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'The Great One' on a great one

by Phil Coffey
When it comes to putting records in perspective, there is no one better to consult than Wayne Gretzky. After all, if you hold a boatload of records, you have to be pretty savvy about the whole deal.

With Martin Brodeur closing in on Patrick Roy's mark of 551 career wins and Terry Sawchuk's record of 103 shutouts, there has been considerable talk about whether anyone will be able to unseat Brodeur.

Keep in mind Gretzky is the NHL's all-time leader in goals (894), assists (1,963) and points (2,857), records that look unassailable.

Still, Gretzky is of the opinion his records and the ones Brodeur currently is chasing are not going to stand the test of time.

"The great thing about professional sports is you're always trying to compare athletes and eras and what somebody did today to 30 years ago," Gretzky told The (Bergen) Record's Tom Gulitti. "And we always seem to say when we see something so unique, like what Marty is doing, 'OK, that could be impossible to break.' But then somewhere along the line some guy comes along and all of a sudden you're going, 'Wow, this was a record we never thought would ever be broken or even close to being touched.' And that's the same with a lot of my records.

"Somehow, someway, some of them are going to fall. Maybe all of them are going to fall. But that's what the game is all about."

As Gretzky went on to say, numbers are numbers -- what lasts are the memories of the players who compiled them.

"I had a chance to see Gordie Howe the last couple of days (because Howe's wife passed away), and what he did in his era, nobody can ever take away," Gretzky said of his boyhood idol. "It was a different game from what I got to play. Maybe some day somebody will come along and push Marty for that record, but right now it's going to be tough for somebody to do, I can tell you that.

"It's pretty remarkable what he's done because it's not only having to be successful and win, but you also have to be in great shape physically, mentally, because you have to be able to play 60 games a year and that was what he was able to do. It's not only to win that many games, but just to play in that many games for that long of a period of time is difficult and that's what he's been able to do. So it couldn't happen to a better person.

"When you're doing sort of a game record or a season record, it's kind of a flash," Gretzky said. "When it's something that's longevity, like when I scored 802 (which broke Howe's record of 801 goals), I really savored the moment and really took it all in and really sat back and enjoyed it. It's something he should be very proud of and I hope he gets an opportunity with his family just to step back and really enjoy and savor the moment, because it's a great accomplishment."

A dissenting opinion -- For his part, Devils coach Brent Sutter doesn't think anyone will touch Brodeur's numbers once his playing days are done.

"Everyone is making a big deal about him breaking this record," Sutter said, "and rightly so. But you forget -- where is he going to be at when he's done with his career? That's going to be a pretty phenomenal thing, even more so than breaking the record.

"When he decides he doesn't want to play anymore, where he's going to be at, you're talking about something that is probably pretty untouchable. It's a remarkable thing. What's about to be accomplished here, hopefully soon, is unbelievable. And yet, when you think about it, he still has years to play. It's astounding."

A fond farewell -- Godspeed to Colleen Howe and sincerest condolences to the Howe family after the passing of "Mrs. Hockey" last week at age 76. It had been our pleasure to speak with Colleen several times over the years, and her graciousness and warmth were always evident and appreciated.

A memorial service was held at St. Hugo of the Hills Catholic Church in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. for Colleen on Tuesday, and as you might expect, the hockey world was present in droves.

Attending were Wings owners Mike and Marian Ilitch, coach Mike Babcock, Vice President Steve Yzerman, captain Nicklas Lidstrom and players Kris Draper, Brian Rafalski, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Among the old-timers there were Bill Gadsby, Alex Delvecchio, Frank Mahovlich, Brian (Bugsy) Watson and Johnny Wilson.

The Howe's youngest son, Murray, a doctor in Toledo, and Edna Gadsby, Bill's wife and of one of Colleen's best friends, delivered eulogies.

While it is only natural to mourn her loss, it also is appropriate to celebrate her distinctive life. Memorial tributes can be made to: The Howe Foundation, 4935 Fernlee, Royal Oak, MI 48073, also available at; or the Association for Frontotemporal Dementias, 1616 Walnut St., Suite 1100, Philadelphia, PA 19103, also available at

Jokinen's sound advice -- Olli Jokinen isn't going to come off as Yoda with his advice for the Calgary Flames, but his advice to his new teammates in the wake of some sputtering on the road is worth hearing.

"Good things usually happen when you work hard, get the pucks deep in the zone, get them out of your zone. And shoot," he told Randy Sportak of the Calgary Sun. "A lot of times when the team's not scoring, you start over-passing, trying to make those pretty plays, but it doesn't work that way. You have to get back to basics, get 30-plus shots. That way everybody knows the pucks will go to the net and get there."

"I think the last three games, we haven't played at a level we're capable of playing. As a team we're a confident group, so we just want to look forward," Jokinen said prior to facing the Red Wings Thursday night. "This is a big challenge. It's a team ahead of us in the standings. It was a little bit better game against New Jersey (a 3-2 road loss), but we can be a lot better and we're confident we can turn this around. We have high expectations, want to win every game, but it's got to come game by game."

Flames coach Mike Keenan also accented the fundamental approach to slump busting.

"How do you get out of it? From my teaching background, you stay persistent, you stay consistent, you expect and demand the same prerequisite qualities from the athletes in terms of their preparation and team as far as their execution," Keenan said. "You pay attention to details and you're repetitive, and you work yourself out of slumps."
Where no Hawk has gone -- How cool is this? Commander Lee Archambault is going to wear his personalized Blackhawks jersey on the space shuttle Discovery during a 14-day mission. Launch is set for this weekend.

Archambault hails from Oak Park, Ill., and played college hockey at the University of Illinois. Upon his return, the jersey will be presented to the Blackhawks, along with a certificate of authenticity and a photo from space.

Talk about a cool collectible!

No more excuses -- A coaching change puts a team's problems right out front for all to see. And when the new coach also is the team's general manager, like Bob Gainey taking over in Montreal from Guy Carbonneau, it also wipes out whatever excuses the players have been using as crutches.

Sort of like the scene in the Mel Brooks classic "Blazing Saddles," when Brooks cries out "We have to protect our phony baloney jobs, gentlemen!"

Gainey has wasted little time putting everyone on notice.

"The players have a responsibility, and that will be my task -- to get it laid out in front of them," Gainey said, adding "the real answer will be in 35 days."

And whether Montreal is in the playoffs -- or not.

"The decision today can be seen as a contradiction to all of those things," Gainey said when he announced the coaching change, pointing out he had brought Carbonneau with him to Montreal and also extended his contract. "But in the last eight weeks, our performance has been below average and I believe a change in the direction at ice level is necessary. ...

"My decision is based on my experience and my judgment where our team rests today ... our performance not just in a specific game, but over a period of time. My response is my decision today, but the real answers will be the results 35 days, seven weeks, from now."

We didn't play -- and lost -- Here's a new take on an old joke.

How close are the playoff races this season?

"I think we're guaranteed to drop two spots by not playing(today). But that's the way you live these days."
-- Carolina coach Paul Maurice

"I think we're guaranteed to drop two spots by not playing (today)," Carolina coach Paul Maurice joked. "But that's the way you live these days."

Leading the way -- It's not a done deal for the Columbus Blue Jackets in the West, but for the first time in franchise history -- and in Rick Nash's career -- the Stanley Cup Playoffs remain a vital part of the daily conversation.

"We're not quite there yet, but just having a chance to extend our season is a great feeling," Nash told Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch. "Things have been pretty rough (his first five seasons). Usually right about now we're just playing for our self-pride and our fans.

"To be talking about a playoff spot, and to really have a good shot at it, it's obviously exciting."

And Nash has been a prime-time player for Columbus. Still only 24, Nash has played a more diverse game this season. Sure, he's on the power play and skates a regular shift. But now he kills penalties and has grown into the role of a big-time player.

"I'm pleased for him, yes," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "But there's a better word for it.  I'm proud of him. I'm proud of him because he's been able to hold his head high while he's been waiting all this time. He didn't get down, he didn't get discouraged. He got determined. His level of determination is showing every night in his play."

His teammates agree.

"Rick's done what he's done, scored all the goals that he's scored, without a whole lot of consistent skill around him in the lineup," Blue Jackets center Michael Peca said. "He's had players in and out of the lineup, a whole different array of guys around him through the years.

"So his only motivation has been self-improvement. Right now he's probably at 75 percent of what he's going to be, in my opinion. Now, putting him in a winning environment, it's going to just put him over the top. And he could be one of the most dominating power forwards the League has ever seen."

Successful mix -- It has been a difficult season for the Anaheim Ducks, one of the teams playing the daily game of musical playoff chairs in the Western Conference.

GM Bob Murray has been rebuilding the team on the fly, adding younger players to the team's core while sending some familiar faces from the 2007 Stanley Cup team elsewhere.

One of the small triumphs of late has been putting veteran Teemu Selanne with kids Bobby Ryan and Andrew Ebbett, who developed their own chemistry playing in the minors.

For his part, Selanne told Al Balderas of the Orange County Register that he paid attention to how Ryan and Ebbett were playing.

"When I was out for those 17 games, I was watching how those guys were playing and tried to learn something," Selanne said. "I was excited to see that they had success and I wanted to be a part of it.

"We've been spending a lot of time together and (sharing) ideas of what we want to do in different situations. It's great when you see the progress start clicking and you start reading each other."

No problem with Ovie's act -- There was a tempest in a teapot last week about whether Alex Ovechkin's goal celebrations are over the top. Perhaps the best way to settle things is to ask the players. Which is exactly what John Glennon of The Tennessean did with the Nashville Predators, who don't seem too upset by Ovie's act.

"I think it's exciting," Predators captain Jason Arnott said recently. "He's on 47 goals this season and it's still like he's scoring his first goal in the NHL. I think it's great for the League because the fans love it and the kids love it. That's just the way he is."
"We all love it, don't get me wrong, but every time he scores, it's like it could be his last goal in the NHL. " -- J.P. Dumont on Ovechkin's goal celebrations
"It's just his love for the game coming through," J.P. Dumont said. "We all love it, don't get me wrong, but every time he scores, it's like it could be his last goal in the NHL. He's trying to promote hockey and that's a good way."

"He's a special player," Predators defenseman Dan Hamhuis said. "You probably have to look back quite a few years, to a guy like Mario Lemieux in the 1990s, to see a guy with as many highlight-reel goals."
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