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Bug Off!
Michael Farber
June 01, 1998
Playoff series allow the NHL's pests to really get under the skin of the stars they shadow, and all four remaining teams have a notorious nuisance
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June 01, 1998

Bug Off!

Playoff series allow the NHL's pests to really get under the skin of the stars they shadow, and all four remaining teams have a notorious nuisance

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Bassen wouldn't phrase it quite mat way. He's a Christian, and not a born-again Christian, because religion stuck the first time with the churchgoing son of Hank Bassen, a backup goalie in the NHL from 1954-55 through 1967-68. Bob helps run Christian hockey camps in the summer and organizes chapel services for players during the season, although he also is well-versed in hockey's black arts. Some years back Bassen's then team, the New York Islanders, was scrambling to protect a lead late in the game and had already used its timeout. Bassen created another one by purposely dislodging a pane of plexiglass with a check, giving Islanders defensive center Brent Sutter a breather. "Bassen," says Dallas teammate Brian Skrudland, "is a kamikaze."

Lapointe didn't become an effective player until he converted from a Juniors goal scorer to an NHL flea-in-the-ear, a transformation that wasn't completed until last season, his sixth in the league. "Once he stopped thinking of himself as he used to be," Detroit associate coach Barry Smith says, "he began to understand the positive role you can have by being disruptive."

While Barnaby disrupts with presence and Bassen with persistence, the 5'11" Lapointe, who had a goal and an assist in Detroit's 2-0 victory over the Stars in Game 1 of the conference finals on Sunday, does it with strength. He has bulked up to 215 pounds and last season benchpressed 200 pounds a team-record 37 times. "When he leans on you in practice, you come to a stop," Red Wings center Igor Larionov says. "Every time you break away, you have to do it from a starting position. The first step from a starting position is always hard. It makes you more tired."

Lapointe, 24, also uses his mouth to stop opponents. During this postseason Lapointe says he skated by an opposing player—he won't say whom—during warmups and asked, "How's Eddie?"

"Eddie who?" the player demanded.

"Eddie Hospodar," Lapointe said, alluding to the second-rate roustabout defenseman who played in the 1980s. "He used to skate only in warmups, too."

But the first-liner of one-liners is Tikkanen, the son of an arena manager in Helsinki. There's the oft-told story of Tikkanen, in Edmonton, yapping at linemate Jimmy Carson during a shift and then continuing his harangue on the bench. A confused Carson asked his other linemate, Finnish winger Jari Kurri, what Tikkanen was saying. After listening a moment, Kurri turned to Carson and said, "I have no idea."

Tikkanen, 33, came to prominence as a big pain in the 1990 playoffs when the preternaturally unruffled Wayne Gretzky, then of the Los Angeles Kings, reacted to the shadowing by his former Oilers teammate by conking Tikkanen on the head. "I knew I was under his skin," Tikkanen says, his eyes narrowing, his trademark smirk playing at the corners of his mouth. "I had never seen him do anything like that."

Tikkanen is obnoxious because he tails his prey like a bad debt. Unlike other shadows, he won't deny his man the puck. He actually invites a pass, creating a false sense of comfort by playing 10 feet from his man and then pouncing. Wilson used Tikkanen on a scoring line in the first two games in Round 1 of this season's playoffs against the Boston Bruins before having him shadow center Jason Allison in the next four games (Allison had only two even-strength points in those games). In Round 2, Wilson matched him against Ottawa's Yashin, who had just one point in five games at even strength.

Before Game 1 of the series against the Senators, in Washington, Esa and his wife, Lotta, were eating in an Italian restaurant when he learned that the Senators were about to arrive for a team meal. The ever-calculating Esa arranged for a table next to Yashin's, and both he and Lotta spent the evening yakking away with the Ottawa players. The Tikkanens then returned to their hotel—where Esa has been living since the Capitals acquired him from the Florida Panthers on March 8—and were having a drink in the lobby bar when the Senators, who were staying there too, returned. "Hi, guys," Esa said, pretending the meetings had been something other than happenstance. The next morning Ottawa checked out. Senators coach Jacques Martin told Wilson, an old friend, "That was brilliant coaching. You even had his wife on Yashin."

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