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Ducks Left Seeing Red

Backup goalie Askey gets unexpected detour from minor leagues to Stanley Cup playoffs when Roussel gets sick and Hebert is hurt.

April 22, 1999|DIANE PUCIN

DETROIT — Somebody had to tell Tom Askey to get on the ice and start stretching.

Don't blame Askey for being a little fuzzy on the details of what to do when Guy Hebert was lying motionless in front of the net.

All Askey was doing was standing on the tips of his skates, hoping Hebert would move, twitch an arm, wiggle a leg, shake his head clear, get up and keep playing.

But Hebert stayed still, longer and longer, until Askey was pushed in the back with instructions to get out there and get the kinks out. Stretch, Tom, stretch.

And that is how Tom Askey, 24 years old, a goalie who wears the T-shirt of Jim Morrison, dead rock star, under his jersey for good luck; who played four years at Ohio State and a total of seven NHL games before Wednesday, started his Stanley Cup playoff career.

Let Askey stand for all of the Mighty Ducks in Game 1 against the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Wings. A little wide-eyed, a little confused, a lot inexperienced but eager to figure out what this is all about and not at all dispirited after a 5-3 loss.

At 10:30 Wednesday morning, Askey got off the bus with the rest of his Cincinnati Mighty Ducks teammates and planned to get on a flight to Philadelphia for Thursday night's first game of the American Hockey League playoffs.

When Askey got off the bus, though, he saw his bags on the ground instead of heading to check-in. "That was either really good news or really bad news," he said.

Well, it was news. It seems that Duck backup goalie Dominic Roussel was sick, the flu or something. Askey was told to get on a flight to Detroit.

See ya later and good luck, son. About 1 p.m., Askey got off the flight in Detroit and hopped a cab to Joe Louis Arena. "It was about $40," Askey said.

He had just enough cash. Whew.

Truth be told, Askey said, he really hadn't been nervous at all. Not when he got the word to go north instead of east. Not when he arrived at the arena or when he dressed for the game or when all the noise in the world seemed to congregate into the chant "Let's go Wings."

"Honestly," Askey said, "I never expected to play. I was really hoping that Guy would stand up."

It was an unlucky play midway through the second period, when Brendan Shanahan was toppled over in front of Hebert and Shanahan's flying skate cracked Hebert in the helmet.

When Hebert finally stood up and one eye looked left and one eye looked right, every other eye looked right at Askey.

"That was a doozy of a situation," Paul Kariya said. Kariya smiled and shook his head a little. "First playoff experience against the Wings, in Detroit, on the power play. He handled it real well, though, didn't he?"

Yes, actually, Askey did.

Again, he could be the symbol for all the Ducks.

Over and over, it seemed Askey was about to be overwhelmed. Once, he looked up and there were four Red Wings, in full stride, crossing the blue line together and seeing only two Duck defenders in front of them.

The puck was moving between their sticks as if it were one of those shell games that's played on the scoreboard during timeouts. Is the puck here or here or here or where? So many times Askey's head needed to be on a swivel to follow the moving puck.

In the end, Askey gave up one goal, which Steve Rucchin said, "wasn't the kid's fault," and another, at the end, which was. Teemu Selanne was, um, a little tripped by Shanahan on that second one.

"I thought Teemu was in control," Askey said, but all of a sudden Selanne wasn't. Shanahan was coming with the puck and Steve Yzerman was in front of the net and Askey went on instinct, went out to get the puck.

Except Shanahan passed to Yzerman, who had a whole net to aim at while Askey threw himself sprawling to the ice and swatted at nothing but air.

It all happened so fast, and when the red light went on, Askey smashed his stick to the ice, angry, frustrated, exhausted, everything.

"My mistake," Askey said, "but you just don't have time to think in those situations."

Everything had happened so fast. The whole day had gone by without a moment to breathe or to think or to appreciate where he was or what he was doing. "You learn from these things," Askey said.

"It's a day I'm sure he'll remember," Rucchin said. "He comes into a locker room with a bunch of new faces, thrown into the playoffs. He'll be better prepared next time."

And that, too, you can say about all the Ducks. They should be better prepared next time. Friday night. Game 2.

Prepared for the noise and the way the air seems harder to breathe, how the hits leave bigger bruises and the sticks seem to draw blood more often.

We probably won't see Tom Askey again. According to the Ducks, Hebert is "fine." Roussel should be feeling better soon. And Askey will be heading to Philadelphia. But he will be better for the experience. "I'm sure of that," he said. And so will his teammates.

At least they'd better be.

Diane Pucin can be reached at her e-mail address:

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