The re-awakening of Lubomir Visnovsky
's hockey career can be traced to a hotel room in snow-packed Chicago in March 2010.
Visnovsky and his Edmonton Oilers
teammates were coming off another loss and had arrived to play the Blackhawks when Visnovsky received a phone call.
It wasn't a surprising one.
"The GM, (Steve) Tambellini, knew I wasn't happy," Visnovsky said. "He told me, 'You will be very happy to go back to California.' I appreciated that."
Visnovsky spent a season and a half in Edmonton and never acclimated to the change in scenery after playing his first seven NHL seasons with the Los Angeles Kings
He didn't quite fit in the Oilers' system, and off the ice, it was difficult for his family because his 2-year-old son is active and the harsh winters didn't allow them to spend much time outside.
"I was not happy," Visnovsky said. "I didn't play very good hockey there. On the ice it was very tough and off the ice was very tough. Mentally, it was very tough.
"Even if it looks like a lane is closed, he can make that little saucer pass and put it between a guy's stick or skates and thread the needle. He has one of the quickest slap shot releases I've ever seen. Once it's on his stick, it's off and it's heavy." -- Cam Fowler on Visnovsky
"I have good memories of Edmonton, (but) it was not my style, especially the last year. I didn't play too much on offense. The coach didn't believe (in) me. It was hard to play."
Tambellini sent Visnovsky to the Anaheim Ducks
for defenseman Ryan Whitney
and a 2010 sixth-round draft pick at the trade deadline.
Visnovsky couldn't be happier to go to back Southern California, and opposing defenses couldn't be more exasperated.
Visnovsky has fused perfectly with the rest of the Ducks' blue-line corps as the offensive replacement for the retired Scott Niedermayer
He became the second Ducks player (after Niedermayer) to lead all defensemen in scoring, with 68 points in his first full season in Anaheim. His 50 assists led all blueliners, and his 18 goals were second only to Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien
Visnovsky had 5 power-play goals, as many as teammate Bobby Ryan
, and on March 4 he became the first Anaheim defenseman to record a hat trick.
Rarely does a player transition so cohesively with a new team, and much of it has to do with Visnovsky's defensive partners.
Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle
paired Visnovsky with Toni Lydman
, the closest thing the Ducks have to a shut-down defenseman, and Lydman has proven to be the ideal stay-at-home anchor for the freewheeling Visnovsky.
It is not uncommon for Visnovsky to get caught out of position and have Lydman be there to help recover.
On the power play, Visnovsky plays beside 19-year-old Cam Fowler
, whose smart decision-making and strong skating complement Visnovsky.
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"We felt he could mentor Fowler to some degree in that area, and we think that that's been a marriage that's fit together and hopefully that can continue," Carlyle said.
Fowler helps set up Visnovsky at the point, where he directs the first power-play unit with his big shot and precision passing.
"Even if it looks like a lane is closed, he can make that little saucer pass and put it between a guy's stick or skates and thread the needle," Fowler said. "He has one of the quickest slap shot releases I've ever seen. Once it's on his stick, it's off and it's heavy.
"I think me and him have a good chemistry out there. We kind of read off each other."
Last season Fowler and teammates watched Visnovsky play the final weeks of the season with two bad shoulders. In an April 2 game at San Jose, he was hit by San Jose's Douglas Murray
and left the ice holding his right shoulder.
Not only did Visnovsky play the next night, he scored a goal against Dallas.
Visnovsky's other shoulder also was sore, and after the season he revealed that he was playing at "50 percent," due to a damaged AC joint in his right shoulder.
"The thing with Lubo (Visnovsky) is you'll never hear any complaints about it," Fowler said. "He's still got that same smile and that same attitude when he comes to the rink no matter how he's feeling. But being around him so much you could tell it was bothering him a little bit.
"I don't think he gets enough credit for playing through that stuff."
Listed at 5-foot-10 and 197 pounds, Visnovsky's smaller frame and open style sometimes leave him vulnerable to injury.
He logged a team-leading 24:17 average ice time per game last season in almost exclusively power play and even-strength situations.
The one down side to Visnovsky's offensive prowess is that he's high-risk, and it's telling that Anaheim doesn't play its No. 1 defenseman on the penalty-killing unit. That helps explain why he wasn't a finalist for the Norris Trophy last season (he finished fourth in voting).
Visnovsky said he wasn't disappointed to miss on the individual honor because he's more concerned with the team winning.
Defense, 2010-11 SEASON STATS
GOALS: 18 | ASST: 50 | PTS: 68
SOG: 152 | +/-: 18
That's Visnovsky in a nutshell. Even by hockey standards, the Slovakian is known as one of the most humble and accommodating players in the sport.
"He's pretty quiet. Not too loud, even in the room," said his former Kings teammate Anze Kopitar
. "He's fun to be around … I'm glad to see (Anaheim) works for him. I'm glad that he's happy down there."
Visnovsky, 35, never made the postseason during his last five seasons in Los Angeles, and the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs were his first postseason action since 2002.
"It was a good feeling for me," he said. "I was very young (with the Kings). I didn't play a lot. Right now it's different. I play a lot of minutes and it's something new for me."
In addition to fitting like a glove with the Ducks, Visnovsky is back to enjoying Southern California with his family. They live in the beach town Corona del Mar, and like most Ducks players, Visnovsky has the relative anonymity not found in more traditional hockey markets.
That's not to say there's not attention on Visnovsky and the Ducks, who are trying to build off a first-round loss to Nashville.
"I'm not thinking about 60 or 70 points," he said. "I'm just focusing on those first couple of games and a good start for the team. I don't think about what I need or what I want … if the team plays good, the coach is happy and the players are happy."