IN THE TWILIGHT OF THEIR CAREERS, 35-YEAR-OLD defenseman Jay Wells
and 33- year-old defenseman Doug Lidster found satisfaction in doing
the little / things for the New York Rangers in 1993-94. For Wells,
it was taking the odd shift. For Lidster, it was getting a chance to
take the odd shift.
Luckily for the Rangers, Lidster got his opportunity in the
playoffs, and he made the most of it. He suited up for the last two
games of the Eastern Conference finals against the New Jersey Devils
and every game of the Stanley Cup finals against the Vancouver
Canucks after sitting out 50 of New York's last 64 regular-season
games. In fact, in Game 2 of the Cup series Lidster scored for the
first time since Feb. 12, 1993, blowing by his former Canuck defense
partner, Gerald Diduck, and stuffing a shot past goalie Kirk McLean.
''When they give you a lemon,'' said Lidster, ''you make lemonade.''
Before the final fortnight of the playoffs, Lidster was mostly
known around New York for his uncanny resemblance to comedian Jerry
Seinfeld. Still others knew him as the player for whom New York
traded goalie John Vanbiesbrouck, a fan favorite, to Vancouver before
the June 1993 expansion draft. ''It was easily the most unpopular
move I've made since I got here in 1989,'' says Ranger general
manager Neil Smith. Lidster, who was given few chances to make Smith
look good, never complained, choosing instead to repair to the
training room, where he waited for an opening.
Similarly anonymous was Wells, a player whose contributions during
his 15 NHL seasons have been best quantified in lost teeth and broken
noses, one of which he suffered in Game 3 of the finals. Wells has
made a career of being a gruff, plodding, stay-at-home defenseman (45
goals in 958 regular-season games), but he has been afforded little
opportunity to stay in one home very long. He has been traded three
times in the last six years. And only three years ago, after sitting
out the first 25 games of the season with the Buffalo Sabres because
of injuries, he considered retiring.
Wells's career has been extended by the recent wave of expansion.
And after enduring 10 losing seasons in the NHL, he especially
appreciates having won this year's Stanley Cup. Says Smith, ''The
later you get in your career, the hunger to win the Cup increases,
because you understand how hard it is to do and how little time you
have left to do it in. And you don't want to end your career without
having been there, having done it.''
Now Wells and Lidster, who had survived 24 Cup-less NHL seasons,
can finally say, Been there, done it. -- C.S.