hockey's equivalent of the driven fifth-grader who always raises his hand
because he has figured out the math problem first, is finally getting noticed.
After a month in which his Carolina Hurricanes bellowed, "Hey, look at
us!"--winning 13 of 14 games in January and improving their overall record
to an NHL-best 38-12-4--the team at last found a way to grab the attention of
the hockey world.
All it took was a simple waive.
Center Doug Weight, who will play for Coach Laviolette in the Olympics next
week, waived his no-trade clause and left the foundering St. Louis Blues for
Carolina. The Jan. 30 deal smacked of ambition--the Stanley Cup--in a hockey
market fragile enough that the Hurricanes felt compelled to reassure it with
the phrase here to stay on the cover of their media guide. The acquisition of
the 35-year-old Weight (for draft choices, spare parts and about a third of his
$5.7 million salary) was a wake-up call to the league. Said Carolina left wing
Erik Cole, "For the Number 1 team in the league to go get the Number 1 guy
available [on the trade market] is pretty exciting." A superb playmaker,
Weight, who is ninth alltime among U.S.-born point scorers, said he merely
hoped to "fit in" with Carolina and not impose himself on a team with a
keen sense of the new-style NHL.
Honing that sense
has been the 41-year-old Laviolette, who joined the Hurricanes in December
2003, after being fired by the New York Islanders despite leading them to the
playoffs in each of his two seasons behind the bench. He began easing Carolina
into hockey's new reality with a pedagogical drill brilliant in its simplicity.
During preseason games he allowed his team three "new-rule"
penalties--such as restraining fouls or delays of game. Starting with the
fourth penalty, the Hurricanes would have extra skating in practice, a reminder
to get with the NHL's revised program. Through Sunday, Carolina was fifth in
power plays allowed.
rank underdogs at the start of the season, seemed to figure out life on the
fly, a learning curve Laviolette will have to replicate on the world stage next
week as coach of another long shot, the U.S. Olympic team. Tampa Bay's John
Tortorella was deserving of that job--in 2004 he became the first U.S. coach to
win the Stanley Cup since Bob Johnson with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991--but
to succeed Herb Brooks, USA Hockey chose a coach with more international
experience and closer ties to its program. "Peter's one helluva coach,"
says Tortorella, Laviolette's assistant at the 2005 world championships.
"No team will be more prepared than his."
started laying out systems during Olympic orientation camp last September in
Colorado Springs. With big, skating forwards such as Cole and Mike Modano, Team
USA essentially plans to play get-it-deep, grind-'em-down Hurricanes hockey;
Laviolette will administer a crash course on Valentine's Day, the date of the
team's only pretournament practice. Says Weight, a three-time Olympian who
played for Laviolette in the worlds, "He can get the best out of guys not
only in a whole season but in a short tournament. The drills he does, the
systems he puts in, are very effective [in a tournament]. He also knows how to
motivate. He tells you how much your team needs you. He does it in front of the
guys sometimes but never in a demeaning way. The pressure to play for the guy
next to you is the greatest you can apply."
found the formula for a Carolina team bereft--pre-Weight--of marquee names,
although rampaging 21-year-old center Eric Staal, whose 34 goals were just two
off the league lead through Sunday, soon will be the most famous Staal in
Carolina since Dean Smith's Four Corners. Last month Laviolette crunched
numbers and saw that 17 of the 22 players on the roster at the time were on
pace for career seasons. "This team," says veteran forward Kevyn Adams,
"is basically maxing out." Wingers Cole and Justin Williams and
defenseman Frantisek Kaberle already have surpassed their previous season highs
for points, while combative goalie Martin Gerber, a first-time NHL starter, has
been solid and occasionally stunning behind a team that forechecks like
marauding dogs. "This is the most selfless team I've coached,"
Laviolette says. "That said, you can say 'team, team, team' all you want,
but you need individual excellence within that concept."
The message will
be repeated next week half a world away by a man who would jump through hoops
for the Olympic rings. A Massachusetts kid, Laviolette was weaned on the 1980
miracle, rising from Division III Westfield State to become an NHL defenseman
(12 games with the New York Rangers) and a two-time Olympian. He played on the
high-powered 1988 entry that included Brian Leetch and Kevin Stevens (the U.S.
finished seventh) and served as captain of the more modestly gifted 1994 team
(eighth). After those Olympics in Lillehammer he saw his parents and wept.
"No, that wasn't the last time I cried," he said last week. "I'm
emotional. I always cry."
As ringmaster at
the Turin hockey circus, Laviolette has a third chance to turn on the spigot
that controls tears of joy. If he can infuse Team USA with the same sense of
purpose he has given to Carolina, the Americans just might come in from the
For more on the U.S. hockey team, and the rest of Team USA, go to