Sports

Ben Lovejoy flourishes for Ducks on defense

SportsAnaheim DucksNHLBen LovejoyCam FowlerBob MurrayTim Jackman

Whether it's the opponent's top scorer or the Ducks' mood, defenseman Ben Lovejoy has proven in his breakout season he has a firm handle on it.

A confluence of greater maturity and an appreciation of the disparity between Lovejoy's prior NHL job and the confidence boost from Ducks' leadership has created a productive and unselfish shutdown defenseman.

"He can skate, defend, plays hard all the time," Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "When we play a team with a No. 1 line that's very fast, he's always against that team — might be the only one who can catch 'em.

"He's brought a lot of stability to our defense."

The 6-foot-2 Lovejoy, 30, is also undeniably smart, his Ivy League education (Dartmouth) shining not only in the heat of games but when he is called upon by reporters for frequent state-of-the-team updates.

"Most of us think what he says, but he always says it best, exactly what's going on with us," said rookie defenseman Hampus Lindholm, with whom Lovejoy is currently paired. "Same thing out there [on the ice, he] always knows what's going on."

Lovejoy was dealt to the Ducks in February 2013 from the talented Pittsburgh Penguins, who ranked Lovejoy an eighth defenseman.

"Every mistake I made, I knew it'd cost me the next game, if not more," Lovejoy said. "I had to become a student of the game. If I made a mistake, my night was over."

When Ducks General Manager Bob Murray obtained Lovejoy, he told the defenseman he'd watched him shine for the Penguins' minor-league team, Wilkes-Barre Scranton. Lovejoy was plus-42 in goal differential on the ice in the 2008-09 season.

"With that, and playing for guys like Bruce and [Ducks assistant] Bob Woods, I knew, here was the NHL opportunity I've been waiting for," Lovejoy said.

The Ducks saw enough of Lovejoy in 32 games last season (10 assists, 29 penalty minutes, plus-six) to award him a three-year contract extension and pair him with 22-year-old Cam Fowler on the first defensive line. Fowler's game rose to the point where he won a U.S. Olympic team roster spot before being sidelined for now with a knee injury.

"Ben has been a good fit for us," Murray said. "Works hard, is a character player, has a positive, upbeat attitude every day."

Lovejoy has led the Ducks with more than 200 hits. He ranks second in blocked shots and is poised to establish a career-high points total as his team seeks to clinch a second straight Pacific Division title.

Some pro athletes are just like the rest of us, waiting for that door of opportunity to crack open. When it does, will we kick it open wider or shrink from the pressure?

"I always thought and hoped I could do more there, but didn't know," Lovejoy said. "I'm so lucky to have been given a chance to play on a regular basis and get comfortable and not be afraid to make mistakes."

You could argue there hasn't been a more obvious gaffe for the Ducks this season than Lovejoy trying to smack a puck up ice in overtime against the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 20, only to see it strike the leg of teammate Corey Perry and carom back in the Ducks' net, forcing their first home loss.

Taking full account, Lovejoy was at his locker, answering reporters' questions immediately afterward.

And Boudreau put Lovejoy back in there the next game for 24 minutes, 53 seconds in the Ducks' 1-0 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Lovejoy is plus-22 on the ice this season, saying he particularly enjoys games against the Ducks' fiercest Western Conference foes, San Jose, Chicago, St. Louis and the Kings. In 12 of those games thus far, he's plus-four and the Ducks are 8-3-1.

On New Year's Eve against the Sharks — after being up all night before, as his wife, Avery, gave birth to the couple's first child, Lila — Lovejoy played 16:28, was plus-two and made the game's best defensive play.

Diving forward and extending his stick, he stopped San Jose's Joe Thornton as he swarmed to a net briefly vacated by Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller with Anaheim leading, 3-2, late in the second period. The Ducks won, 6-3.

Days later, the self-deprecating Lovejoy kidded after a two-goal game to beat Edmonton that it took "a perfect storm" of events to let that happen, given his weak slapshot.

"In so many ways, it's been different here," Lovejoy said. "I'm relied upon. I don't have to prove myself."

His chemistry with Fowler has been a testimonial to teamwork.

"I want Cam to be really good," Lovejoy said. "I tell him all the time, 'I never need the puck.' We've elevated each other.

"We all want to be Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, score 40 goals and 100 points, but I know my job. I love being an Anaheim Duck, love playing for a team that has legitimate aspirations for a Stanley Cup.

"I just turned 30, this is my seventh year pro. I know now what I need to be a successful NHLer."

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire

SUNDAY

AT EDMONTON OILERS

When: 5 PDT.

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 830.

Update: It took three third-period goals for the Ducks to edge the Oilers, 3-2, Wednesday, and Edmonton beat Anaheim in overtime March 28 in Rexall Place. The rubber game of the three could feature a rematch with former Ducks goalie Viktor Fasth. Forward Tim Jackman broke a hand on his final shift in Friday's 5-2 loss to Nashville and will require surgery, the team announced Saturday. The timetable for Jackman's return has not been determined. Goalie Frederik Anderson (headache) did not make the trip to Canada for the Sunday-Monday road games at Edmonton and Vancouver. The Ducks recalled forward Devante Smith-Pelly and goalie John Gibson.

ic> and goalie John Gibson.

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SportsAnaheim DucksNHLBen LovejoyCam FowlerBob MurrayTim Jackman
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