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Full of optimism, fans applaud pick

By STEVE LEE

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 24, 2001


BRANDON -- ESPN's telecast of the National Hockey League entry draft Saturday showed Rick Dudley on the phone moments before Tampa Bay's third overall selection.

Surely, fans gathered at Barnacles wondered, the Lightning general manager wouldn't trade the team's top pick for the third year in a row.

Would he?

Cheers, not to mention a collective sigh of relief, erupted from the packed restaurant as Tampa Bay chose Russian center Alexander Svitov.

"We were freaking out when we saw Dudley on the telephone," Valrico's Mike Paris said. "Everybody was like, "Oh, no, here we go again.'

"If (Dudley) actually bit the bullet and used the pick, he must believe the guy can play."

"I'm glad we kept the pick this year, but we've got too many centers," Matthew Belmont of Tampa said.

Added Josh Adkins of Tampa, "I think we should have gotten a defenseman."

Lightning broadcasters Bobby "The Chief" Taylor and John Ahlers, conducting a live broadcast on WDAE-AM 620, concurred that Svitov might have an immediate impact.

"With his size, it could make it easier for him to step in right away," said Taylor, who likened the 6-3, 198-pounder to New Jersey Devils two-way center Bobby Holik.

"We need talent now and we know he can play," Wayne Kulish of Lutz said. "We're tired of waiting to win. We need to win now."

While Taylor spoke of Svitov becoming the Lightning's third-line center behind Vinny Lecavalier and Brad Richards, Tampa Bay center Ryan Johnson said he welcomes the challenge. Even if Johnson is moved in the lineup to accommodate Svitov.

"If he's going to help us win hockey games, that's great," said Johnson, who signed autographs at Barnacles. "That's what we want. We're glad to have him."

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