Palffy’s keeping up the pace

Originally published on IHWC.NET in 2003

By Lucas Aykroyd

Some guys experience an early mid-life crisis when they hit 30. Zigmund Palffy doesn’t appear to be one of them.

The 30-year-old Los Angeles Kings winger racked up the points at his usual rate this season, going 37-48-85 in 76 games to win the team scoring derby by a whopping 47-point margin over Derek Armstrong and Jaroslav Modry. Although the Kings missed the playoffs by finishing 10th in the Western Conference, they rewarded this four-time NHL All-Star on April 8 by exercising their contract option on him for 2003-04.

So the only gray hairs we’re talking about are the ones Palffy gives opposing goalies.

There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Slovak national team coach Jan Filc would want the flashy Skalica native back for a shot at a second straight gold medal this year in Finland. And Palffy will be in the lineup in Helsinki when Slovakia kicks off its tournament against Ukraine on April 27.

“It’s always a big honor if they invite you to the championships,” Palffy told IHWC.NET. “We have to realize it’s going to be a different game. We won it last year, but now everything’s different. We have to start from the bottom and continue how we played last year. Everybody who is coming from the NHL will put their heart into it. We want to win again.”

Beating Canada, Sweden and Russia in three consecutive games to claim top spot last year was something nobody could have predicted. But Palffy ascribes his national team’s 2002 success to the simple fact of their unity.

“I think we had a real team. That was the big difference. Everybody stuck together and everybody played hard, with their hearts. If you work hard, good things will happen, and that’s what happened to us and our country. We had to fight our way from the C Pool to the A Pool. Finally we won it after so many years of struggling. The guys from the NHL have lots of experience and they came over to show the other guys. It was good for the kids back in Slovakia too.”

For the long-term success of Slovak hockey, some of those kids will need to strap on goalie pads and masks. While Jan Lasak stole the show in 2002 with his .928 save percentage and 2.28 GAA, goaltending has typically been this team’s Achilles heel, compared to other top nations who can ice NHL-seasoned netminders.

“This is a big question for us,” Palffy said. “They have to start working on it. We know that 50 or 60 percent of it is just the goalie. We know that. Every team knows that. If we don’t do something about it, we could end up struggling every year in the championships. It’s going to hurt us. We have a lot of good players and we have to show up all the time. If the goalie isn’t going to step up for us, then it’s really tough to play.”

Of course, there’s also a new factor at this year’s tournament that could make life a lot tougher for any goalie. Palffy is intrigued by the IIHF’s introduction of 20 minutes of 4-on-4 overtime to be played at the conclusion of Playoff Round games, followed by a shootout if necessary.

“It’s a fun game for the fans, but sometimes tough for us,” Palffy said. “You have to stay with your man–if you lose him, it’s a goal! It’s tough to play four-on-four, but there’s no red line over there either, so we could see a lot of breakaways. We’ll see what happens. It may be better to just win it in regulation time!”

Spoken like a cagey veteran who’s looking forward to collecting more titles and trophies. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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