Defenseman Ruslan Salei as the Quiet Man.
The stunned looks that statement elicited from his Mighty Ducks teammates Monday were followed almost immediately by snickering.
Through nine seasons with the Ducks, which includes seven head coaches, five general managers and two owners, Salei has been called many things. Quiet is not on the list.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday May 19, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Pro hockey: In Tuesday's Sports section, a story on the Mighty Ducks' Ruslan Salei said he played for Las Vegas of the American Hockey League. Las Vegas was with the International Hockey League.
Yet, after Monday's practice, Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle went where no man has gone before. Asked how Salei was off the ice, Carlyle was quick with a one-word response: "Quiet."
That provided more than a little comic relief during another monotonous day waiting for the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks to hash out who will join the Ducks in the Western Conference finals.
"Quiet? Rusty?" Ducks assistant captain Teemu Selanne said, spitting out bits of a cookie while trying to express a different opinion. "You can't call Rusty quiet. There are a lot of things he is. He thinks he's a great poker player, and we'll let him think that so I can take his money. But quiet? Rusty? No."
There has always been a bit of \o7panache \f7in Salei's demeanor, from the moment he walked into the Ducks' dressing room in 1996 as a first-round draft pick until now, when his time with the team could be winding down. He is an unrestricted free agent after this season and the number of younger players around has not escaped Salei's attention.
"I can't lie and say I never thought about it, but there is nothing much to think about," said Salei, 31. "What's going to happen? It could be anything. But you know you want to win, this pride you play for right now. I should be enjoying my time now, and enjoying the hockey. No matter what happens, this has been good for me."
And Salei is guaranteed to not go quietly into the sunset.
A native of Belarus, he came to the Ducks with a smirk, a season's worth of experience with Las Vegas of the American Hockey League and a version of English, nurtured and honed by watching television in his motel room. That left him with an accent worthy of a guest spot on "The Sopranos" -- "Hey, how \o7yoooouuu \f7doin'?" being the traditional Salei greeting -- and a personality that teeters between playful and downright ornery.
A lot of noise accompanied Salei into the NHL.
There were squawks from the Dallas Stars after opening night in 1999 when Salei drove Mike Modano into the boards -- receiving a 10-game suspension. Salei has always denied wrongdoing on the play and remains the same physical player, he said.
There were hysterical cheers from Ducks fans after his overtime goal that beat the New Jersey Devils in Game 3 of the 2003 Stanley Cup finals.
Said Ducks teammate Todd Marchant: "You know I hated Rusty when I played against him. He made things so tough on the ice, finishing checks and just annoying you. Now I see how great he is in the locker room. He keeps things light and he never sugarcoats anything."
Salei has given the Ducks an extroverted presence, with a physical style on the ice, as well as talking a good game off it. He ranks third on the Ducks in the number of games played and is high on the media list of the team's most quotable -- though well behind Selanne.
"You know I never took the English lessons when I was in Las Vegas," Salei said. "There was hockey and other things going on there."
Still, the lack of formal lessons has never muzzled his personality. After playing hockey with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, Salei said, "You're not allowed to hit him. They have guys with guns there."
This season's enforcement of obstruction rules that left Salei in the penalty box for a career-high 114 minutes, brought the comment that no game was official until, "I get a hooking or holding penalty."
A reporter wearing a long rain coat once brought the unsolicited comparison, "You look like that guy from that movie, you know, 'I Know What You Did Last Summer.' "
Still, Salei admits being more mature, though no less chatty, after nearly a decade developing as a player for a franchise that seemed to continually evolve and de-evolve. He has a daughter, Alexis, born last June, that has changed his outlook.
"I think that is still changing me as a player," Salei said. "Having a child puts more things in perspective as far as future. Instead of going out and spending X amount money today, you think about your kid.... It makes you worry about more things than you were worried about before."
Hockey, it seems, is the least of his worries, at least for the moment. The Ducks are playing the waiting game after grinding out a seven-game series over the Calgary Flames, then sweeping the Colorado Avalanche to reach the conference finals. Salei has provided some of those good times. He had a goal and an assist in a 3-0 victory over the Flames in Game 7 and another goal in Game 3 against the Avalanche.
"Rusty is a guy who can chew up minutes," Carlyle said. "As a coach, it's a good feeling to look down the bench and see guys who you know will make the right decisions on the ice."
Carlyle followed that with an apparent bad decision: describing the always-ready-to-gab Salei as "quiet."
"Really? That's surprising. Which coach said that? The R.C. coach?" Salei said when told of Carlyle's assessment. "I don't know. He must be on something, I guess. Are you serious or are you [messing] with me?"