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By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2002

Espo's at it again

Espo's at it again

If Phil Esposito has his way, Hayley Wickenheiser will be the first woman to play as a skater in minor pro hockey.

Esposito, the former Lightning GM and a minority owner of the ECHL's Cincinnati Cyclones, said he offered Wickenheiser, widely regarded as the best female player in the world, a 15-game tryout.

"We're interested in her because she can play," Esposito said. "For me, I don't care if they're black, white, pink, blue, giraffed, hippopotamus. If they can skate and can play, I want them."

This isn't new ground for Esposito, who as Lightning GM signed Manon Rheaume and made her the first female goalie to play in an NHL preseason game.

Wickenheiser, 23, was part of Canada's gold-medal Olympic team. She signed to play in Italy, but the country's winter sports federation ruled her ineligible. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound forward is unsure she wants to play in a league just two levels below the NHL.

"I guess it would be something we would have to think about," she told the Toronto Globe and Mail. "I know it's a tough league. ... I don't think I would make a rush decision on it. At this point, we're still trying to pursue Europe."

Esposito, a Lightning radio analyst, agreed the move would gain publicity for his team.

"It would be great for us," he said.

But he insisted it is, ultimately, a hockey move.

"I don't worry about her skating, puck-handling or hockey sense," Esposito said. "The biggest problem is whether she can handle the physical part of the game."

The lighter side

Former Coyotes star Jeremy Roenick, now with the Flyers, still owns a home in Phoenix's suburbs. He hopes the Coyotes get their act together because he wants to watch some good hockey after he retires. Reminded no one winters in Philadelphia and summers in Phoenix, Roenick said, "I know. I'm dyslexic."

Recently retired Rick Tocchet has a race horse named after him. Problem is, the owner misspelled the name. The horse, expected to run in the next Kentucky Derby, is officially known as Toccet.

Edmonton's Ryan Smyth was minus-8 after 10 games. "It feels like someone should give me a green jacket," he said.

Five questions with Panthers enforcer Peter Worrell.

Q: The theory is the new anti-obstruction rules have helped decrease fighting. Do you agree?

A: Not really. Clutching and grabbing does get you frustrated, but I get more frustrated when somebody slashes you than when someone gives you a little tug.

Q: Do you plan fights?

A: I've never gone into a game thinking I've got to fight tonight. I just want to play the game. If things happen, they happen.

Q: Do you enjoy your role?

A: I can't say it's something I relish, but it's something I do. I don't think any guys like to be punched in the face.

Q: What other things do you do well?

A: I think I'm a pretty good forechecker, getting in there and making contact and making defensemen hurry their plays. Also, I think defensive board play is something I've worked on and gotten really strong on.

Q: Do you mind being booed in hostile rinks?

A: I take it as a compliment. It gets me energized and pumped up, and makes me want to beat them even more. So tell everybody (in Tampa) to boo me even more. It's great.

The short of it

Red Wings left wing Kirk Maltby had three shorthanded goals in 10 games, putting him on pace for 25. Most in a season.

Around the league

Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk was benched for Thursday's game against the Maple Leafs because he was minus-13 in nine games. ... Hurricanes goalie Kevin Weekes is on a 4-0-1 streak with a 1.57 goals-against average and a .954 save percentage and has taken the starting job from Arturs Irbe. ... Speaking of Carolina, massive traffic problems two weeks ago around the RBC Center convinced the team to no longer play on Saturdays during the North Carolina State Fair nearby. ... Sidelined since Sept. 25 after back surgery, Chicago's Eric Daze is expected to resume skating this week. ... The Predators, the worst team in the West, are 2-0-2 in their past four against the Red Wings. ... Dating to last season's playoffs, New Jersey's past six losses are to the Hurricanes. ... The Senators are debating whether to send rookie Jason Spezza to the minors. One reason they may not: He's exciting to watch, which might boost ticket sales. ... The Canucks sent former Lightning prospect Fedor Fedorov to AHL Manitoba. ... Word from Ottawa is the Senators are interested in Rangers agitator Matthew Barnaby.

-- Compiled by staff writer Damian Cristodero using personal interviews and information from other news organizations.

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