How fabulous is this? Florida Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski
makes $1.5 million a year, has a killer tan, owns a
three-bedroom condo in a gated community in Boca Raton, tools up
and down I-95 in his blood-red Mitsubishi Spyder convertible or
in his Grand Cherokee, has two Jet Skis and a mountain bike,
gets ice cream sundaes with extra fudge and nuts brought to him
by fawning waitresses, is an NHL Rookie of the Year finalist and
may get a chance to sip champagne from the Stanley Cup--albeit
illegally because he is only 19. He has everything a teenager
could want, except a clue.
On the ice, at least, Jovanovski is no naif, even though he
wrestles with the little demons that will haunt any young
player, especially one so gifted. In one ear the voice of
Disciplined Eddie is reciting the Panthers' gospel of prudence
and positional play, while in the other ear Devilish Eddie is
urging him to join the rush or to skate out of his way to throw
a bodycheck that will leave an opposing forward jelly-legged.
Throughout the playoffs Jovanovski usually has made the right
decision, dishing out seismic hits and joining the attack at
fortuitous times, while emerging as one of the most promising
two-way defensemen in the NHL.
But off the ice Jovanovski still is a half step behind the play.
Take the old short-sheeted-bed gag, known to sleep-away campers
and older children, such as athletes, who are compelled to live
in groups. Panthers defenseman Gord Murphy, who is Jovanovski's
roommate on the road, short-sheeted Jovanovski's bed early this
season and then struggled to muffle giggles for five minutes as
Jovanovski--sometimes good-naturedly called Special Ed by his
teammates--kicked at the covers. Finally Jovanovski asked Murphy
why he was convulsed, and Murphy was obliged to explain the
high-tech concept of short-sheeting. "He had no idea what it was
all about," Murphy says, his voice tinged with wonder.
Jovanovski grew up in a no-nonsense home in Windsor, Ont.,
across the river from Detroit, and he played junior hockey in
his hometown. Somehow it never occurred to anyone in the
Jovanovski family to short-sheet Ed's bed to prepare him for the
Or consider what happened to Jovanovski's jazzy sports car,
which he parks at the practice rink with the top down on nice
South Florida days. (Jovanovski bought the bike to pedal to
practice--"While riding, I could get a tan," he reasoned--but
shelved the project after one day.) Early in the playoffs
teammates Mike Hough, Brian Skrudland and Rhett Warrener sneaked
outside and piled shin guards, elbow pads and assorted other
gear on the seats. When Jovanovski saw the mountain of equipment
in his car, he removed it, laid it on the asphalt and drove
away. "Some of the stuff wound up missing, and our equipment
guys were not real happy," Skrudland says. "I had to explain to
Ed that if someone pulls a joke on him like that, he's supposed
to put the stuff back in the dressing room.
May 26, 1996
"He's just one of those guys who's a real, real big man in terms
of his hockey, but who's still young," adds Skrudland. "He'll
get it. During the last series [against the Philadelphia
Flyers], he came up to me and asked, 'If we win this round, does
it mean we get another $7,000?' Like a kid with his money has to
worry. I told him, 'Yes, it does, Eddie. Yes, it does.'"
Jovanovski could be padding his bank account again. The
third-year Panthers, who ditched the label "surprising" six
months ago en route to making their first postseason appearance,
are tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins 1-1 as the Eastern
Conference finals move to raucous Miami Arena for Game 3 on
Friday. In Florida's 5-1 opening-game win last Saturday, Tom
Fitzgerald scored twice, goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck was
brilliant, and Jovanovski looked as nervous as an ingenue,
making a poor clearing attempt that led to Pittsburgh's only
goal and being twisted into a pretzel by Mario Lemieux on a
shorthanded rush in the third period. Florida coach Doug MacLean
used Jovanovski for just one even-strength shift in the third
but excused his rookie, saying of the Penguins' high-scoring
forwards, "Lemieux, Petr Nedved and Jaromir Jagr can make anyone
nervous. They made me nervous, and I'm 65 feet away on the bench."
Jovanovski rebounded Monday night, assisting on one goal,
despite his team's 3-2 loss. Still, the Panthers are no mirage.
Florida plays enough gritty veterans to populate a French
Foreign Legion post, but it also has four players under age
22--Jovanovski, Warrener, left wing Radek Dvorak and center Rob
Niedermayer--who play a lot and often play superbly. In the long
run Jovanovski figures to be the best of them. Ed really is
After scoring 10 goals and 21 points during the regular season,
Jovanovski attracted leaguewide attention in the playoff series
against the Flyers for his war with Philadelphia center Eric
Lindros. Even though Florida used defensemen Terry Carkner and
Robert Svehla against Lindros's line 70% of the time, all of
Jovanovski's big moments in that series seemed to come against
Lindros. The 6'2", 210-pound Jovanovski and the 6'4", 229-pound
Lindros had, by the Panthers' count, at least seven major
run-ins in the six games, including a Jovanovski check that left
Lindros crumpled on the ice in the first period of Game 2 and a
punch he threw in response to a Lindros cross-check that touched
off a melee at the end of Game 3. Suddenly this big puppy of a
defenseman looked as if he had found a playmate for the next
They yapped at each other. Lindros, 23, told Jovanovski, "You'll
know when I'm coming," and Jovanovski discovered it was true:
The scrape of Lindros's blades on the ice emits a hollow sound
like no one else's. Jovanovski's rejoinder was not exactly Woody
Allen. "I told him, 'Keep your head up,'" Jovanovski says.
"Everybody says that. I'm not good at comebacks."
"That's the thing with Eddie," says Pittsburgh left wing Dave
Roche, who played junior hockey with Jovanovski. "He'll hit
anyone. Big, small. Lindros or a no-name. He'll nail you."
Jovanovski's father, Joe, keeps a tape of his son's big hits;
presumably the tape is extended play. This season Jovanovski
broke the Flyers' Rod Brind'Amour's nose, gave the Vancouver
Canucks' Martin Gelinas a concussion, creamed the Washington
Capitals' Stefan Ustorf, banged around the bulletproof Lindros
and, in Game 1 against the Penguins, smacked Nedved--all with
legal checks. Unlike the old hip-checking defensemen, Jovanovski
hits high, using his shoulder and keeping his stick down. He has
a unique ability to stop himself, quickly gather momentum and
then plow into an opponent's logo, pancaking him the way a
blitzing linebacker would flatten a quarterback.
"There's one spot on the boards at Miami Arena, about 20 feet
inside the blue line, where we should erect a monument to Ed
Jovanovski for all the guys he's gotten there," MacLean says.
"Guys coming down the wall aren't only thinking about getting
around him. They're thinking about survival."
The primal thuds have caught the attention of the Florida
crowds, whose chants of "Ed-die, Ed-die" are second in volume
and frequency only to the "Bee-zers" lavished on Vanbiesbrouck.
"The chants go right through your body," Jovanovski says. He
chuckles on the ice every time he hears an "Ed-die," then
reminds himself he is a professional and it is unseemly to skate
with a grin on his face. Smiling whenever the building rocks
with the sound of his name--just another rookie mistake.
Jovanovski should be accustomed to hearing his name called in
front of large gatherings. The Panthers announced it at the 1994
NHL draft, when they made Jovanovski the overall No. 1 pick.
Florida president Bill Torrey, who built the New York Islanders'
dynasty in the early 1980s around a No. 1 pick, defenseman Denis
Potvin in 1973, projected greatness for Jovanovski. The Panthers
returned Jovanovski to juniors last year, and when MacLean, then
Florida's player personnel director, went to Windsor to check on
him over the course of the season, he saw a defenseman he
believed could be among the top 10 in the NHL one day. When
MacLean was named the Panthers' coach last summer, he decided
Jovanovski would be on the club in 1995-96, unless the Canadian
courts decided otherwise.
In February 1995 Jovanovski and two Windsor teammates were
charged with sexually assaulting a 24-year-old woman. The case
appeared headed for trial, until Crown Attorney Denis Harrison
dropped the charges last August because "there was not a
reasonable chance of conviction" based on the evidence presented
at the pretrial hearing two months earlier. Jovanovski was
chastened. "While I waited for the trial, I did nothing but work
out," he says. "It made me concentrate. It made me grow as a
In the course of those frenzied workouts Jovanovski's baby fat
melted away--on the night he was drafted, he says now, "I looked
like I had chestnuts in my cheeks"--to be replaced by a
chiseled, bronzed face framed by stylishly long sideburns.
Jovanovski was ready for the NHL, at least until he broke his
right hand last September in a preseason fight with the Hartford
Whalers' Brendan Shanahan. Jovanovski missed Florida's first 11
But this was the break he needed. Under orders not to fight for
several months in order to protect the plate and four pins in
his hand, Jovanovski had to find outlets for his exuberance
other than his fists. ("I broke the plate anyway in a fight with
Keith Tkachuk," he says. "If nothing else, the hand makes a good
radio antenna.") He had to become a more complete player.
Despite his halting performance in Game 1 against Pittsburgh,
Jovanovski's speed, size and great shot have caused MacLean to
upgrade his prediction of his young defenseman's future, from
top 10 to one of the top three in the NHL, a franchise player.
"Maybe at times Eddie's still a little careless," Skrudland
says, "but carelessness in some players helps make them
creative. You don't want to rein in a big talent like him too
much. When we're on the ice together, I'm always the one telling
him, 'Go, man, go.'"
If he and the Panthers keep going, Jovanovski can use his
convertible in a Stanley Cup parade.