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The King Of Little Things

by Ralph Strangis / Dallas Stars

I don’t remember the first time I met Jere Lehtinen.   He’s quiet, humble, reserved, and even after 15 seasons in a strange country, not altogether comfortable with the language.  So he’s not the kind of guy that would have stood out in the room amidst all the fresh-faced young prospects in his first camp with us, most of whom never made much of an impression thereafter.  The Stars drafted Varvio and Bes ahead of him in 1992, and Johnson, Kyle Peterson, Lind, Edstrom, Romfo and Jeffrey Moen after.  Like I said…

Photo Gallery: Jere Lehtinen
Video: Lehtinen Highlights
Tickets: Tues. vs. Chicago
And even when he hit the ice, he didn’t blow you away with a heavy shot or anything (he had 6 goals in his rookie season), and he didn’t blow past anyone nor did he run anybody over.  Fittingly, his NHL debut was in the quiet, stark and unassuming outpost of Winnipeg, Manitoba on October 7th, 1995.  Per usual, the attention isn’t on him this week either, and that’s just fine with Jere.   

With all eyes focused on Mike Modano this week, Jere Lehtinen will continue what he’s always done – go about his business with his usual dedication and diligence, because this is his job.  And honestly I’ve never seen anyone like him in the way he approaches his job.

Former Stars assistant coach Doug Jarvis (who’s NHL Ironman mark still and always will stand at a staggering 962 consecutive games played) told me once that he wanted to do a case study on Jere; how he was raised, what his parents did and told him, who his coaches were, how he trained, what he ate, what books he read, and so on, with the hopes of maybe being able to use that information to help teach and coach it. 

For Jere it never matters who he plays with on a line, and over the years every coach he’s had has used him over and over to “fix” another player’s issues.  How many times over the years have we said something like – “boy that line of Storm, Borchevski and Lehtinen was really good tonight…”  He has been called “the king of the little things”, almost never (and I do mean never) out of position, almost always (and I do mean always) making the right read and play.  And it never mattered who he played against.  I asked him a couple of weeks before the 2008 playoffs what team he thought the Stars would get – and he really didn’t know who was in the mix.  You see, his job is exactly the same tomorrow as it was today, regardless. 

He is so low-maintenance Stars team-services and PR personnel over the years almost forget he’s around.  A former Stars PR man told me that pretty much every player will at least a couple of times during a season come to him after a game and ask about a scoring play in the game to make sure that they got proper credit for a goal or an assist (this is reasonable of course, most buildings and official scorers are notoriously unreliable when it comes to giving proper credit for goals and assists and contracts are generally based on numbers) but that the ONLY time he ever heard from Jere on such an issue was when he was credited for an assist – and Jere went to tell him that he didn’t touch the puck and to take the assist away.  

He has played against the worlds’ best players and their games have died under his checking, and it was all by the book.  Consider this; in 108 playoff games over 10 different post-seasons and against the best of the best, in the role of a shutdown specialist, he took 6 penalties.  6.  And never more than one in any given YEAR!  That’s how you win 3 Selke Trophies. 

He is the model of consistency – his home and road stats virtually identical through over 800 games, he’ll finish behind only Modano in franchise playoff goals all-time (you remember Hull’s goal against Buffalo that night, but is the memory of Dallas’ other goal in that game or who scored it as firmly burned into your cerebral cortex?), and is on virtually every other meaningful franchise Top 10, except of course, Penalty Minutes.  And if you ask him, he can’t tell you anything about his numbers, it’s just not that important to him.  It’s the job he has to do this week that matters that most.

It’s been a tough couple of seasons for the 36 year-old Finn, for his miles are of a particularly eroding variety.  But he comes to work every day the same way.  He eats well, tries to sleep well, is early to the rink to work on this or that, and is still regularly the first one on the ice, and some days the last to leave.  That the Stars are out of the playoff chase disappoints him greatly, but will not in the slightest way deter his uncommon everyday resolve.  You’ll get what you always get with Jere, right up through the last shift.

When asked if this will be the last week for Jere Lehtinen on the ice – he’s said (like Mike) that he’ll wait until the season is over to make a decision on that.

But during a week when all eyes will be focused on his longtime buddy – I thought you might want to take the occasional glance his way as well, just in case.     

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