St. Petersburg Times
Tampa Bay Lightning

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No mental or physical respite for Lecavalier

The Lightning center spends the summer working on his slap shot and confidence.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 9, 2002

It was one of those scenes that had it been a bit out of focus, with a thin mist hanging over the ice, it would have been storybook.

But as Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier worked on his slap shot at a suburban Montreal rink with pucks fed to him by his brother, Phil, or a buddy, it was all part of the job.

A job Lecavalier wants to do better.

"My numbers were not where I wanted to be last year," Lecavalier said from Montreal, where he spent the summer. "I'm going to go out there and work. There's no secret about it. When you work hard, things are going to come."

If only it were that simple.

Gumming up the works has been a relationship with John Tortorella the coach called "tenuous at times" and Lecavalier agreed contained "philosophical differences."

Said general manager Jay Feaster: "That situation needs to be resolved and needs to be one that can work. As such, you would expect it would take quite a bit of my time and attention."

Combine that with a holdout that caused Lecavalier to miss last season's training camp, the disappointment of losing his captaincy and an unfulfilled trade request, and you get a season that with 20 goals, 17 assists and 37 points was his least productive since he was a rookie.

"There were just so many things going on," Lecavalier said. "Everything I read in the papers was about me and John and the trade rumors, so there were a lot of distractions. It was really a roller coaster.

"It was hard. My confidence was not there. Basically, hockey is 90 percent in your head. If it's not where you want it to be, it won't work."

Lecavalier, 22, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1998, said he has worked hard to prepare for his fifth season that begins with training camp Thursday at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.

He said he was on skates the first week of July rather than Aug. 17, his traditional starting date. And he spent August at a camp run by former Lightning assistant coach Paul Bordeleau and attended by players such as San Jose's Vincent Damphousse and Montreal's Patrice Brisebois.

Workouts were two hours daily. Lecavalier said he spent an extra 30 minutes a day working on one-timers with Phil or a friend.

"It was something I missed a lot last season, so it's good to practice it," he said.

Lecavalier also got a boost from last season's final 13 games in which he had seven goals and three assists, including the winner in a 3-2 season-ending victory over the Panthers. The goal made him the first Lightning player to score at least 20 in three consecutive seasons.

"It's not hitting 20 goals. It's the fact that I gave myself a goal," Lecavalier said. "When there were 12 games or so left, I said I wanted to finish with 20. Obviously, it was too late, you have to start at the beginning of the year, but now I know I can do it. When I put my mind to something, I can achieve it."

The most important goal may be a good working relationship between player and coach.

"John realizes we need Vinny to be the player he can be," Feaster said. "And Vinny knows he is important to us, and we do love him, and he's part of where we're going, and John is simply trying to help."

Tortorella and Lecavalier agree compromises must be made, and Tortorella has said Lecavalier will get 20 minutes a game and be used in all situations.

Lecavalier, who complained last season about a loss of playing time and his absence from critical situations, called that "a big confidence boost."

"At the same time, I've got to be ready," he said. "I've got to work hard in those 20 minutes and prove I can help the team."

Lecavalier knows he has something to prove to his teammates.

"They believed in me (last season)," he said. "I have to have a better season this year for them to keep believing in me."

Said left wing Dave Andreychuk: "The way he played the last month of the season, for him to get 20 goals, that was a good accomplishment. All indications are he's ready to have that breakthrough year. We all know it's coming."

Will Lecavalier and Tortorella be best friends?

Probably not, Lecavalier said, "But it's not about going out with your coach for dinner every night. It's about the team winning. We have philosophical differences, but coaches and players talk to each other to make things work.

"If you go in the same direction, you have a winning team."

And wouldn't that be a story.

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