Sykora hopes to bring Cup-winning attitude to Edmonton
Sunday, 12 August 2007
Originally published in Eishockey News in 2007
By Lucas Aykroyd
Even though Petr Sykora leads the Edmonton Oilers in scoring in his first season with the Northern Alberta club, that’s not his main concern. The 30-year-old Czech winger, who won a Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 2000, has also experienced the pain of losing Game Seven of the Finals in 2001 with the Devils and in 2003 with Anaheim. So he can offer valuable advice to his Edmonton teammates, many of whom went through the same thing last year versus the victorious Carolina Hurricanes.
“That’s the toughest thing to come back from,” Sykora told Eishockey News. “You don’t have much time to rest in the summer or work out. Fans expect you to go all the way again, but every other team in the NHL is gunning for the same goal. And on the way to the finals, you’ve pissed off a lot of other people! Teams want to take revenge on you. We’ve gone through stretches this year where we’ve lost back-to-back games. It’ll be a battle all year, especially in the Northwest Division, where maybe three or four points separate the first-place and last-place teams. Every game is huge.”
The Plzen native, who signed a one-year free agent deal worth $2.9 million in August, is excited about playing in Edmonton after spending his previous NHL seasons near huge metropolitan areas like New York and Los Angeles: “It’s a hockey town, so when things are going well, it’s awesome to live there. When they’re not, the people let you know. I really like it. It’s a brand-new experience, and there’s lots of media pressure. It’s only early in the season, but hopefully I can keep playing well.”
Injuries to key forwards like Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth have forced the Oilers to simplify their trademark attacking game recently. Sykora described the approach his team took in a 4-0 win over Vancouver on December 5: “We just put the puck deep and got in on the forecheck. It wasn’t a very pretty game to watch, but it worked for us. With our two best players out of the lineup, that’s how we have to play.”
Still, the NHL is much prettier to watch overall than it was between 1995 and 2004, and Sykora has been delighted by the rule changes implemented after the lockout: “This is the way it’s supposed to be. The new rules have really made the game better for the fans and players. The only thing I’d like to change are those open-ice hits to the head. I don’t like to see guys being carried off the ice on a stretcher. But otherwise, many good things are happening. Fans love to watch guys like Ovechkin and Kovalchuk work their magic.”
Sykora got a close-up look at two other Russian stars who were his teammates when he played for Metallurg Magnitogorsk during the lockout. To him, Evgeni Malkin’s success this season with Pittsburgh comes as no surprise: “He was awesome in Russia, and I knew that when he came to the NHL, he would be a big star. With the guys the Penguins have, don’t be surprised if they’re in the finals in a couple of years. That team’s on its way. I think Malkin will be as good as Crosby and Ovechkin.”
Sykora can even understand why center Alexei Kaigorodov failed to stick with Ottawa, despite finishing second in the 2005 Russian League scoring race: “It’s hard, because guys like him are used to playing on the first line in Russia. But when you come to the NHL, nobody cares how many points you got in another league. You’re a rookie and you have to fight for your spot. Sometimes it’s not that easy to accept. Kaigorodov’s not an older guy [at 23], but he’s not 18 either. Still, I think he has a future. He’s the second-most gifted stickhandler I’ve ever seen after Ales Hemsky, and I’ve seen some good players.”
Of course, he’d include former Devils teammate and close friend Patrick Elias among them. Sykora is gratified that Elias was named New Jersey’s captain at the start of this season: “I think that’s a perfect situation for Patty. He’s been there for 10 years and he knows how things work in New Jersey. It’s a very professional environment. With the way he plays and carries himself, I think he was their only choice for the captaincy. He really deserves it.”
Meanwhile, Sykora has a clear goal in mind for the 2006-07 Edmonton Oilers: “As a team, we should aim to win our division. To have home ice at least for the first round is huge. Hopefully we can finish on top and then try to emulate what happened last year.