Olympians back at work as NHL season resumes

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

NEW YORK -- Rivals became teammates again, and teammates became rivals as the NHL's Olympians got back to work Tuesday with 13 games.

Twelve Olympians suited up for the game between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. Eight played Sunday in Canada's 5-2 victory over the United States for the gold medal in Salt Lake City -- the most-watched hockey game in 22 years.

"It's about refocusing," said New York's Eric Lindros, who helped Canada win the gold.

One of Lindros' Olympic rivals and NHL teammates didn't start Tuesday -- U.S goaltender Mike Richter, whom the Rangers gave the night off.

"He played four games in eight days," coach Ron Low said. "He flew back from Salt Lake and didn't get back until 5 p.m. yesterday. It's not healthy to have him play tonight. If there's a chance Ricky could get hurt, this is the perfect night for it."

Rookie Dan Blackburn was to play in Richter's place.

The Olympics left their mark on the league-leading Detroit Red Wings, who lost captain Steve Yzerman for 2 1/2 weeks to a knee injury that he aggravated while playing for Canada. Detroit's leading scorer, Brendan Shanahan -- who played with Yzerman for Canada -- was expected to play Tuesday night against Tampa Bay even though he has a broken bone in his right thumb. The Lightning's goalie, Nikolai Khabibulin, won a bronze medal with Russia.

Two of Canada's Olympic heroes immediately faced off Tuesday, with Olympic MVP Joe Sakic and the Colorado Avalanche playing host to Jarome Iginla and the Calgary Flames. Sakic and Iginla each scored twice for Canada in Sunday's win.

But the joy and pain of the Olympics must be pushed aside immediately.

"You have to turn off what happened Sunday and go out and win a hockey game," said New York's Theo Fleury, who played for Canada.

He admitted, however, that the first few games will be "played on adrenaline."

U.S. defenseman Brian Leetch said it wasn't hard embracing Lindros and Fleury as Rangers teammates again.

"They're good friends," Leetch said. "I'm happy for them. I'm disappointed we didn't win gold, but we were friends before and we're friends still."

Despite the immediacy of NHL games, the talk in the Rangers' locker room was all about the Olympics -- particularly whether the international rules should be adopted in the NHL.

Two-hour games are a big hit with the players, who also liked the larger ice surface, quick faceoffs and lack of red line or TV timeouts.

Rangers forward Mike York likes the 15-second faceoffs in international play.

"That would be my choice to add to the NHL," said York, who played for the United States. "It really sped things up."

Richter also liked the pace of the Olympic contests.

"It was more enjoyable to watch and more enjoyable to play," he said. "I think the red line should be looked at. It could really quicken the pace."

Fleury thought the NHL could benefit from shorter contests.

"They were really fun games to play in," he said. "Right now, we're playing 3 1/2-hour games. We could cut an hour and a half out every game. It keeps the momentum with the team that has the momentum. It did a lot of positive things."

As for the larger ice, Fleury was just getting comfortable, and skating at Madison Square Garden was a little strange.

"It seemed a little small in practice," Fleury admitted. "It might take a period or two to get used to it."

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