Odelein gets points over on Canadiens' power play

ON THE NHL

March 15, 1994|By SANDRA McKEE

Anyone fortunate enough to have seen the Montreal Canadiens-St. Louis Blues game on ESPN2 last Wednesday witnessed one of the most engaging scenes of the season. There at mid-ice was Lyle Odelein, a 25-year-old defenseman, his smile of disbelief so broad it was straining his chin strap.

He had just become the first Canadiens defenseman to score a hat trick in eight years. And he was given a standing ovation by the Montreal Forum crowd.

"For me, it was like winning the Stanley Cup," said Odelein, who anchored the defense that won Montreal the Stanley Cup last year. "Three goals in one night. A standing ovation. I just couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it."

Strange, wonderful things can happen in the NHL. In Montreal, Odelein, a rugged player once known more for fighting than scoring, is showing everyone that if stereotypes are ignored and a player is given a chance, he can become much more.

Three months ago, the Montreal power-play unit was last in the 26-team league. Coach Jacques Demers decided he wasn't going to waste any more time on it. He stopped practicing it. In February, he decided he had nothing to lose and shifted Odelein, a player with three goals in two previous NHL seasons and who didn't score his first point of this season until Dec. 21, onto the unit.

Odelein is now "Mr. Hockey" in Montreal. His teammates call him "Bobby" -- as in Orr. And opposing teams are trying to design penalty-killing defenses to stop him.

He has 10 points in his past six games after being shut out last night against Boston. And since producing that first point in December, he has rolled up 10 goals and 24 assists, most of them on a power play that is now ranked 10th in the league. Besides the hat trick, he has had one other spectacular night when he had five assists, tying a Montreal record set by Hall of Famer Doug Harvey 39 years ago.

And he continues to do the work he is known for, rolling up 250 penalty minutes in 65 games.

"I didn't do anything to earn the spot on the power play," says Odelein, who was the 141st player picked in the 1986 draft. "It was just that we were desperate enough to try anything. But since I've been playing in key situations, my confidence has grown and I have this feeling that I don't have to rush, that I have time to make the good play. I think it's that feeling more than anything that has made the difference."

Odelein comes from near the very small Saskatchewan town of Quill Lake, where he grew up helping his family run a 2,500-acre grain farm. He and his older brother Selmar also worked hard at hockey. And it was Selmar, the 1984 No. 1 draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers, who was supposed to be the star.

But Selmar is playing in England, and it is Lyle who is capturing the fancy of those who dream.

Demers says there is no mystery to Odelein's success.

"He is a very good player who is remarkably cool," Demers said. fTC "When you're a fighter, you need to be cool. You take that ability, and the fact that he shoots at the net and he hits the net all the time -- every time. Then you realize it is not complicated."

Nedved's big price tag

The St. Louis Blues learned how much free agent center Petr Nedved will cost when arbitrator George Nicolau ruled Blues center Craig Janney and a second-round choice in the 1994 Entry Draft now belong to the Vancouver Canucks.

Janney is the Blues' third-leading scorer, but St. Louis general manager Ron Caron said he is relieved it wasn't more.

"They wanted Brendan Shanahan," said Caron. "But we tried to make the point that there have been a lot of players -- like Bobby Carpenter and Jimmy Carson -- who were terrific in their first two or three seasons, but after four years stopped growing. We pointed out there were no guarantees and that Petr isn't an established player yet."

At this point, Caron said, he isn't sure Nedved is worth it. "We're just hoping Petr keeps growing," he said.

Portland update

The Portland Pirates (formerly the Baltimore Skipjacks) have gotten hot at just the right time. With just 12 games left in the season, the Pirates are on a four-game winning streak and their offense is producing at an impressive rate: 27 goals in four games.

Michel Picard has one of the hottest hands, seven goals and four assists in three games.

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