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The Opening Faceoff: All about inspiration

by Shawn P. Roarke

You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
But you must try, try and try
Try and try—you’ll succeed at last
Persecution you must bear
Win or lose, you got to get your share
Got your mind set on a dream
You can get it, though hard it may seem now
You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
But you must try, try and try
Try and try—you’ll succeed at last
I know it – listen
Rome was not built in a day
Opposition will come your way
But the harder the battle, you see
Is the sweeter the victory

You Can Get It If You Really Want, Jimmy Cliff

Just the other day, an officemate was asking about reggae music and was a little flummoxed when CTN chimed in with some opinions. Assuming that CTN’s musical influences began and ended with the heavy metal bands that dominate Crashing the Net references, this young man was pleasantly surprised when CTN offered up some of his reggae collection, which includes the obligatory Bob Marley material and some Peter Tosh.

CTN, however, is most partial to Jimmy Cliff and was more than happy to offer up his favorite Jimmy Cliff disc The Harder They Come, released in 1972. The soundtrack to a movie, which CTN has never seen, it is a quality album from the first track to the last.

With the CD now gone, CTN had to dig up the burned version when the reggae mood struck unexpectedly on the commute home during a minus-11 (with wind chill) day earlier this week.

And, as CTN listened, it was not just a journey to Jamaica that flashed through the mind, but also the way the songs told universal life stories, no matter whether you lived in the Caribbean islands or the island of Manhattan or Ile Bizard in Montreal.

None spoke more powerfully, though, than You Can Get It If You Really Want. It is, simply, a blueprint, for a life well lived – identify what is important to you and go get it, no matter how failures stand between you and the goal.

As with most philosophical journeys undertaken by yours truly, CTN quickly found a hockey angle and decided that some of the long-and-winding hockey journeys that are the lifeblood of our great game would make a perfect Opening Faceoff in this week’s column.

So, without further ado, here are some of the hockey figures that inspire CTN with their stories of tenacity and dedication.

The Opening Faceoff

Almost everybody that makes the NHL has a story about overcoming the odds, even the top-end guys that have been identified as stars all the way back in youth hockey. The privilege of playing in the NHL – the most exclusive club in professional hockey – is only granted to those truly worthy of the honor.

A sometimes cruel process of natural selection weeds the rest of the players.

But while everyone has an uplifting story about the tenacity and dedication required to become an NHLer, some stories are naturally better than others.

Here are 20 current NHL success stories that provide inspiration to CTN to go after his dreams and also live up to the ideals presented by Jimmy Cliff in his song.

CTN would love to hear about your hockey inspirations, as well. Drop CTN a line with your nominations and the reasons they inspire at CTN will use the best one in next week’s Penalty Box.


Bryan Berard -- The No. 1 overall draft pick from 1995, Berard had a career-threatening injury during the 1999-2000 season when his eye was struck by the stick of Marian Hossa during a playoff game. Berard endured several eye surgeries just to get his vision back to League minimum standards (20/400) and returned to the League in 2001-02, foregoing a multi-million dollar insurance settlement to once again chase his NHL dream.

Bruce Boudreau -- Some would say that Boudreau let an opportunity pass him by in his playing career. He had the skills to be a full-time NHLer – check out his minor-league scoring numbers – but a lack of dedication left him with a modest 110 games on his NHL ledger. He has not made the same mistakes as a coach. He was a success at every minor-league level – winning titles in the ECHL and AHL – before taking over the Capitals job in late November. Now, he has Washington fighting for first in the Southeast Division and playing exciting, attacking hockey. He is a favorite to be for coach of the year, as well.

Dan Boyle -- A puck-moving defenseman who was highly successful at the college level with Miami University, Boyle was still not drafted, seen as too small and too much of a finesse player. Florida took a chance and signed Boyle as a free agent, but never allowed him to find a full-time role with the team before trading him to Tampa Bay. All Boyle did there was top 30 points for four-straight seasons and top 50 points in three of the four years. Oh yeah, he also helped the Lightning win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. This season, he has come back from three severed tendons to once again become among the best offensive defensemen in the game.


David Brine -- Here’s a kid that was twice cut by major junior teams, was never drafted and appeared to be on his way out of hockey. Then, on a lark, he decided to try out for a the Canadian reality hockey show Making the Cut. He didn’t win that competition, but was impressive enough to earn an ECHL contract. Earlier this season, he parlayed that opportunity into a call-up to the Florida Panthers. That is what CTN calls living the dream!

Alex Burrows -- The best Burrows could do after putting up 70 points in his final junior season with Shawinigan of the QMJHL was land a spot in the ECHL. He played well enough there to catch the eye of the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. He spent the next two years shuttling between the Moose and the ECHL before finally convincing Vancouver he was NHL ready. Now he is a regular on Vancouver’s checking line and provides a fair bit of secondary scoring.

Dan Cleary -- It’s not often that first-round picks are put on a list about overcoming the odds, but Cleary qualifies for such distinction. Taken by Chicago in the first round, No. 13 overall, back in 1997, he never panned out. He moved from the Blackhawks to the Oilers to the Coyotes and never topped the 20-goal mark. Then Detroit took a chance on him and it all clicked. Cleary had has first 20-goal campaign last season and equaled that mark this year, in just 54 games, before breaking his jaw this week. He will be out two months.

Raitis Ivanans -- The Los Angeles Kings enforcer is the only forward from Latvia in the NHL and one of just three Latvian skaters in the League. And Ivanans certainly traveled the toughest road. Undrafted, he reported to North America to play for Flint in the United Hockey League. Stops in Macon (CHL), Tulsa (CHL), Pensacola (ECHL), Hershey (AHL), New Haven (UHL), Toledo (ECHL), Baton Rouge (ECHL), Milwaukee (AHL), Rockford (UHL) and Hamilton (AHL) ensued before he played his first NHL game with Montreal in 2005-06.


Chris Kunitz -- Try to wrap your head around this. In a two-week span in 2005, Kunitz was cut loose by the Anaheim Ducks, picked up by the Atlanta Thrashers waived by the Thrashers, and re-acquired by the Ducks. Instead of bemoaning his lot in life, Kunitz responded by scoring 41 points to set the Ducks’ record for rookie scoring. Think about this. The next season, he won the Stanley Cup. Today, he is an alternate captain for a team that has serious aspirations of defending that title. Not too bad for a player that was never drafted into the NHL, signing as a free agent in 2003 after a successful career at Ferris State.

Chad LaRose -- Chad LaRose was always told by most people that he was too small to play top-flight hockey, even when he scored 117 points in his final season in the Ontario Hockey League. But LaRose never listened and the Hurricanes took a chance on him. He spent three years in the minors stating his case before finally being called up for good. He won the Stanley Cup in 2006 and was on his way to a career year this season before breaking his leg earlier this month.

Glen Metropolit -- After two 100-point seasons of junior hockey, nobody bothered to draft Metropolit. Instead, he signed a free-agent deal with the Washington Capitals in 1995 and spent the next four years chasing his NHL dreams in far-flung hockey outposts like Nashville (ECHL), Pensacola (ECHL), Quebec (IHL), Atlanta (IHL), Grand Rapids (IHL) and Portland (AHL) before making the Caps on a part-time basis. He spent the next four years on the shuttle between the NHL and AHL before giving up and giving Europe a try. Three successful years in Europe piqued the interest of the Atlanta Thrashers, who signed him to an NHL deal. Now, he is a productive member of the Boston Bruins.


Cory Murphy -- This smallish defensemen couldn’t get a sniff from pro teams after scoring 28 goals in a four-year career with Colgate University. But Murphy believed that he could play the game. How much? He picked up and went to Europe, playing three years in Finland and another in the Swiss league. Finally the Panthers saw enough to sign the then-29-year-old. Murphy has repaid that confidence by scoring 14 points in 28 games. He missed a long portion of the season with injury.

David Perron -- Yes, David Perron was a first-round pick last June. But let’s not forget this was a player who was ignored in his early teens. In fact, he was deemed not good enough to play elite-level Midget hockey, never mind junior hockey. Amazingly, two years before he was taken by the Blues in the first round, Perron was playing high-school hockey in Quebec, completely off the radar of most teams. Yet Perron never lost faith in himself and always saw himself occupying the stage on which he presently finds himself.

Fernando Pisani -- This local boy went from Edmonton to Providence, R.I., to play hockey, only to end up back in Edmonton, playing for the Oilers as the hometown hero. It was a circuitous route for sure, but one Pisani would not trade for anything. Pisani played four years with the Providence College Friars and two more years in AHL Hamilton before getting a shot with the hometown team. In 2006, he was one of the unexpected stars that delivered Edmonton to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. That’s not too bad a resume for a player taken No. 195 in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft.

Brian Rafalski attracted attention from NHL clubs by polishing his game in Europe. Watch Brian Rafalski highlights

Brian Rafalski -- The classic overcoming-the-odds story. Rafalski was told by the NHL’s member clubs that he was not good enough to join the fraternity despite solid collegiate credentials. Rafalski did not take no willingly, however. He packed his bags and skates and headed to Europe, when it was not a viable option, and polished his game to the point where he started attracting attention from NHL clubs. The Devils won the sweepstakes and Rafalski delivered by becoming a cornerstone of two Stanley Cup championships. He has 357 points in 600 games – not too bad for a player once adjudged to not be of NHL caliber.

Pat Rissmiller -- Holy Cross College is by no means a hockey factory. But Rissmiller was dogged enough to make it part of his route to the NHL. The Massachusetts native parlayed a stunning senior year, in which he won every trophy on offer by the MAAC, into a minor-league deal with the Cleveland Lumberjacks in 2002. A four-year apprenticeship with the Lumberjacks finally allowed Rissmiller to develop the skills necessary to make the jump to the NHL. And he has never left, playing in his second season this year with the Sharks, scoring seven goals for the second-straight year.


Randy Robitaille -- Despite averaging better than 1.5 points a game with a top Division I program, Robitaille was left to sign a free-agent deal with Boston and ply his trade with Providence, helping that club win an AHL title. Yet he got just eight games with the parent club before being traded to Atlanta and then Nashville. Two successful seasons with the Predators were parlayed into a free-agent deal with Los Angeles. But that didn’t work out and he made quick stops with the Penguins, Islanders, Wild, Flyers and Islanders again. For those keeping score, that is nine NHL stops in 10 seasons. Yet Robitaille never lost faith. Today he is playing an integral role with the East-leading Ottawa Senators, compiling 22 points in 46 games, on his way to a career NHL season.

Michael Ryder -- His long-and-winding road to the NHL began where few do – in Newfoundland. But that’s just the start of Ryder’s amazing journey. He was almost an after-thought by the Canadiens in his draft year, selected No. 216 overall. Despite averaging better than a point-per-game in three years in the QMJHL, Ryder still had to endure two stints in the ECHL and three years in the AHL before reaching the NHL. How did he celebrate? With a 20-goalie rookie season that put him on the NHL map. Ryder has struggled this year, but his past history suggests he will find his way back to peak form soon enough.


Tim Thomas -- Tim Thomas was the man at the University of Vermont, setting record after record and being drafted by the Quebec Nordiques. Despite his undeniable talent, he couldn’t get a sniff of the NHL. He played in five different leagues – including two in Europe – before the NHL came knocking in 2002 in the form of the Boston Bruins. He played most of the season in the minors but did get four games with the parent club. But then it was back to Finland, where he played so well Boston had to take another chance on him. He has been in the NHL for the past three years, a starter for the past two and played in last month’s All-Star Game.

Barry Trotz -- The only coach the Predators have known in their 10-year history, Trotz is testament to the value of hard work. Never an elite player or coach, Trotz has worked his way steadily up the ranks. He coached at the college and junior ranks before getting a job as a pro scout with Washington. Then he coached at the AHL, winning rave reviews for his hands-on style. He was given a grand opportunity with the Nashville gig and he has played it perfectly, turning the expansion franchise into a perennial contender.

Aaron Voros Some thought that Voros should be happy just making it to the American Hockey League. After all, he was drafted in the eighth round, No. 229 overall, and those type of players don’t often reach The Show. And it did not appear that Voros would reach the NHL with the New Jersey Devils, where he was a depth player with the AHL franchise. But last season, he was traded to Minnesota and finished the year in the minors. This season, Voros surprised everybody by making the Wild and playing a regular shift. He has seven goals and 13 points in 40 games.

The Opening Faceoff | The Breakaway | The Penalty Box


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