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Ozolinsh has fan in Keenan

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 20, 2002


Sandis Ozolinsh was the Hurricanes' No. 6 defenseman. With the Panthers, he is No. 1 and playing like it.

Sandis Ozolinsh was the Hurricanes' No. 6 defenseman. With the Panthers, he is No. 1 and playing like it.

Ineffective and frustrated in 1 1/2 seasons with Carolina, Ozolinsh, a top offensive defensemen with the Avalanche before being traded to the Hurricanes, apparently has found new life.

Ozolinsh played 32 minutes, 2 seconds Wednesday against the Blackhawks, his first game with the Panthers, and earned the praise of coach Mike Keenan.

"He was the best player on the ice, without exception, for both teams," Keenan said. "No one on the ice was even close to him."

"I just tried not to make too many mistakes in my first game," said Ozolinsh, who played for Carolina the night before and ate only a bag of trail mix on the plane to Florida.

Ozolinsh, who was averaging a bit more than 19 minutes of ice time, had 16 goals, 51 assists in 118 games for the Hurricanes. He had 253 points in 333 games for the Avalanche from 1995-2000.

What happened?

"He couldn't put his skills to use the way he wanted to," Hurricanes goaltender Arturs Irbe said. "He couldn't blend 100 percent."

"He's a little bit of a risky player, but the upside is he's always a threat," Keenan said. "That's important today because of the trap. You need skill in the neutral zone and some skill coming out of the zone."

FATHERLY ADVICE: The Russian newspaper Sport-Express said Sergei Fedorov's father, Viktor, is upset his son was moved from forward to defense.

The decision by Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman "is the latest show of disrespect for my son," Viktor reportedly said from Moscow. He also urged his son to move to another team when he becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 2002-03 season.

Sergei Fedorov does not seem to mind his new position.

"It's just something the coaches tried to do to keep on the winning edge," he said. "I'm up for it.

"Whatever they ask me to do, I'm happy to do it and hopefully, I can do it very well."

SUPER MARIO: Mario Lemieux made it clear Thursday that this season will not be his last.

"I intend to play a few more years," said the 36-year-old Penguins superstar, who has missed 32 games, mostly because of a hip injury that required surgery.

He also said he will play in the All-Star Game and the Olympics, where he hopes to help Canada to its first gold medal since 1952.

"For me, it's an easy decision," he said. "I don't have too many All-Star Games left. It's always a good time to play with the best players in the world.

"Although it's so close to the Olympics, I don't think it's going to have a major affect on the players."

ODDS AND ENDS: Remember the Flames? One of the hottest teams out of the gate was ninth in the West and out of the playoffs going into Saturday night's games. "To waste a good start like that would be a shame," defenseman Denis Gauthier said. ... The Stars went free-agent crazy over the summer, acquiring Valeri Kamensky, Donald Audette, Jyrki Lumme, Pat Verbeek, Rob DiMaio and Pierre Turgeon. Kamensky, Audette and Lumme have been traded. Said general manager Bob Gainey: "The acquisitions this summer haven't worked out like we thought they would." Gee, Bob, ya think? ... Detroit right wing Brett Hull has just 16 goals in 48 games but has been better than expected on defense and killing penalties. ... Michel Riesen, the Oilers' first draft pick in 1997 and the highest-rated Swiss player ever selected, did not make his country's Olympic team. After three seasons in the AHL Riesen was traded to the Blues in the Doug Weight deal, then returned to Sweden to play for Davos. ... Panthers forward Ryan Johnson missed 12 games with a concussion but the former Lightning was expected to play Saturday or Monday. ... Kings right wing Ziggy Palffy reached an agreement with general manager Dave Taylor that will allow him to play for Slovakia Feb. 10 in an Olympic qualifying game. ... Kings defenseman Mattias Norstrom, a member of the Swedish Olympic team, carried the Olympic torch for 2/10ths of a mile through Los Angeles Wednesday. ... How could Wild left wing Marian Gaborik be left out of the All-Star Game? ... He denies it, but speculation in Toronto is that Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn, who also will coach the North American All-Stars and Canadian Olympic team, left goaltender Curtis Joseph off the All-Star squad so he would be fresh for Salt Lake City. ... After his seventh concussion, Eric Lindros is not going to the middle and has cut down the physical play. Maybe that is why the Rangers are 1-7-1-1 in their past 10 games.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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