Steve Rucchin is the ideal guy to play with the Ducks' mightiest stars
At first blush, seeing workmanlike center Steve Rucchin skating between dazzling Ducks All-Star wings Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne seems as incongruous as the thought of Gerald Ford's head between Washington's and Lincoln's on Mount Rushmore. Closer inspection, however, reveals that Rucchin is an ideal complement to Anaheim's dynamic duo and a deserving mainstay on a line that, through Sunday, had accounted for 43 of the Ducks' 87 goals. Eleven of those goals (along with 22 assists) belonged to the 6'3", 215-pound Rucchin, who's having a career season.
"Steve's smart with the puck, and he knows us," says Selanne, who had a team-high 18 goals. "Whenever I forget to play defense, he's there. People say we need a superstar center, but we're doing great with Steve."
"I'm the luckiest guy in the league to be playing with them," says the modest Rucchin. "And the most envied."
Last summer, instead of trying to land high-scoring free-agent center Ron Francis to play on its first line, Anaheim resigned the 27-year-old Rucchin to a four-year, $9.2 million contract. The raise of some $2 million over his 1997-98 salary came four years after Ducks scouts discovered Rucchin on the campus of the University of Western Ontario where, he says, he was studying biology earnestly and playing hockey for fun. Anaheim liked his skills and chose him in the '94 supplemental draft.
While Kariya, who had a league-leading 47 points at week's end, and Selanne often make plays that show up on highlight tapes, Rucchin does the unglamorous work with exceptional efficiency. His 46 takeaways were third among NHL forwards, and he had committed a paltry 19 turnovers. Rucchin had also taken more face-offs (1,054) than anyone else in the league (and won 52%) and, partly because of his duties as a penalty killer, was averaging 23 minutes and 45 seconds of ice time per game, sixth among NHL forwards.
Still, Rucchin's style isn't about to make him famous. While Kariya and Selanne were being detained by reporters and then by autograph seekers after a game last week in Toronto, Rucchin pulled on a dark suit and slipped into the still crowded corridors of Maple Leafs Gardens. He walked along quietly, unpestered by fans who didn't know they were near the most envied man in the league.
Toronto Assistant Coach
Everyone Has a Role to Play
When Maple Leafs assistant coach Alpo Suhonen talks about a cat on a hot tin roof, he's not describing the status of goalie Felix (the Cat) Potvin, who left the Leafs last month in an attempt to force a trade. Instead, Suhonen is citing the Tennessee Williams play he produced in 1994 in his native Finland, where Suhonen is a legendary coach and a notable figure in the theater. To Suhonen, all the rink's a stage, and the Maple Leafs are merely players.
"An actor and a hockey player have similar tasks," says the 50-year-old Suhonen, who was hired by Toronto in August and who usually runs the Leafs' practices for coach Pat Quinn. "They have to perform. Remember that a hockey player isn't always a hockey player—only when he's on the ice, when he's in character."