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Memories Flood Back For Former Shark Whitney

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks

He was surrounded by a horde of reporters seeking information. He had seen mob scenes like this before in June, when he used to live in Edmonton and was the stickboy for the often-crowned Stanley Cup champion Oilers in the 1980s. This time, Ray Whitney was on the other side, as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, competing for a Cup title against a new era of Oilers.

It was less than 24 hours after Whitney had scored two of Carolina's four third-period goals en route to a 5-4 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. He was answering each question with rapid-fire confidence, about his goals, once being a stickboy and getting a $100 Christmas gift for personally shaving Wayne Gretzky's sticks so well for "The Great One", how he still has the Oilers jacket he wore in 1986-87 and 1987-88, when the team won the third and fourth of its five championships, and the night Marty McSorley, while shaving his playoff beard, took the scissors to Whitney's mullet.
Then suddenly, Whitney was stumped ... briefly, when the subject of the seriousness of the injury to Oilers' No. 1 goaltender Dwayne Roloson came up and someone wondered about who might be in goal for Edmonton in Game 2.
The choices were obviously Ty Conklin or Jussi Markkanen. But ... with a twist.

"Any thoughts on Floyd being the third goalie?" one reporter asked, referring to Ray's dad, Floyd, a retired cop and former head of the canine unit for the Edmonton Police Department who has served for years as a third goalie for the Oilers ... and actually was signed to a one-game contract and was sitting in the team's locker room in full gear for a game against Washington in December of 1999 in case Tommy Salo got hurt after Bill Ranford, the No. 1 goalie, left the game with a bruised toe.

After pausing briefly to chuckle, Ray Whitney said, "I hope so."

When Oilers coach Craig MacTavish was quizzed on the same subject, he, too, laughed and said, "Ray would go from two goals to six. ... And that's with Floyd trying."

Ray Whitney knows that as the Oiler's stickboy when he was 14 and 15 back in the 1980s, he was privileged to get a firsthand look at how the locker room of one of the greatest NHL teams of all-time worked.

"What kid wouldn't want to be in my shoes working for the Oilers?" Ray asked. "That was when Gretzky was in his heyday. ... I remember watching the games from the bench. You couldn't get a better seat than that.

"Those Oilers didn't lose often, and when they lost ugly, it got ugly in the room. Maybe growing up and seeing that made an impression. They didn't rant and rave all the time, but when it was needed, they weren't shy."

Whitney also took from those old Oilers a sense of what it means to love the game and how important it is to have fun playing it.

After being a second-round pick in the 1991 draft by the San Jose Sharks, Whitney fondly recalls his first NHL goal in a 26-game stint in 1992-93 being a goal against Oilers goalie Ron Tugnutt in San Jose in a 3-1 loss in December of that season.

"My goal came on a power play," he recalled after Game 1, quickly spitting out all of the details like it happened yesterday. "It was a turnover by Edmonton and it went from Doug Zmolek, across to Pat Falloon, who I played juniors with, and he threw it backdoor to me and I scored off Ron Tugnutt. It was on TV back home, so everybody from where I was from obviously saw it. It was very special to get it against Edmonton."

Whitney spent the first six years of his career playing for the Sharks after they made him the 23rd overall pick in 1991. The left wing registered 121 points (48 goals, 73 assists) in 200 career games with the Sharks before leaving in the 1997-98 season to play with Edmonton.

The Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, native, who is now 34, played in nine games with the Oilers in 1997-98, with one goal and three assists, as part of a 14-year NHL career in which he has also performed for Florida, Columbus and Detroit, before signing with the Hurricanes last August. He had 17 goals and 38 assists for Carolina in the regular season and now eight goals and five assists in 18 playoff games.

You could say Whitney now has a chance to get back at the Oilers for first passing on him once in the 1991 draft ... and then putting him on waivers back in November of 1997. But, while there are still feelings about his old team, Ray and Floyd are only thinking about beating Edmonton ... this time.

"There's no revenge whatsoever. I wouldn't trade those times with the Oilers for anything," Whitney laughed. "My dad might think a little differently, because of me. Blood, you know. I guess you could say he's a man without a team ... for now. Or maybe he's a man with two teams."

You can see the poise in the step of the undersized 5-foot-10, 178-pound Whitney, from the time well-spent in the championship Oilers' locker room. He didn't waste any time pouncing on his old team in Game 1.

"It's nothing personal, all business," he laughed.

Then, Whitney went off on another one of those fanciful trips down memory lane.

"I remember being added late to the All-Star Game in Toronto in 2000 and scoring a goal," Whitney said. "It was ironic, because I scored against Tommy Salo and Mark Messier assisted on the goal. The funny part of the story is that I guess I had a flashback to the old Oilers days, because I swear, I remember waiting for him to tell me to get the shoeshine box."

For now, Whitney is one of those veterans who has a knack for finding the holes in an opponent's zone. The diminutive winger also adds plenty of grit and an innate ability to shoot on the move that has allowed him to score more than 20 goals in a season five times, setting a career-high in 1997-98 when he combined that season with Edmonton and Florida.
"He's a smart player," said Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour. "He's small, but he never quits working and fighting to find an opening."

"And he's got a real quick release and dangerous shot," said center Doug Weight.

"He makes everyone else better," coach Peter Laviolette said. "And he's not shy about speaking his mind in the locker room. He's never shy about that. He makes everyone else better."

Though he now wears No. 13 for the Hurricanes, he has long worn No. 14 because of his fondness for current Oilers coach Craig MacTavish.

"We always knew Ray has a lot of pretty good skills" MacTavish said. "You don't just will 20-goal seasons like he has so often in his career. It takes talent and a lot of mental toughness to fight through the heavy traffic areas where he scores a lot of his goals. I'd like to think he got some of that passion from watching us back in the 1980s."

There always seems to be a story-within-a-story theme when the Stanley Cup is up for grabs. Seeing Ray Whitney and Oilers left winger Ryan Smyth on the ice after being stickboys in Edmonton is yet another delightful morsel in Cup history.

It wouldn't be too trite to say that Smyth and Whitney now have a chance to carve out a little of their own history.

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