they each scored in their Thrashers debut Thursday in a 6-3 victory against the New York Islanders. Coach John Anderson had MacArthur on a line with center Rich Peverley and Maxim Afinogenov. He inserted Artyukhin with center Marty Reasoner and Chris Thorburn. The top two lines -- Evander Kane-Jim Slater-Colby Armstrong and Bryan Little-Nik Antropov-Niclas Bergfors -- remained untouched.

Associate General Manager Rick Dudley actually drafted Artyukhin when he served as GM of the Lightning in 2001.

"Funny thing is, he didn't play much internationally because he hit so hard," Dudley said. "He has that combination of size and speed that you don't see very often. If you're a defenseman and know where he is, you'll be looking around for him. He can create turnovers and can hurt you when he hits. You like to have those kinds of guys on your team."

Despite only playing 37 games with Anaheim this season, Artyukhin accumulated 90 hits. He had two hits in the victory against the Islanders on Thursday.

And the lineup is … -- There was plenty of speculation on where forward Scott Walker would be inserted in the Washington Capitals lineup following his trade from the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday.

As it turned out, the 36-year-old Walker fit perfectly on a line with center Boyd Gordon and Jason Chimera on the way to notching his first 2-goal game since March 2007 in Washington's 5-4 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.

Walker finished a plus-2 with three hits in 7:33 of ice time in his Caps debut.

"I think he'd only had about 4:00 of ice time after the first two periods so I wanted to get him out there a little more in his first game," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "But he had to sit with all the penalties. His history has been right place at the right time or the right hit. Sometimes you look around the League at the trades and guys that are scoring in their first game (are) big-game players."

Boudreau had another trade-deadline acquisition, Eric Belanger, center a line with Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann. The club's other two lines consisted of Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Mike Knuble and Alexander Semin-Brendan Morrison-Brooks Laich.

"We've thrown a completely different system at these guys. I know it's a lot, but they're going, 'Whoa, we've never played liked that,'" Boudreau said. "It's a lot to get in the head and understand and I thought they picked it up well."

Tampa refused 'blockbuster' -- Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Brian Lawton was adamant his team would be buyers at the trade deadline and he stood by that fact.

Lawton's one big move was the acquisition of right wing Teddy Purcell and a 2010 third-round pick from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for center Jeff Halpern. Other than that, Lawton feels the team that's now in place is capable of earning the organization's first playoff berth in three seasons.

"We were in on one big blockbuster deal that would ultimately have robbed us of our future, and we made the determination that we are going to remain disciplined and that we were not going to overpay things," Lawton told the Tampa Tribune. "And that was the theme for the day -- lots of quantity, not quality."

Purcell, undrafted but signed by the Kings as a free agent in April 2008, had 8 goals and 25 assists in 91 NHL games. In 105 games with Manchester of the American Hockey League, he has 41 goals and 121 points.

He notched an assist in his debut Thursday in a 5-4 loss to the Washington Capitals. Purcell, who opened the game on a line with center Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, earned 14:44 of ice time and finished with a minus-2 rating.

"We are excited about Teddy Purcell," Lawton said. "We think he has a chance to give us some more points than we were getting from Jeff (Halpern), and we weren't using Jeff in his natural position at center. Teddy is more of a wing and we felt it was just a better fit for us."

A Capital audition -- How would you call the next electrifying end-to-end goal scored by Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin?

The winner of Saturday's ESPN Zone Junior Broadcaster competition at the ESPN Zone in downtown Washington, D.C., from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., will get that chance.

The competition will have entrants, 12-and-under, sit behind a microphone on-set at ESPN Zone and give their best play-by-play for one of three Capitals plays. A panel of judges will provide feedback, and the finalists will call a second Capitals play to help determine a winner.

The winner of the contest will receive tickets to an upcoming Capitals game at Verizon Center, and have the opportunity to work in the broadcast booth during that game and showcase their announcing skills.

To reserve a spot in the competition, parents or guardians should e-mail

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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