Little Ball of Hate
At 35, Red Wing Pat Verbeek is still a banger only a teammate could love
On Nov. 10, Red Wings center Kris Draper strode into the visitors' dressing room at Reunion Arena in Dallas for a game-day skate and was taken aback by a familiar but unwelcome sight. "What the f—- is Pat Verbeek doing in here?" Draper asked Detroit trainer John Wharton. "We just signed him," Wharton said.
"I was glad when I heard that," Draper says now. "I'd played against him a long time, and we'd had some battles. You'd always see his face in a scrum, and he was always looking to take players on."
When Detroit general manager Ken Holland signed the 35-year-old Verbeek to a two-year, $2.5 million free-agent deal, he secured a potential Hall of Fame right wing and one of the game's peskier players. The 5'9", 190-pound Verbeek spent the past three seasons skating for the Stars and living up to his nickname, Little Ball of Hate. Though he failed to score as the Red Wings beat the Kings 8-5 last Saturday to take a two-games-to-none lead in their Western Conference quarterfinal series, Verbeek often crashed the crease and was in the middle of many battles.
Verbeek wields his stick and elbows with a ferocity reminiscent of diminutive scrapper Dino Ciccarelli, who played for Detroit from 1992-93 through 1995-96. This season Verbeek put up 22 goals and 26 assists in 68 games. "It was strange when I came here," says Verbeek. "They all hated me, and the feeling was mutual."
Verbeek, a 17-year veteran, won his first Stanley Cup last June but had only 17 goals in the 1998-99 regular season, well off the 31 he'd averaged over his career. To trim costs and get younger, Dallas let Verbeek test the free-agent market. One month into the season, he was unsigned and working out with a minor league club in Fort Worth. "I knew I could still play," says Verbeek, "but if another month had gone by, things might have been over."
Today the debate isn't over whether Verbeek might retire but whether he's bound for the Hall of Fame. His last goal, on March 22 against the Flames, gave him 500, tying him for 27th alltime. He also has 1,013 regular-season points. "Five hundred goals, 1,000 points and a Stanley Cup ring—he's a Hall of Famer," says Draper. "With all the whacks he gives and takes, those are hard-earned points."
The argument against Verbeek's making the Hall centers around the fact that he has rarely been considered among the NHL elite. In these playoffs, for example, he's overshadowed by Detroit's star forwards Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan. "It's great to help a team this talented," says Verbeek. "That first day in Dallas, some of the guys were wondering if I was in the wrong locker room. I told them, 'No, I'm in the right spot now.' "
Playoff Prep Work
Everyone on The Same Pages
You might expect players to turn in early before playoff games, but you might not figure they'd pore over their homework before lights out. That's what diligent Leafs and Kings were doing after their respective coaches, Pat Quinn and Andy Murray, handed out required postseason reading.