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Slap shots


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 19, 2000

THE NEXT WALLY PIPP: That could be Thrashers goaltender Damian Rhodes, who was forced out of a Nov. 4 game against the Bruins with a groin strain. Milan Hnilicka, a 27-year-old first-year player from the Czech Republic, led Atlanta to an 8-3 victory and then went 2-1-1 in his next four games, allowing six goals on 109 shots. That's a .945 save percentage.

Hnilicka got a standing ovation Wednesday night during the final minute of his 1-0 shutout of the Predators.

"I guess I don't have to rush back," Rhodes said.

HEAD GAMES: Wild right wing Jeff Nielsen was battling a Flames player along the boards Nov. 8 when Calgary's Steve Smith crashed the party and hit Nielsen with an elbow.

Nielsen went down, got up and went down again.

"I thought I got hit by a bus," he said. "I remember trying to get up, and my left leg said, "Uh, I'm out of here.' The first couple hours felt like it does when you get (nitrous oxide) at the dentist; you're all giggly and tingly. I thought, "This is all right.' Then, about two hours later, I thought, "Man, this doesn't feel so good.' "

PENALTY PHASE: Toronto tough guy Tie Domi needs 182 penalty minutes to break Dave "Tiger" Williams' career Maple Leafs record of 1,670.

Williams, who also played for the Maple Leafs, said a new record could be untouchable.

"The way hockey is now, the next guy who tries to break it better be pretty good -- or bad, depending on how you look at it," Williams said. "The way the rule book is now (with instigator penalties neutralizing enforcers), you'd have to play 40 years to reach those kinds of numbers. Either that, or have the money to pay $20-million in fines."

OH, CANADA: Maple Leafs center Igor Korolev and his wife, Vera, became Canadian citizens Wednesday. Both passed their citizen tests with flying colors, naming prime ministers, capital cities and even questions on the Canadian constitution. To learn the national anthem, Korolev sang along on game nights.

"I like Russia. I grew up there, but I feel this, for my family, this is home," he said. "Like the judge said, almost everybody in Canada comes from somewhere else."

END QUOTE: Oilers coach Craig MacTavish on his team's lack of scoring: "Hockey is a lot like pool. It's not what you make. It's what you leave on the table."

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