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HEATING UP THE NHL PLAYOFFS WERE HOT STUFF IN THE SUN BELT, WHERE ANAHEIM AND PHOENIX TOOK SHOTS AT EACH OTHER ON AND OFF THE ICE

April 28, 1997
April 28, 1997

Table of Contents
April 28, 1997

Jock Schools

HEATING UP THE NHL PLAYOFFS WERE HOT STUFF IN THE SUN BELT, WHERE ANAHEIM AND PHOENIX TOOK SHOTS AT EACH OTHER ON AND OFF THE ICE

To you it might have looked like just another first-round
playoff series between two middle-of-the-pack teams in gauche
jerseys. To the suits at NHL headquarters, however, the Western
Conference quarterfinal series between the Anaheim Mighty Ducks
and the Phoenix Coyotes was about something bigger: the NHL's
manifest destiny, otherwise known as sold-out games in Sun Belt
cities. The SRO crowds in Anaheim and Phoenix were hard evidence
of the growth of the sport. They held promise of golf junkets
disguised as business trips. We have seen the face of the NHL in
the 21st century, and it is...tanned.

This is an article from the April 28, 1997 issue Original Layout

Then again, the face may be painted a ghastly white and have
duck feathers glued around its mouth, from which a stream of
fake blood trickles. Coyotes fans were asked by the team's front
office to wear white to America West Arena on Sunday afternoon
for Game 3. Some of them--such as the guy who looked as if he
had just taken a bite out of a duck--went above and beyond the
call. Inside the arena, Phoenix's workmanlike 4-1 win left it
trailing two games to one in the best of seven. Outside, it was
92[degrees] (but it was a dry heat). In addition to being the
hot series, this was also the hot series, featuring a trio of
the game's brightest young stars.

Anaheim forwards Teemu Selanne, 26, and Paul Kariya, 22, who
finished second and third, respectively, among NHL scorers this
season, are the most exciting linemates this side of the
Pittsburgh Penguins' Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux and the most
mismatched roommates this side of Felix and Oscar. The Coyotes
countered with Keith Tkachuk, their 25-year-old captain, whose
52 goals this season led the league. Aside from suffering
occasional lapses in judgment against Anaheim, such as when he
would use his stick on some hapless Duck as if it were a
broadsword, Tkachuk was having a terrific series, scoring three
goals in the first three games.

Do we include Jeremy Roenick, Tkachuk's teammate and golfing
partner, under the heading of "young stars"? We do not. Roenick
is 27 and lately has been feeling older than that. At the
request of Phoenix coach Don Hay, Roenick was a two-way dervish
in this series, attaching himself to Kariya like graffiti in the
defensive zone and also contributing a goal and three assists.
By Sunday evening the workload had begun to take its toll on
Roenick. "I'm so tired, it takes me 15 minutes to get out of bed
in the morning," he said after Game 3. "This is rough."

The good news for the Coyotes was that Roenick's efforts had
begun to make things rough on Kariya--and, by extension,
Selanne, the most frequent beneficiary of Kariya's artful
setups. After scoring two goals apiece in Game 1, a 4-2 win in
Anaheim, the Ducks' dynamic duo was held to one goal each over
the next two games. Since the start of Game 2, another 4-2 home
victory for the Ducks, Anaheim's top line has been hounded by a
hastily concocted checking line of Roenick, Darrin Shannon and
former Duck Bob Corkum. So industriously have Roenick and his
linemates gone about their business that as the series
progresses, it wouldn't be surprising to see them follow Selanne
and Kariya to the rest room between periods.

The play of Selanne and Kariya in Game 1 lent credence to a
statement made by Coyotes defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky a few days
before the series started. Apparently still traumatized from
having been traded last year from Anaheim to the Winnipeg Jets
(who relocated to Phoenix after the 1995-96 season) in a deal
that brought Selanne to the Ducks, Tverdovsky said his former
team had just "one good line and a good goalie." It was an
accurate, if impolitic, statement. Anaheim goalie Guy Hebert,
the pride of Division III Hamilton College, won 29 games in the
regular season and, along with Selanne and Kariya, was
instrumental in getting the Ducks (36-33-13) to the postseason
for the first time in their four-year history.

Tverdovsky, who also said he "hated" his former club and wanted
to "kick their butts," was accorded a traitor's welcome at The
Pond, where he was booed whenever he touched the puck. The Ducks
were delighted by the din created by their fans, who waved Fowl
Towels and, at the request of Anaheim coach Ron Wilson, wore
white. This sartorial solidarity provoked some Coyotes to accuse
the Ducks of plagiarism: Attending postseason games dressed in
white was a hallowed playoff rite of Winnipeg fans. Roenick
described Anaheim's attempts to "white out" The Pond as
"half-assed." Phoenix left wing Jim McKenzie said, "With all the
resources Disney has, you'd think they could come up with an
original idea." Not if you watched D3: The Mighty Ducks, you
wouldn't.

Wilson, in fact, is an innovative fellow. While riding on the
team bus in Chicago on March 28, he looked up at a high-rise
apartment building and glimpsed a daydreaming girl peering out a
window. Although the Ducks were one of the hottest teams in the
second half of the season, losing only three of their final 23
games, they were experiencing a brief funk. Before that night's
game against the Blackhawks, Wilson told his players to close
their eyes and reflect on what they used to daydream about when
they were kids--scoring the game-winning goal, making a great
save, that type of thing.

Sure, some guys probably spent the time thinking about pizza or
Tyra Banks, but the Ducks played an inspired game, won 4-3 and
went undefeated in their last seven games. Few could have
foreseen such a happy ending to the regular season last Oct. 30,
when a 6-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks dropped Anaheim to
1-9-2, its worst start ever. Anaheim's return to respectability
coincided with the return of Kariya, who missed last summer's
World Cup and the first 11 games of the season with an abdominal
strain. He amassed his 99 points in only 69 games. Had Buffalo
Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek not almost single-handedly
guided the Sabres to first place in the Northeast Division,
Kariya would probably be the leading candidate for the NHL's MVP
award.

The handsome, polite and electrifyingly talented Kariya is
already the NHL's preeminent poster boy. He will take his
ambassador's act overseas next fall when the Ducks and the
Canucks start the 1997-98 season with a two-game series in
Japan. Kariya, who is of Japanese descent, was asked after last
Saturday's practice if he was looking forward to the chance to
see the land of his ancestors, to explore his roots. He did not
warm to the subject. "Both my parents were born in North
America," he said. Had he read Shogun? "No."

For some reason the chronically serious Kariya found himself
hanging around with Selanne, who was still with the Jets, at the
1996 All-Star Game. Selanne is the un-Kariya. Back home in
Helsinki during the off-season, he tools around in a 14-seat
used school bus he calls the Party Bus. The gregarious Selanne
is known to have phoned his buddies from Winnipeg's dressing
room between periods to ask, "What are we doing tonight?"

Eighteen days after that All-Star Game, Ducks general manager
Jack Ferreira traded for Selanne. Together, Kariya and Selanne
are greater than the sum of their formidable parts. "I've played
with a lot of great players, guys like Eric Lindros, and we've
had good chemistry," says Kariya, "but not the kind of chemistry
Teemu and I have. It's so much fun playing the game when you
know exactly what the other person's going to do."

What could Phoenix do to shut down Kariya and Selanne? Tipping
the Coyotes' hand in Game 2 was Phoenix center Mike Stapleton,
who during a 10-second span in the second period elbowed Kariya
in the head and then cracked Selanne in the mouth with the blade
of his stick. With Stapleton serving a slashing penalty, Anaheim
defenseman J.J. Daigneault scored the first of his two goals on
the night.

In Game 3, when ham-handed Phoenix winger Darrin Shannon--who'd
scored four playoff goals in eight NHL seasons--popped in two
goals in the first period, the Ducks knew it wasn't their day.
In defeat, Selanne could not force himself to be as grim as his
teammates. "We didn't expect to win every game," he said,
smiling. "We weren't ready to play today. Next time, we will be."

He stepped outside, squinted and reached for his sunglasses.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY V.J. LOVERO In Anaheim's Game 1 victory, Dave Karpa (33) ducked out on Mike Gartner of Phoenix.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY V.J. LOVERO Ted Drury (left) of the Ducks and Gerald Diduck showed one reason that the NHL is a hit in the Sun Belt.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY V.J. LOVERO After Kariya scored twice in Game 1, Corkum and the rest ofthe Coyotes took aim at him. [Paul Kariya and Bob Corkum in game]