Esa Tikkanen waited until the moment every fiber of his being told him Dominik Hasek had just poured the milk on his cornflakes before he punched in the phone number.
"Mr. Hasek? Mr. Dominik Hasek? Goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres?"
"My name is Esa Tikkanen, and I represent the Washington office of Acme Telemarketing and...."
Oooh boy, that was a good one, Tikkanen thought, admiring his handiwork. He was off to a fine start. But he knew he couldn't stop at Hasek's soggy cereal. After all, these are the playoffs. Not only do you have to play in pain, but you also have to be a pain. That morning he had left the toilet seat up and then thrown all the newspapers for his paper route into the bushes.
Tikkanen took noisy slurps from his coffee, plotting his next move. Let's see, he could drive to the mall, doing 40 in the left lane with his right-turn blinker on. Accost strangers in the food court with photos of his family vacation. Then duck into the cineplex and talk through the movie, though it seemed a pity to be indoors on such a nice day. Maybe he could squeegee windshields at an intersection instead.
So many annoyances, so little time.
In the NHL lexicon Tikkanen and players like him are pests, a sterile word that doesn't begin to convey what these players do and how significant they are. A mosquito is a pest, but a mosquito doesn't taunt you, surreptitiously jab a stick into your ribs or reenact Mimi's death in La bohème every time you swat back at him. These guys aren't pests as much as a hybrid of some of the world's great irritants—secondhand smoke, emergency-broadcast-system tests, James Cameron. They're especially valuable in the postseason, when teams can face one another almost every other night for two weeks and pests can make life unremittingly miserable for the opposition's stars.