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MIGHTY DUCK NOTEBOOK / ROBYN NORWOOD : McSween Gets His Big Break and Breaks Out

March 26, 1994|ROBYN NORWOOD

Finally, at the age of 29, defenseman Don McSween found himself playing regularly in the NHL.

Suddenly, at 29, Don McSween got chicken pox.

"I played in the minors seven years," McSween said. "Couldn't I have gotten them then?"

Instead, he came down with the classic childhood illness as an adult. He's a father for goodness' sake--and he was the only person in his house itching and trying not to scratch.

"I had them on the bottom of my feet, in my ears, underneath my tongue, in my throat," said McSween, who has no idea how he contracted it.

He only knows that after appearing in only nine NHL games in his first six seasons as a pro, he had finally made it with the Mighty Ducks.

Then the pox were upon him, and he missed the next seven games. McSween hasn't played since the March 6 loss to San Jose, which sent the team's playoffs hopes spiraling. But he is healthy now and back in shape, and could return as soon as tonight's game against the Hartford Whalers.

McSween, who played on the 1986 NCAA Division I championship team at Michigan State, started his career in the Buffalo organization. But after six years, he had appeared in nine NHL games, and then only in spot duty.

This season found him playing with the San Diego Gulls on a free-agent contract with time running out on his career.

"You're 29, you kind of think your chance has passed you by," he said.

But the Ducks, affiliated with the Gulls, had seen him play and knew he had been plus-61 the year before playing with Bill Houlder, now a Duck defenseman.

And when the Duck defense was thinned by injuries in January, the team signed McSween to a one-year contract. He proved to be a terrific pickup. With his heart and his smart, stay-at-home play, he has solidified a defense prone to blunders.

McSween spent last season playing with Houlder, so he knows how to cover for a defenseman who jumps up to try to score. With McSween last season, Houlder was plus-50 or so. Without him this season, Houlder has been in the minus-teens all season.

McSween is plus-2 after 22 games with the Ducks. And he has scored his first two NHL goals--at an age when most players in the NHL are long past their first goal and their last bout with chicken pox.

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Still something to prove: Terry Yake's pride was dented after Hartford exposed him to the expansion draft last season even though he had 22 goals and 53 points in only 66 games for the Whalers.

He'd like to walk back into the Hartford Civic Center for the first time tonight with 30 or 40 goals. Instead, he goes in with 21--one less than he scored last year when he had far less ice time.

Yake has played in every Duck game; Bob Corkum and Joe Sacco are the only others who have. But he has fallen off in the second half, with only six goals since the All-Star break. He has been an important part of the team and is the second-leading scorer, but the second-half drop gives ammunition to those (like the Whalers) who wondered if his 5-11, 175-pound body is built for a full NHL season.

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They like Mike: Mikhail Shtalenkov replaced a popular player when he took over for backup goalie Ron Tugnutt, who was traded to Montreal.

But Shtalenkov--a Russian whom his teammates call Mike--has made plenty of friends with a 2.44 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage since being called up from San Diego. He has gone 2-2-1 and impressed Coach Ron Wilson enough to revive the alternating goalie rotation, ending Guy Hebert's short run as No. 1.

Shtalenkov is in his first NHL season, but at 28, he's no rookie--he's too old to be. He already had played six seasons for Moscow Dynamo in Russia before coming to North America to play minor league hockey and try to catch the eyes of NHL scouts last year. He caught the eyes of the Ducks, who drafted him in the fifth round last June.

Don McSween San Diego Gulls

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