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Hannan Standing Em Up, Shuting Em Down

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks
Scott Hannan wasn't laughing at his misfortune after playing the Dallas Stars on November 12.

He tried, but he couldn't. His face was still numb after receiving stitches on his face three times in the same game.

On that night, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound San Jose Sharks defenseman underscored the feeling that we all have that hockey players are so tough that you can't get them out of a game -- even after an emergency root canal.

"I have a typical hockey mom," Hannan told me a few weeks after that not-so-memorable game in which his mom was in San Jose visiting. "She's seen me get hurt before. Lots of times. But even she said she sat there with her hands covering her face most of the night."

Hannan didn't want to come out of the game midway through the first period when Hannan blocked a shot by Dallas forward Jussi Jokinen that rode up his stick and caught him flush in the mouth. But blood was spurting all over the ice.

Scott had an emergency root canal right there in the medical room at the rink and he returned to the ice shortly after the second period began. Then, in the second period, the stick of Dallas center Jason Arnott struck Hannan in the face, popping open three of the four stitches required to repair the first-period damage.

In the third period, Hannan lost an edge and landed face-first into the boards. Another pool of blood and a third trip to the doctor for stitches. Even with those interruptions, Hannan played nearly 22 minutes in the shootout loss to Dallas.

"What was I going to do? I couldn't yell or scream. I couldn't even cry if I wanted," Hannan said almost apologetically. "My mouth was so numb, I wouldn't have even known I was hurt in the third period if I hadn't seen the pool of blood on the ice."

Crazy hockey player? More like fearless. Typical of one of the best shutdown defensemen in the NHL, who underscored his position among the League's elite defensive defensemen in the second round of the 2004 playoffs, when Hannan was assigned to shadow Colorado's superstar center Peter Forsberg and held him to no points five-on-five in the six-game series.

"If you look at the frustration of the great players playing against him, you see how effective he is," Dallas Stars coach Dave Tippett told me recently. "Every coach would love to have a shutdown defenseman or two like him."

"I knew he was very competitive playing against him in the regular season for years," Calgary Flames star right winger Jarome Iginla said. "But when everything is on the line and you're giving 110 percent in the playoffs, I learned just how tough he is to beat. One-on-one? I couldn't shake him. In the corners? He was right there with me step for step."

"I call him our Velcro man," Sharks coach Ron Wilson told me before a game early this season in St. Louis. "His movement is so great, front and back and sideways, that he is like a mirror image of the guy he's trying to stay with. You can't get away from him. That battle against Peter Forsberg was a classic. Both guys took it personal -- and I think you'd have to say Scott won it."

Funny thing, the 27-year-old veteran from Richmond, British Colombia, wasn't sure where he'd fit when he moved up from the Vancouver-area minor hockey program to Kelowna of the Western Hockey League and spent quite a bit of time playing up front when he was just 16. But his lack of strong move to the net on offense became a hint that maybe, just maybe, Scott was meant to play on defense. One year later, the ultra-competitive Hannan became the Sharks second pick in the first round of the 1997 draft, 23rd overall, behind Patrick Marleau, who was second overall.

I remember talking to Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson about that pick back in 1997. He said San Jose's first priority in picking a player is the type of character kid has and Hannan got all A's in that department.

"Sometimes you see a kid that just wows you with his skills and what a great athlete he is, but there's something missing," Wilson said, obviously referring to the character and intangibles that take a great athlete to a different level. "Scott Hannan has the character we look for, plus he's got great hockey sense, a great hockey mind."

There aren't many defensemen that see the game, feel the game, defensively. But Scott Hannan has that innate ability.

"When players like Joe Sakic and Forsberg, Keith Tkachuk and Iginla come to the game and they bring the fire to the game about scoring points and leading on offense," Hannan said. "The way I'm going to lead my team, or give my team a shot at winning, is shutting down those players. I take great pride in being able to do that and trying to do that."

Off the ice, Hannan is just as fearless. He loves being around the water, from his days in B.C. near Lake Okinagan. Since moving to Northern California, a lot of new sports have opened up for him -- like surfing, with teammates Todd Harvey and Mark Smith.

His teammates joke that with his 1960s-style, shoulder-length, dirty blond hair, he looks like a surfer dude right out of one of those Frankie Avalon movies. To which Hannan just laughs.

"I wouldn't say I'm that good at surfing, but ... ," Scott said, smiling widely. "It's a recreational thing. It's harder than you think, probably one of the harder things I've tried. The problem is catching the wave in the right spot and then not being intimidated when that big thing is coming up behind you, because you've got to catch it in the right spot. And if you don't, hold your breath."

"We're not professional enough to get out on the real big waves, we just take the knee-highers," Harvey said.

During the Calgary-San Jose Western Conference finals playoff series in 2004, one writer asked Hannan what he feared more: Which is tougher, facing Iginla one-on-one or a 10-foot wave?

"I'm not scared of too much," Hannan replied, looking the writer straight in the eyes. Which goes along with that Hannan fearlessness on the ice.

Early this season, I asked Hannan if there was one fearless kind of thing he would still like to try. He didn't hesitate, saying, "I almost went skydiving once. Man ... I mean think about it, diving from a plane through the air before pulling the cord on your parachute and gliding to the earth. Wow!"

Crazy hockey dude? Well, maybe ... a little.

A fear that Hannan and several other in-your-face defensemen around the NHL like Chris Pronger, Derian Hatcher, Chris Chelios, Barret Jackman, Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr have had to deal with is an adjustment to their game with the zero-tolerance obstruction being stressed in the NHL. Little tricks, like putting a stick or shoulder into a player in and around the net, are no longer tolerated. Those one-on-one battles in front of the net that became famous are now shorter, because of the rules.

In fact, I promised Hannan I wouldn't write this column until he got into the plus column -- not knowing how much of an adjustment shutdown defensemen really had to make.

Hannan struggled right off the bat.

"You talk to the referees and still you get different barometers of what you can and can't do from game to game, it's frustrating," he told me back in October. "You almost have to find new little tricks to use to play well defensively within the rules. That plus really concentrating on being positioned perfectly to still get in the face of the offensive player you are assigned to stop."

Part of Hannan's problems were that the Sharks got off to a bad start as well, which boosted him to a league-worst minus 22 at one point. But the competitive nature of this shutdown defender really came out after San Jose traded long-time defense partner Brad Stuart to Boston along with Marco Sturm for all-star center Joe Thornton.

Thornton immediately gave the San Jose offense a shot in the arm. But without Stuart, Hannan and veteran Kyle McLaren sparked the team's younger-looking defense. In the first 23 games after the Thornton trade, Hannan was a plus-17.

So I don't feel too bad about going back on my word about writing this column when he became a plus player.

"You see that minus number next to your name and see it climbing, it's not fun," Hannan told me back in December. "But that competitive nature in you makes you want to overcome it. I remembered back to when I broke into the NHL and Darryl Sutter never let me take a night off -- and that's how I began to look at this season.

"Now, I feel comfortable out there again no matter how young or old the defenseman playing alongside me is."

Knowing the kind of competitor that Scott Hannan is, you knew he wasn't about to pull the cord on his parachute to this season just yet. There are too many great battles yet to be won. But with the new rules, you can no longer call him Velcro.

"No," he said. "I guess that nickname is gone forever."

But if you talk to some of the game's best one-on-one offensive players, they will still claim that Hannan sticks to them better than most defensemen.

And that's a tribute to a competitor who takes on that kind of difficult shutdown assignment as just another big challenge.

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