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Lightning

Permission to speak

Darryl Sydor doesn't have to ask. He already has his name on the Stanley Cup, and the Lightning knows to listen.

By JOHN ROMANO
Published May 29, 2004

CALGARY - In years to come, they may recall the moment in slightly different ways. Some may debate the words that were chosen. Some may remember the scene playing out longer than it actually did.

No one in the Lightning dressing room, however, is likely to dispute the tone, the passion of Darryl Sydor's message. No one should forget the impact.

It was a handful of minutes past a lifeless loss to Calgary in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final. For the first time, the Lightning was in trouble. The room was silent, but for the sound of equipment dropping to the floor.

Without warning, without preamble, Sydor lifted his head and began to speak. His voice was soft, but his words had bite.

"When Syd stepped up, you could hear a pin drop," defenseman Brad Lukowich said. "He laid himself out."

* * *

It took a dozen years to get this far. It took ownership transfers, building swaps and hundreds of names on the backs of Lightning uniforms. Darryl Sydor, it turns out, was the final, needed piece.

He filled a defensive role that was necessary. The other role he played, while not as recognized, may ultimately be more valuable.

You see, Sydor has been through this before. Several times. In the Lightning locker room, he is one of the few to have played a significant role on a team that won the Stanley Cup. He lost in the finals two other times.

When they traded Alexander Svitov to get Sydor in January, Lightning officials knew they were getting a player who could immediately form a duo with Pavel Kubina on defense. More important, they knew they were getting a player who would not upset team chemistry.

They wanted Sydor almost as much for his demeanor as his defense.

"It was his personality that made it so easy," captain Dave Andreychuk said. "He's a likable guy and everybody wants to be around him. He stepped into this locker room and it was like he'd been here all year."

Including the playoffs, the Lightning is 35-14-2 since he arrived.

* * *

He did not walk to the center of the room. He did not speak for long. Sydor merely stood by his locker and pointed out some necessary truths.

The frustration, Sydor told his teammates, was not from the result on the scoreboard. It was the effort on the ice. They lost, he said, because they had not been true to the assertive style that had gotten them here.

Be careful, he warned. He had been here before and had seen just how quickly a wondrous season could be wiped away. If players felt they still had plenty of chances to get back into the series, they had better think again.

They could not afford to look too far down the road. Think about what's in front of you, he said. Take baby steps.

"He wasn't angry at any individual, just what we had done as a team," forward Chris Dingman said. "The whole hockey world is watching. It's up to us to play the game that got us here."

* * *

Maybe it was because, at 32, he was growing older. Maybe it was because, in the middle of a wretched season with Columbus, he had gotten a reprieve when traded to Tampa Bay. Or maybe it was because he just wanted to remind himself of the difficulty of the journey and the importance of the reward.

Whatever the reason, Sydor began wearing the championship ring he earned when Dallas won the Stanley Cup in 1999.

He had often carried it with him, but had rarely put it on. That changed when the Lightning reached the playoffs this spring.

Sydor began wearing the ring on the days of games. He wasn't trying to be flashy. He didn't wave it in the face of teammates.

"I just wear it to the games, put it in my clothes when I get here, then I put it back on afterward. All it is, is a little reminder," Sydor said. "I don't wear it to show it off. It's for myself."

* * *

Since he had not walked into the dressing room with the intention of saying anything, Sydor was not quite sure how to finish it.

He had everyone's attention. They were all listening, and most had stopped whatever it was they were doing at their lockers.

Sydor looked around the room and asked if anyone else wanted to say anything. There were no replies.

"He wasn't yelling, but he drove his point home," defenseman Nolan Pratt said. "If anybody knows about this stuff, it's him. He just wanted to let us know what could happen to us if we didn't take care of our business.

"It's huge having guys like that in the locker room."

It is difficult, if not impossible, to measure the influence Sydor's words had. It's possible Lightning players would have gotten the message even if the silence had never been broken.

No matter what the cause, Tampa Bay played one of its most aggressive games of the postseason Thursday night. The Lightning scored, checked and fought without pause for 60 minutes. It won Game 2 and got back to solid ground.

After the game, there was little for Sydor to say.

He put on his ring and departed.

[Last modified May 29, 2004, 01:00:33]


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