Marty Turco was never going to be a phenom like Dallas Stars teammate Mike Modano.
"I was a late bloomer to say the least," the goaltender said.
That is fine for the Stars, who have enjoyed having Turco in the nets for seven seasons - the last four producing 30 wins in each. Now at 35, he is closing in another.
Not bad for a guy chosen in the fifth round - 124th overall - of the 1994 draft, who went the four-year college route at Michigan instead of growing up in juniors.
"That's an easy one. I never got drafted to the OHL," Turco said. "I'm an Ontario kid, wasn't good enough. Staying in college four years wasn't really an option, because it was my only option when I got there. I'm glad it all went down like that, actually.
"I've seen the broad spectrum of everybody from Mike Modano being 18 and going No. 1 overall coming into the league and playing for a long time. And for me, you know, I couldn't have done that. I couldn't even play when I was 21, 22. I needed the experience of the comforting surroundings of college, the background of education. Just to have that nothing-for-granted type attitude which I still carry with me."
That has been more than enough for Turco to set the Stars' record for most wins in franchise history. With seven more victories he will hit the 30-win mark again.
Only New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, who has won at least 30 in 11 straight seasons, is currently on a better run.
"To be honest, I haven't really thought about it," Turco said. "I've read footnotes and stuff about it. If anything, it's just more of a feather in the cap with the consistency and belief in winning and this organization and one that I push on myself. But more than anything, it's just an expectation that I have."
DUCK SPLASH: To say Brian Burke's visit to Long Island this week had the Anaheim Ducks general manager miffed would be an understatement.
The Ducks hadn't played the New York Islanders on the road since Nov. 1, 2003, so on this trip in Burke requested that Pat LaFontaine be issued a credential to sit with him in the press box.
The request was denied by the Islanders, the team LaFontaine scored 287 goals for - the fifth-most in club history. The Ducks asked the Islanders to reconsider the decision and were met with the same answer of no.
"I'm bewildered by it, but you'd have to ask the Islanders about it," Burke said.
LaFontaine, a Hockey Hall of Famer, wasn't barred from the building but wasn't welcome in the press box.
"We have an alumni suite for all former players for every game that Patty has been to this year several times including on Al Arbour night when he was part of the ceremony," team spokesman Chris Botta said. "On Tuesday, we also provided a suite to Brian Burke and the Ducks management, so I don't understand why this is an issue."
Burke sat with LaFontaine in the suite along with the owner of the Ducks.
Although LaFontaine has been to some Islanders games this season, there are reasons why the relationship between him and the team could be frosty. He left the Islanders on two occasions, and neither exit was smooth.
His playing days on Long Island ended early in the 1991-92 season after he rejected a long-term contract offer and then refused to report to the team. LaFontaine was traded to the Buffalo Sabres soon after the season started.
When team owner Charles Wang shook up the Islanders hierarchy in June 2006 with the hiring of general manager Neil Smith and coach Ted Nolan, LaFontaine rejoined the franchise that made him the third pick of the 1983 draft, as a senior adviser to Wang.
Smith was unexpectedly fired a little more than a month later and replaced by Garth Snow. LaFontaine resigned his post before Snow even had his introductory news conference the following day.
Despite amassing 566 points in eight seasons with the Islanders, sixth in club history, his No. 16 doesn't hang in Nassau Coliseum nor has he been inducted into the team's Hall of Fame.
MIGHTY PEN: So much for the Pittsburgh Penguins collapsing without Sidney Crosby. Heading into the weekend, they were tied for first in the Atlantic Division.
Since Crosby went down with a high ankle sprain a week before the All-Star break, the Penguins have gone 4-2-2 and scored 26 goals in those eight games.
The logical player to pick up the slack with Crosby out was Evgeni Malkin, the reigning NHL MVP and scoring champion. The 21-year-old Russian forward has thrived in the spotlight and showed why he was worthy of the No. 2 pick in the 2004 draft.
With a three-assist effort in Pittsburgh's 4-3 win over the Islanders on Thursday night, Malkin pushed his totals to five goals and 14 points since Crosby left the lineup. On the strength of eight points in three games, Malkin passed Crosby and moved into sixth place on the league scoring list with 66 points.
"Malkin has an opportunity to show the world how good he is and he's gotten off to a pretty good start," said Atlanta forward Mark Recchi, waived by Pittsburgh earlier this season. "The other guys are going to have to chip in. That's how you count a successful team. You have everyone buying in together, and they've done a great job of it, so far.
"I think people will really understand how good he is. He is a tremendous talent. He can put a team on his back and take them for a ride."
STRUMMING STARS: Anyone can get a puck or stick or jersey signed by a favorite NHL player, but a guitar?
That answer is now yes.
The NHL and Gibson Guitar started an online auction this week of three autographed guitars, signed by this year's All-Star players, performers and hosts, including Grammy Award-winning musicians Usher and Wyclef Jean, platinum recording artists Jonas Brothers and five-time Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Ne-Yo.
Money raised during the auction, which started Tuesday on NHL.com and runs until this coming Tuesday night, will benefit Usher's New Look Foundation, a nonprofit program that shows young people the business side of sports and entertainment.
One guitar is signed by every player from the Eastern Conference All-Star team, including game MVP Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes. Another is signed by the West stars, and the other contains autographs of performers.