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March 08, 1999

The Nhl

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Surfaces are typically worse in warm-weather sites and in arenas where the ice is repeatedly covered for basketball games and other events. "Imagine elephants stomping on the ice," says Ducks' winger Paul Kariya of playing at Madison Square Garden after the circus passes through each season. "That can't be good for it."

The league monitors the surface in every city and has addressed the issue of rough ice by limiting the length of on-ice entertainment during intermissions; mandating the use of two Zambonis to get the ice resurfaced quickly and allow more time for it to harden; and permitting only six players to skate in warmups at the start of each period, rules that have had minimal effect.

Because each NHL rink is subject to unique day-to-day conditions, the burden of maintaining the surface falls to individual teams. Millionaire hockey players shouldn't be risking their health on poor ice. Teams need to make surface conditions a priority.

European Coach
Who's Going To Be the First?

This year's World All-Star Team had players from eight European nations, none of whom were able to engage in homeland reminisces with coach Lindy Ruff, a Warburg, Alberta, native. Ruff, the Sabres' coach, guided the World All-Stars since his team led the Eastern Conference at midseason. He was as good a choice as any because for all the NHL's diversity—24% of its players hail from Europe—no coach in the league was born across the pond; 24 are Canadian, and three are American.

The old reasons for not giving consideration to a European coach—the differences in playing style between Europe and North America, as well as the language barrier—have largely disappeared. Canadiens assistant Dave King, who coached the Flames from 1992-93 through 1994-95 and had Prague-born Slavomir Lener as an assistant, says, "A European coach is probably not very long away." With that in mind we rank the men most likely to be the first.

1. Slava Fetisov Deeply respected for his years with the Soviet Red Army team in the 1970s and '80s and for his play with the Devils and the Red Wings, the 40-year-old Fetisov has also earned high marks this season as a New Jersey assistant. Says Detroit general manager Ken Holland, "Slava could do it because he's so intelligent and he's in an organization that's very good at developing people."

2. Igor Larionov He's only 38 and still playing well for the Red Wings, so coaching may be a few years off. He's highly regarded for his hockey smarts.

3. Alpo Suhonen A 50-year-old Finn, Suhonen has coached more than 1,000 games in Europe and is an assistant with the Maple Leafs. He was also coach of the IHL's Chicago Wolves for part of 1996-97 (9-5-1 in regular season) and served as a Winnipeg Jets assistant in 1989-90 and 1992-93. "He had what it took to be [an NHL] coach years ago," says retired defenseman Peter Taglianetti, who played for the Jets in 1989-90.

4. Lener Now a Panthers assistant, the 44-year-old Lener is fluent in Czech, English, German and Russian and has coached the Czech national team. He's happy in Florida, but with more seasoning at the side of coach Terry Murray, he says, "I might be ready."

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