Once champions and linemates in N.J., Sykora and Arnott face off for another shot at the Stanley Cup.
By DAN WOOD
The Orange County Register
ANAHEIM The greatest moment in Mighty Ducks right wing Petr Sykora's hockey career took place in Dallas, mere hours after he had landed in a hospital bed.
It was June 10, 2000, in old Reunion Arena. Sykora and his former New Jersey Devils teammates, leading the Stars, three games to two, in the Stanley Cup Finals, were out to wrap up the second championship in franchise history when a devastating first-period hit by Dallas defenseman Derian Hatcher left Sykora with a concussion.
Amid the postgame celebration after then-New Jersey center Jason Arnott's goal 28:20 into overtime that produced a 2-1 victory and secured the most treasured possession in hockey, he and Devils left wing Patrik Elias headed for Baylor Medical Center.
"After things settled down a little, me and Patty took the Cup, hopped in a cab and went straight to the hospital, without even showering," Arnott told the Dallas Morning News. "We walked in that room and gave Sykkie the Cup, and we all just started crying. It was really, really incredible."
Nearly three years later, Arnott and Sykora will meet again in Dallas, when the Stars and Ducks face off in the opening game of a second-round playoff series Thursday night at American Airlines Center.
Arnott arrived in Dallas as part of a four-player trade with New Jersey late last season. The Devils dealt Sykora to the Ducks in July, leaving Elias as the lone remaining member of the former "A Line" that not so long ago was arguably the NHL's best.
The memories the three created, on and off the ice, are forever etched in Sykora's consciousness.
"That night was really special, what they did," Sykora said. "I remember that it was late at night. They brought the Stanley Cup, and in a couple of hours, I got up. I went to the hotel, picked up my stuff, went to the airport and I flew home with the Cup. That really meant a lot to me."
Even before they left the ice, while skating with the Cup, Elias and former New Jersey coach Larry Robinson donned No.17 Sykora jerseys, honoring their injured mate.
"That's why it is really, really special, and that's why you can't really break any friendships, even if you play on other teams," Sykora said. "During the season, when I watch highlights, when I watch Dallas, I always go 'Hey, did Arnie score? Where's Arnie?' The same goes for Patty. When I watch highlights, the first thing I watch is if Patty was successful, if Patty did good. You always cheer for those guys, because you went through so much together."
And yet, instead of being on the same side, Sykora and Arnott now find themselves competing for the same prize, a trip to the Western Conference finals and perhaps, down the road, a date with Elias and the Devils in the Cup Finals.
"It's going to be different to play against Jason," Sykora said. "I'm not going to change any preparation. I'm not going to give anything for free.
"I'm just excited to see him. I went through so much with that guy, for years, that you just cannot forget what we had going together. I'm sure he feels the same way. But these are the playoffs. I want my team to win."
In order for the Ducks to follow their opening-round sweep of the defending champion Detroit Red Wings with an upset of the top-seeded Stars, they certainly could use significant offensive contributions from Sykora.
The team's leading regular-season goal scorer with 34, Sykora managed just one assist against Detroit. At the same time, the Ducks received two goals apiece from rookie right wing Stanislav Chistov and fourth-line center Jason Krog, and one from another unlikely source, third-line center Samuel Pahlsson.
"Those guys have bought Pete some time to find a way," Ducks coach Mike Babcock said. "He will. Pete is going to score goals."
Sykora twice has been a productive playoff scorer, with nine goals and 17 points in 2000, and 10 goals and 22 points in 2001, when New Jersey reached the Stanley Cup Finals before falling to the Colorado Avalanche in seven games.
"A lot of times, the guy who leads the playoffs in scoring never scores in the first round. Someone else does," Babcock said. "That's what a team is. Someone scores, and then you get your opportunity to pick it up. But when you're on a team without any depth, you're out of the playoffs before you ever get a chance to get going."
Sykora said. "During the season, when I watch highlights, when I watch Dallas, I always go 'Hey, did Arnie score? Where's Arnie?'"
"I'm just excited to see him. I went through so much with that guy, for years, that you just cannot forget what we had going together. I'm sure he feels the same way."
So fucking in love.