Petr Sykora - Talent & Wisdom Beyond His Years by Angela Daidone
Reprinted from Center Ice - 2000-01 Official Game Magazine of the New Jersey Devils
After five seasons in the National Hockey League, Petr Sykora is hoping to finally dispel what the rest of us wish would last forever.
"Please don't say I'm young and that I still have time to do great things," Sykora said. "I have been in this league for five years already but I'm still considered one of the kids."
There is no denying that the 24-year-old Sykora is chronologically young. Even at that age, he has already made his mark as an experienced, polished and valuable member of the Devils. He plays with the wisdom and skill of players much older.
Sykora arrived in New Jersey as its first pick in the 1995 Entry Draft. The Devils' organization was obviously impressed with his talent and signed Sykora to a multi-year contract immediately following training camp. His stint with the club's farm team in Albany was short-lived.
Recalled by the Devils just three weeks later, the young winger scored his first NHL goal two days following his debut. That was the start of an outstanding rookie season. Sykora was named NHL's Rookie of the Month for December of 1995 after posting 10 goals and 14 points in 13 games played. He finished his rookie campaign tied for the team lead with 8 power play goals and led the Devils with 19 power play points overall.
Due to an injury sustained the following season, Sykora saw limited action on the ice, but rebounded successfully in 1997-98 when he appeared in 58 games with the Devils. His ability to score points also came to the forefront that year: Sykora registered 16 goals and 20 assists for a total 36 points.
The turning point seemed to come when Sykora was teamed up with Jason Arnott and Patrik Elias midway through February 1999. He finished the season with a team-high 72 points, and together the trio would eventually become one of the league's most productive lines for the next two seasons.
Consider these numbers for the 1999-2000 season:
the Sykora-Arnott-Elias line produced 196 total points en route to the team's fourth consecutive post-season appearance; they combined for 24 goals and 33 assists during their successful Stanley Cup Championship run. Sykora also posted a career-high plus-24 mark and matched a personal high with 222 shots taken.
Some lines play together, others have chemistry that's hard to define. Sykora has his own theory about that. "I know that if all three of us are playing well, the team is probably going to do well, too" Sykora said. "When we score, I have the feeling that things will really go well."
He is quick to say that the line's outstanding success is not the work of one man, but is a true team effort.
"I think that each one of us is putting some special stuff on the line. I can start with Arnie, who has a big body and has a big presence out there," says Sykora.
"Patty can score goals, and I think I'm there just to create those scoring chances, trying to make those passes and trying to use my shot."
"Don't let him kid you. He's just saying that because he's a modest kind of guy," says Arnott of his linemate. "He can get out there and score with the best of them.
"He's fast, real fast, and he knows how to handle the puck and make things happen." "That stuff they do out there, you don't coach," says Robinson.
"A lot of what makes them special is their undeniable hockey talent and reading off each other. When they play well on both sides of the puck, they can dominate games. Those are the type of lines that make coaches look good."
Sykora got a chance to use that shot of his in a recent game against the Colorado Avalanche. The Devils were anticipating a tough game, realizing that the Avalanche were coming into the arena with the best record in the league and the winningest goalie of all time with Patrick Roy. Coming out of the penalty box after serving a minor infraction, Sykora spotted and seized a golden opportunity when the puck slid his way. With his speed and quick puck handling, he met Roy one-on-one. A fake here, a twist there, and Sykora beat Roy cleanly with a wrist shot to increase the Devils' lead.
Once again it was the Sykora-Arnott-Elias line that was the Avalanche's undoing. This time it was truly a combined effort with the line producing five goals and five assists.
"Not bad," said Sykora. "We were focused and ready for this team," he said. "We knew what we had to do and we did it."
"It's easy to make things happen when you're out there having fun," said Arnott.
"That's the best thing about this line. Our communication on and off the ice is just fantastic. We get along really well."
And, Arnott said, "Sykora isn't afraid to get in there and mix it up, either."
"I'm definitely out there to do my job, but neither one of them is afraid to get in there and get in the rough stuff which is great.
"Petr likes to get in there and dig and help me out in the corners. He and Patty make me get going, that's for sure."
"When we don't get a point or don't produce on any given night, we're back in there and we don't get down on each other," Arnott said.
Sykora, like his buddies Elias and Arnott are often found on the practice ice, putting in extra time just shooting pucks and getting "the feel" for one another.
"Little things like that make a difference," says Elias. "It's fun to play, and it's fun to practice, too. It's really fun when you know the other guy is going to be there for you when it counts."
Sykora says he doesn't really try to think about getting the goals too often. He just says they happen.
"When I think about it too much, I end up putting the puck in the corner," he said.
He adds in the next breath, he's always watching for the odd-man rushes, to see where his linemates are, to be constantly aware of which way the goalie is moving and to take advantage of that extra little something he shares with his friends.
In other words, he's always thinking smart hockey. In spite of his age, he's showing that he truly does have talent and wisdom beyond his years.
Whore, on Petr: He can get out there and score with the best of them.
That's a real compliment coming from him!
Whore: Our communication on and off the ice is just fantastic. We get along really well. and He (Petr) and Patty make me get going, that's for sure.
Apparently they also put in extra time getting "the feel" for one another.
So dead and so sad at the same time.