I have a lot of Sharks spam, but it's late so I'll wait until tomorrow and unleash it all at once. There's an article about Petr on nhl.com *cries*
Sykora right in the thick of things
Larry Wigge | NHL.com columnist Nov 30, 2006, 9:03 AM EST
Edmonton Oilers forward Petr Sykora needed to go the extra mile to be a fan of the NHL when he was growing up in Plzen, Czech Republic. He is the exception to the rule that most players not born in North American grow up thinking the World Championships or the Olympics are more important than winning the Stanley Cup.
The NHL is where Petr wanted to be.
"I remember trying to keep up with the National Hockey League when I was growing up," Sykora said. "When the Stanley Cup Finals came around each spring, I would set the alarm for 3 a.m. so that I could see the best playing at their best. After watching the finals every year for so many years, I wanted to play against the best."
Smart, intuitive, with skills that are dazzling. Pretty good package, eh?
Not much has changed since Sykora made his way to North America in September of 1994 to play for the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League. At that point, he was rated the top prospect for the 1995 Entry Draft by NHL Central Scouting.
But ... for some unknown reason, scouts went to watch Petr play in the IHL and some of them just shrugged, saying he was too skinny, that he didn’t look like he was the listed 5-11, 172 pounds. Although Sykora had 12 goals and 17 assists in 29 games for the Vipers before he ventured off to play in the World Junior Championships, he sustained a shoulder injury at the tournament and that pushed him down to the 18th pick by the New Jersey Devils.
One of Petr’s Principles on hockey is involved here: Never underestimate the intestinal fortitude or heart and soul of a player.
Maybe he wasn’t the biggest or the best, but he had the skills and smarts and instincts that every team prays for.
"I won't compare him to Wayne Gretzky, because nobody compares to Wayne Gretzky. But when I first watched Wayne Gretzky, I would say to myself, ‘How the heck did he know that player was there?’ " former Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Florida GM Rick Dudley said on draft day back in 1995. "It's the same thing with Petr. He sees the ice so well that things happen and he makes plays that normal hockey players don’t anticipate.
"How could so many teams pass on him after I saw him do so many special things and show the kind of special instincts that not many players have?"
After playing just five games with Albany of the American Hockey League, Sykora cracked the defending champion Devils lineup as a rookie and had 18 goals and 24 assists. Some 11 seasons later, Sykora has scored nearly 250 goals in just over 700 games for the Devils, Anaheim, the Rangers and now Edmonton. He played on one of the most feared lines in hockey for several seasons with Jason Arnott and Patrik Elias with the Devils and won a Stanley Cup in 2000. The next year, the threesome once again got to the finals before losing to the Colorado Avalanche. And then in 2003, he went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final with the Ducks and nearly beat his old team.
Sykora has never been the marquee player of a franchise the way his buddy Elias is now along with goalie Martin Brodeur with the Devils. In fact, last season, the Ducks dumped Sykora and his $3 million salary after he scored just seven goals and 13 assists in 34 games. Then, the Rangers also chose not to bring him back after he finished the season with 16 goals and 15 assists in 40 games.
It wasn’t until August 11 -- some 42 days after free agency began -- that the Oilers stepped in and signed him. And they are thanking their lucky stars they did, because today he is Edmonton’s leading scorer. More important, he’s had four game-winning goals and four of his first 12 goals came in two games against the hated Calgary Flames and the normally impeccable Miikka Kiprusoff.
"He’s an opportunist," Oilers Coach Craig MacTavish said with a big smile. "He has great skills ... and it seems like he waits for the big moments to cash in."
"I was 3 when my dad took me to see the first pro league game in my hometown," Sykora remembered. "I fell in love with hockey. I really wanted to play, to skate. One year later, my dad bought me my first pair of skates."
Sykora grew up idolizing countryman Jaromir Jagr. But he knew he didn’t have the size to do some of the things that the 6-3, 245-pound Jagr did to help the Pittsburgh Penguins win Stanley Cups in 1991 and ‘92. Ironically, Petr came into his own in the 1998-99 season when, after getting 29 goals and 43 assists in the regular season, he scored two goals in a victory over Pittsburgh in Game 1 of the playoffs -- with Jagr on the ice for the other side.
Those were slap shots out of a young boy’s fairy tale who grew to a more acceptable 6-foot, 190 pounds.
"It was 2 a.m. back home, but I think a lot of people were watching the game," he recalled. "I think everyone who helped me get to the NHL saw that one, either live or on tape."
The greatest moment in Sykora’s hockey career took place in Dallas on June 10, 2000, when the Devils won the team’s second Stanley Cup. But the victory was a little bittersweet for Petr, because he wasn’t on the ice when linemate Jason Arnott scored the winning goal 8:20 into the second overtime of a 2-1 Game 6 triumph. Instead, Sykora was in a hospital bed at Baylor Medical Center, after sustaining a concussion from a devastating first period hit by 6-5, 235-pound Stars defenseman Derian Hatcher in which Sykora had to be taken from the ice on a stretcher.
Arnott, now plays in Nashville, but said he and Elias and Sykora still keep in touch, recalled recently how his memorable goal was dedicated to Sykora.
"To see him get carried off like that, it's tough, especially because our line was so close," Arnott remembered. "We came in after the period, and Patty and I looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s do this for Sykkie.’ "
Forget that Sykora wasn’t there in the end, "The A Line" was a key factor in New Jersey’s success, producing 24 goals and 33 assists in the 23 playoff games.
During the postgame celebration, Elias and coach Larry Robinson actually wore No. 17 Sykora jerseys to honor their injured teammate. When the locker room celebration began to die down there was another tribute in store for Sykora, according to Arnott.
"When Patty and I saw an opportunity, we took the Cup, hopped in a cab and went straight to the hospital, without even showering," Arnott said, recalling the impromptu post-postgame celebration with their linemate. "We walked in that room and gave Sykkie the Cup, and we all just started crying. It was incredible."
Sykora had nine goals and eight assists in the 23 playoff games in 2000. He added another 10 goals and 12 assists in 25 playoff games the following year.
"Sykkie and Patty play like they're 220-pound guys out there," Arnott told me. "They're not afraid to go in the corners. European players have been given reputations for a certain style of play and they're not like that. They play a Canadian style.
"The way they create and see the ice is amazing, and it's nice to know you're playing with two guys that care about the game as much as you do and want to win as much as you do."
Petr Sykora still remembers those good times and looks for even more pressure situations in Edmonton, where he has played on a line with fellow Czech forward Ales Hemsky and the two have complemented each other so well that they have taken pressure off the Oilers' top line with Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff.
"It’s been a good fit ... for myself and the team," Sykora told me recently. "MacT gives me plenty of opportunities in situations when the game is on the line."
Good fit? That’s an understatement. Except for Brendan Shanahan moving from Detroit to the New York Rangers, Sykora might just be the best free-agent signing from last summer. And he certainly has given the Oilers more production than they got down the stretch and in the playoffs from Sergei Samsonov, whom Edmonton acquired from Boston in a trading deadline deal and then let him go to Montreal as a free agent.
The key for the Oilers in their run to the Stanley Cup Final last spring was getting production from players other than Smyth and Horcoff. Remember the key goals that Fernando Pisani, Michael Peca and Hemsky got?
"Petr’s been one of those key contributors already for us this season," said Smyth. "To be successful you have to have scoring from more than just one line. Petr looks like he’s been a part of Oilers’ hockey for some time, instead of just a few months."
"Petr Sykora has been a pretty good playoff producer over the years," said St. Louis Blues center Doug Weight, a former Oilers captain and a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, who beat Edmonton in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last spring. "It looks like he just stepped into their lineup and fit right in the way they are already putting him out there in key situations."
Maybe Petr Sykora hasn’t had more than 59 points since he left New Jersey and that line with Arnott and Elias. But the 30-year-old winger turned center is clicking at better than a point-per-game pace this season.
And you have to know that Sykora would like nothing better than to be a part of another Stanley Cup Final. That beats setting the alarm to wake up at 2 or 3 a.m. back in the Czech Republic to watch someone else play for the Stanley Cup.
That story gets me every time. It always makes me mist up. *sniffles* Just the idea of Patty and Whore bringing the Cup to Petr. *cries* Hee, there's a little love affair between MacT and Petr. (Shush, Robyn) I like how there's a random quote from Doug Weight. I mean, I don't think they ever played together, so uhh... yeah.
And he won the accuracy competition at Superskills! :)
greatkate, it's Devo looking all soulful and stuff.