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Ozolinsh Steps Reluctantly Into Limelight

Defenseman makes key pass to help set up goal that lifts the Ducks, an easier task for him than getting in front of the media in the aftermath.

June 03, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

Relief, or perhaps refuge, was supposedly one question away and one door away for the tortured defenseman under the lights.

"One more, one more," said the Mighty Duck public relations assistant.

This was more for the benefit of Sandis Ozolinsh than the media. The handlers know how he feels in regard to his obvious dislike of the television cameras, in particular, the blinding confessional lights. In fact, he had switched nameplates in the morning before Game 2 to avoid such a moment.

It couldn't be pulled off twice. Finally, free at last, Ozolinsh scurried away into safer confines. You could say the only place he moved faster was on the ice in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals at the Arrowhead Pond on Monday night against the New Jersey Devils.

In the past, his famous wanderings have provided many ways to describe his randomness on the ice. Of course, being men, the Ducks leaned toward the field of automobiles.

"You just don't know why he's up there," Duck Coach Mike Babcock said. "It's great. We made a point in saying that when we went into overtime, I said, 'Don't get confused, there is the gas and there is the brake. Make sure you've got it on the right one.' "

Introducing the stray-from-home defenseman, rather than the traditional stay-at-home variety.

Which is what the Ducks needed to pull even, 2-2, in this best-of-seven series. Ozolinsh has given the Ducks an offensive spark in the two games they have won at home, picking up three points in those games, including a standout assist on Steve Thomas' overtime goal, giving the Ducks a 1-0 victory in Game 4.

"Sandis has been playing great all playoffs, but you're right, he's trying to provide more offense for us, and jump in the play," defenseman Keith Carney said.

"And that's something we need against a great defensive team because you have to try to get out-numbered situations.

"It's a perfect example [on the goal]. Steve Thomas made a great pass to get him the puck at the blue line and then he was in the right place at the right time. He's a great player and in this situation, the good players come to the forefront."

While the Ducks may insist over and over that Ozolinsh is playing adequate defense, that's not the reason the Ducks picked him up at the All-Star break from Florida, and that's also not why the series has turned dramatically. He has the kind of experience the Ducks value most -- a Stanley Cup ring with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996.

"He's been a guy, especially in this series, he's talked about staying in the moment and making plays and playing how we can play," forward Dan Bylsma said. "Sandis has been here before and said, 'Hey, keep playing, keeping doing the things we do well.' "

Bylsma was impressed by Ozolinsh's poise on his cross-ice pass to Samuel Pahlsson on the game-winning play, as the goal came only 39 seconds into overtime.

"He seems to have a calm about him out there and he got that puck on his stick," Bylsma said. "I think 90% of the guys would have fired that on Marty Brodeur, but he made a great play over to Sammy Pahlsson and really created that opportunity."

Said Ozolinsh: "I was trying to get the goalie's and their defenseman's attention to give Sammy a little bit more time, better position."

Even before Thomas scored the game-winner off Pahlsson's rebound, Ozolinsh said he had been already turning his attention to the other part of his job -- defense.

"I was turning to get back already, and fortunately I didn't have to skate far," he said, smiling.

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