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Olympic qualifying low on priority list

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 15, 2001

EDMONTON -- The Lightning has a few decisions to make about allowing players to participate in Olympic qualifying games.

There is a good chance defenseman Sascha Goc will be named to Germany's team and left wing Zdeno Ciger to Slovakia's for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

Both teams play qualifying games on Feb. 9, 10 and 12 before the main tournament begins Feb. 15. The Lightning faces the Capitals on Feb. 9 and 11 before its Olympic break.

Lightning general manager Rick Dudley said Friday that any decision to let the players participate will be made with the Lightning's best interests considered first.

"When it comes to an NHL game, we have to take care of the Tampa Bay Lightning and our needs," Dudley said. "If it can be accommodated and didn't interfere with our schedule, I suppose there are possibilities there."

Commissioner Gary Bettman made it clear at a news conference he doesn't want players missing NHL games.

"We've said, "If you want to send players on a night when you don't have a game, that's your decision,' " he said. "But we expect teams to have their regular complement of players available to play NHL games because the NHL schedule and our games matter most."

"We have to worry about our hockey club first," Dudley said. "The Olympics are a big deal, but ... we're in the midst of an attempt to make the playoffs and we can't jeopardize that."

SLIDIN': The ice at Skyreach Centre is considered the best in the league, and players raved after the morning skate.

"It's so hard and so fast," center Tim Taylor said. "The puck doesn't bounce. Your legs feel lighter. You don't have to work as hard to skate."

DOWN, NOT OUT: Ciger said he was "depressed" at the end of his stay with the Rangers as his ice time and scoring curtailed.

"I felt pretty bad at the end, so I thought it was a good idea to trade me," said the left wing, acquired for Matthew Barnaby. "I was waiting for something to happen. I was pretty down."

Ciger, who had 6 goals and 7 assists in 29 games with New York, began Friday's game against the Oilers on a line with Vinny Lecavalier and Ben Clymer.

"I like to play with the good players," Ciger said. "I hope everything will go well. I will try to do my best."

ODDS AND ENDS: Defenseman Nolan Pratt's parents, John and Albina, were at the game. Pratt grew up in Fort McMurray, Alberta. The family moved five hours south to Edmonton when Pratt was 13. ... Goc and forward Brian Holzinger (rotator cuff) were scratched.

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