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He's back in the game

Dan Boyle has a role he likes with the Lightning: off the bench.

By BRUCE LOWITT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 6, 2002


SUNRISE -- Dan Boyle's most familiar and least favorite position on the Panthers was "bench." Now, since being traded to the Lightning a month ago, his favorite position is anywhere but.

Boyle, 25, is in his fourth season, all but the past 13 games with the Panthers. He found out in December he was was not Florida coach Mike Keenan's kind of defenseman. He was, at 5 feet 11 and 190 pounds, too small.

Tonight, given the right circumstances, Boyle might have the chance to show Keenan what he could have done for him when he faces the Panthers for the first time. The game at the National Car Rental Center is the opener of a two-night, home-and-home series.

Yes, Lightning coach John Tortorella said, Boyle is small, "but he competes hard. We have another little guy (5-9 scoring leader Martin St. Louis), probably the smallest in the league, and he's shown what you can do if you just decide to compete. And I think Danny's trying to follow in that."

Boyle, an Ottawa native, was a two-time All-American at Miami of Ohio. As a senior he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, presented to college's premier player. But college is not the NHL.

Game after game with the Panthers this season, Boyle sat. He played in 25 of 39 games and had three goals, one in Florida's 5-0 win over the Lightning Oct. 7, and three assists.

But he played in only four of 15 games (including one of the past 10) under Keenan.

"I'd (talked to) Duane Sutter at the beginning of the year because (being benched) happened for a little bit. He didn't have much to say," Boyle said.

Keenan took over the Panthers when Sutter was fired Dec. 2.

After being a healthy scratch in Keenan's first six games, Boyle was in the lineup, and he delivered with three points on a goal and two assists -- one more point that he had in his first 21 games -- in a 5-2 victory over the visiting Capitals.

He played "four pretty good games" for Keenan, Boyle said, scoring twice. Then he disappeared.

"I just wanted a chance," he said. "I never doubted my abilities. To not be in the lineup after playing well in four games was pretty frustrating.

"If I'm not playing well, then that's fine. Then you can sit me or cut my ice time. That's very normal."

Finally, he decided to tell Keenan he couldn't handle it anymore. "And sure enough, ironic enough, they called me in before I could get a chance to speak with him and they told me I was traded. I knew it was coming. I think their minds were made up."

The Jan. 7 trade, for Tampa Bay's fifth-round pick in the 2003 draft, "was kind of a relief to me. I don't know if it was a sign or what, but I'd just had enough. ... I was (unhappy) that I didn't get a chance to talk to Mike and get some stuff off my chest."

Save for the frustration of this season, Boyle said he feels no animosity toward the Panthers. "They gave me a chance to play in the NHL and forever I'll be grateful for that," he said. "But it was kind of a roller-coaster ride. I could have done a lot better had I not been categorized as a sixth, seventh defenseman. I was in, then I was out, and I just didn't like playing that way."

The Lightning traded for him to help the offense "and that's what he's bringing to us ... to create offense from the blue line," Tortorella said. "He's an offensive talent that you need to really be a good team in this league. That's why the deal was made.

"We knew we were struggling offensively (with 106 goals, the Lightning is last in the league), but you can't always look at the forwards because of that," Tortorella said. "You've got to look at your transition game and how you get out of the end zone. Get out clean with the first pass. I think that's helped us."

Boyle has been in all 13 Lightning games since the trade and has four assists, one on Tampa Bay's fourth goal Monday in its tie with Ottawa. "One thing that's been frustrating is the (lack of) points," he said. "I'd like to contribute more. Other than that ... "

His voice drifted off. At least he's getting the chance.

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