It seemed like a simple enough question to answer, the kind of thing a kid would learn when lacing on his first pair of hockey skates: "Say, Dino, just how wide is that net you keep firing pucks at?" Dino Ciccarelli, the keenest sniper in the NHL, looked puzzled. "Uh, I don't know," he admitted. "I don't know how wide it is. And I don't know how high it is." Then he laughed. "But I sure as hell know where it is."
That he does. Take last Thursday night, for example, when Alain Chevrier, the New Jersey Devils goalie, braced himself protectively in front of the four-foot-high six-foot-wide bars as a Minnesota North Star power play swooped down upon him. Like a hawk circling above a crippled rabbit, Ciccarelli (pronounced siss-ah-RELL-ee) slowly cruised off to the side of the net, seemingly out of the action, as defenseman Ron Wilson, point in the Minnesota power play, charged straight at Chevrier.
Ciccarelli's eyes locked upon Chevrier and held fast. "Most of the time I'm sort of in a daze watching the goalie, thinking how he bothers me so much," Ciccarelli says. "I can't stand to miss a scoring chance. It haunts me and makes me stare even harder at the goalie."
With Wilson bearing in full bore, Chevrier moved out into the crease in order to cut the angle and give Wilson less of a target to shoot at. But at the same time he was opening up the angle on Ciccarelli's side of the goal. And the hawk struck. With three quick, choppy strides, Ciccarelli moved to the mouth of the goal. As Wilson's shot sailed in wide of the mark, Ciccarelli deflected it. The puck clunked into the post, spun and died. Almost disdainfully Ciccarelli tapped it in. A gimme putt.
For Ciccarelli it was his 26th goal, putting him four ahead of Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky. It was also his 14th power-play goal this season, making him the league's most deadly scorer when the enemy is skating with one stick in the penalty seats. After just 25 games the stocky kid with the funny stick was off to the fastest goal-scoring start in modern NHL history. (Back when the NHL season spanned only 22 games, Joe Malone of the Montreal Canadiens scored 35 goals in the first 14 games of the 1917-18 season. But that was when goalies wore scars instead of masks.)
Later in Minnesota's 5-3 victory over the Devils, which moved the North Stars into the Norris Division lead, Ciccarelli picked up three assists, and his four points for the night moved him into second place among league scorers, behind—need you ask?—Gretzky.
"Hey," a friend said to Ciccarelli after the Devils game, "you just moved [ahead of Mario Lemieux of Pittsburgh, who was idle Thursday night] into second place, behind Gretzky."
"Nah, I'm leading the NHL," Ciccarelli said, grinning. " Gretzky is in another league. Higher."
On Saturday night in a head-to-head shoot-out with Lemieux in Pittsburgh, the North Stars suffered a 5-2 loss but Ciccarelli scored the first of the North Stars' goals, while Lemieux was shut out. Thus at week's end Ciccarelli had 46 total points to Gretzky's 65. Ciccarelli's score in Pittsburgh came midway through the second period and, again, it came on a deflection while Minnesota was on a power play. That widened Ciccarelli's lead in man-advantage situations to five goals over Philadelphia's Tim Kerr and New Jersey's Pat Verbeek, who are tied with 10 each.
Fourteen months ago things were not nearly so bright for the chunky (5'10", 180-pound) rightwinger from Sarnia, Ont. He was in Philadelphia for a game on Oct. 19, 1985; his wife, Lynda, and their daughter, Jenna, then nine months old, were in Sarnia for the wedding of Lynda's brother. At the same time as Ciccarelli was sitting down for the team's pregame meal, Lynda's mother was heating water in an electric teakettle. After it boiled she moved to unplug the kettle. Seeing what her grandmother intended to do, Jenna scooted across the room in her four-wheeled walker and yanked on the electrical cord. The kettle toppled over, dumping boiling water on Jenna's left arm, shoulder and chest. Fortunately the child had reflexively turned her head away from the scalding cascade, so her face was untouched.