|Heatley skates around Armin Helfer during Team Canada's 7-2 win over Italy in opening-day action in men's hockey at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Photo: A. Bello/Getty Images/NHLI|
by Karl Samuelson | NHL.com correspondent Jan. 31, 2006
Certain essentials are involved in winning hockey games -- strong skating, precise passing, stingy defense, clutch goaltending and winning critical faceoffs. But the single most critical factor in a winning effort is goal scoring ... always was and always will be.
The importance of "burying the biscuit" is exemplified by the exploits of Phil Esposito, the hero of Team Canada in the legendary 1972 Super Series against the Soviet Union, and the first player to score 76 goals in a single season (1970-71).
"Goal-scoring is the name of the game," says Walt McKechnie, a 16-year NHL veteran and former teammate of Esposito. "There's been a lot of struggling hockey teams that had great grinders, but couldn't find the guy to put the puck in the net. On the other hand, there were many nights his team shouldn't have won hockey games, but Espo was in the slot and did the job."
There is a shot for every situation, and the best shooters have a variety of options in their repertoire. Successful teams have at least one "go-to-guy" who can read the game and exploit every scoring opportunity, either one-timing a shot or powering his way to the net to chip in rebounds. The current version of Team Canada has that covered in the form of Dany Heatley.
As evidenced so often this season at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, goal-scoring brings fans to the arena and then lifts them out of their seats. Whether the Olympic Games in Torino involve an all-out offensive competition on the ice or a tight-checking war of attrition, you can be sure that Heatley will be in the thick of it.
"I'm looking forward to it," says the 25-year-old scorer who was born in Freibourg, Germany, but raised in Calgary, Alberta. "It's a real honor to play for your country and I'm excited. I've played a lot internationally, but this will be my first Olympic experience. These will be intense games and every country has a great team going in. I just want to do what I can do to help the team. I'm an offensive guy with a reputation for shooting the puck a lot, but I'll accept whatever role the coaches have for me. That's been one of the keys for success with Team Canada throughout the years, doing whatever it takes to help the team win."
Ottawa coach Bryan Murray can attest to Heatley's emergence as a total player with the Senators -? ready, willing and able to help the team in all scenarios.
"Dany is a very committed hockey player," says Murray. "He wants to be a top player and when you want to be, you have the talent and you work at it, you can be a top player. He has become a better player this season because of the responsibility that he demanded on this team by his play. He never said a word to me, but by his play he demanded more ice time and more responsibility. Dany plays on the top line and I'll throw him out there with the fourth line guys once in a while. His attitude is just let me on. And he's a more complete player. He may have scored lots of goals in the past, but now he's figuring out how to play the play the game in both ends, and how to be a complimentary player as well as a scorer. When you play on the power play and you also kill penalties it helps your total game."
Yet Heatley is first and foremost a goal-scorer. And not just any goal-scorer. Heatley will mix up his shots -- low and high, between the pads or in the corners -- and he is deadly accurate. If the goalie comes out too far, Heatley can embarrass him on a deke, but if the goalie backs into the net the young forward will pick his spot. Like all great goal-scorers, Heatley has a knack for putting the puck where it needs to go. He can do it either way, outsmart or overpower the goalie.
Heatley, who draws accolades for his immense talent on the ice, hopes to shine on the big stage.
"'Heater' gets the puck off quickly in the slot and gets into the holes for one-timers," explains Senators goaltender Ray Emery. "He mixes it up. Dany thinks the game and sees the game very well offensively and he plays the other end of the rink, backchecking and showing responsibility defensively. And he is definitely not predictable. He gets the puck away so quickly that a lot of times the goaltender is not even aware but he doesn't shoot all the time either. Dany will dish it off to someone else when you think he is going to shoot, so he's got that element of surprise."
Heatley doesn't just score the pretty goals, but he also scores a lot of goals battling through the tight checking that he has to confront every night. He is among that rare breed of player who can finesse the opposition, but also bump and grind his way to 15 extra goals each season.
"Dany just seems to find the back of the net," says teammate Chris Kelly. "He finds that open ice and as soon as the puck is on his stick most times he puts it in the net. He gets in the corners and battles every shift. A lot of superstars won't do that. Dany brings that physical aspect of the game as well as his pure offensive abilities. He'll go down the wing, crash and bang, get in the corners, pop out in the slot and score the goal."
"He is more like a power forward," agrees Ottawa winger Chris Neil. "Dany is big, strong, shifty and has a great shot. He is an all-around great scorer who won't take any crap from anyone. Every game he seems to amaze me out there. Finesse or power, Dany can do it either way. He stepped into our line up and took a leadership role and he will do the same for Team Canada. You can tell what he is made of by the way he plays every night."
How will opponents try to defend against Team Canada's lethal weapon?
"It won't be easy," concludes Ottawa defenseman Brian Pothier. "Dany is as physical as he is gifted. He is a lanky guy with a great reach, great shot and really has a knack for getting into position to score. When he does get into position it's usually a goal. As a defender, all you can do is try to get in his way. You can't go fishing for the puck against Dany. You can't go after the puck at all but try to stay between him and the net. People will just try to keep him on the perimeter because as soon as he gets a step on you it's not a problem for Dany to get it by the goalie."