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NHL Notes : Patrick’s Wise Choices Pay Off for Rangers

The Washington Post

General Manager Phil Esposito and Coach Michel Bergeron are basking in the first-place status of the New York Rangers. The man who deserves the most credit for the team’s resurgence, however, bears the same name as the division in which the Rangers play.

He is Craig Patrick, the former Rangers’ GM, who drafted such key players as Tony Granato, Brian Leetch, John Vanbiesbrouck, Tomas Sandstrom, Ulf Dahlen, Jan Erixon and James Patrick.

Patrick, replaced by Esposito in 1986, currently is athletic director at the University of Denver and he said in a phone conversation, “I wish I was still part of it. I’m proud of the job my scouts did when I was there. I thought we were doing an excellent job, but people were looking for somebody to step in and help right away. We were looking at the best interests of the organization for the long haul.”

Granato, drafted in the fifth round in 1982, is the front runner for rookie of the year.

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“One of our philosophies was to get as much talent and character as we could and hopefully to get it with size, too,” Patrick said. “Obviously, Tony didn’t have size, but he had talent and character in aces. I’m surprised to see him doing this well in his rookie year, but I always felt he had a big enough heart to play in the NHL.”

Of Leetch, whom Patrick made the first-round pick in 1986 shortly before he was fired, Patrick said, “We were criticized for that, too, but I felt he was a heck of a choice.” Leetch is No. 2 in the rookie scoring race with 44 points.

Patrick also drafted such players as Dave Gagner, Minnesota’s leading scorer; Kelly Miller, the Washington Capitals’ spark plug; and defensemen Terry Carkner and Kjell Samuelsson, now with Philadelphia.

Patrick signed Mike Ridley as a free agent and, after he left, Esposito dealt Ridley and Miller to Washington for Bob Carpenter.

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“Kelly Miller was a special guy,” Patrick said. “He made himself. When we drafted him (in the ninth round in 1982), he didn’t weigh 170 pounds. But he was a character kid and he put on weight and strength. He’d be an asset to any organization.

“We had a nucleus of players my last year in New York that I felt would be assets in our future. It makes you feel good to be proven right, but I’d feel a lot better if I were still there.”

The non-combatants in the NHL office who insist nobody gets hurt in a hockey fight are unlikely to call Chicago left wing Steve Thomas as a witness to their argument.

Thomas injured his right shoulder during a fight with Washington’s Scott Stevens Dec. 21, but continued to play until his ineffectiveness finally prompted him to seek medical help.

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Thomas will enter Illinois Masonic Hospital Wednesday for reconstructive surgery, his season over.

A Quebec radio station offered special-edition Nordiques’ sweaters as a promotion. The sweaters bore a logo containing a turkey, referring to the team’s last-place status in the Adams Division.

As a result, angry players refused to talk to the media after the next game. Bristling in turn, the media refused to talk to the players the next day.

A truce finally was reached and Peter Stastny said, “We can accept criticism. Ridicule is something else.”

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The Rangers left Marcel Dionne at home when they left on their current road trip, which called for four games in six days.

“We don’t have any practice time and I wanted Marcel to stay home where he could get in a lot of skating,” Bergeron said. Left unsaid was Bergeron’s displeasure with repeated media probing whenever Dionne or Guy Lafleur is not in uniform for a game.

Coach George Armstrong can’t understand why the Maple Leafs have such a poor home record (9-15-3).

Armstrong said, “There are a lot of advantages to playing at home. You know the texture of the ice, the bounces off the boards, the dimensions of the rink. It’s like a visitor came to your home and the lights were off. He’d have a harder time finding his way around than you would.”

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Defenseman Chris Kotsopoulos offered this analysis of the Maple Leafs’ dilemma: “The problem is that not everyone shows up every night. Why? That I can’t answer.”

Notes

Hartford defenseman Grant Jennings, the former Capital, resumed skating Tuesday after a two-week rest forced by his chronic shoulder problem. . . . Joey Kocur, who scored the winning goal for Detroit against Washington Sunday, has been charged with assault by two women who claimed he punched them in separate incidents over the past six months. Kocur has four goals in the last eight games and said, “I’m hoping that turning around what I do off the ice will help what I do on the ice. I’m trying for a better lifestyle.” ... The Red Wings traded defenseman Doug Halward to Edmonton for the Oilers’ 12th-round draft pick in 1989.

Three of the NHL’s best referees -- Don Koharski, Terry Gregson and Dave Newell -- are out with injuries. That has created a heavy workload for some officials who aren’t prepared for it and has resulted in inconsistent efforts. A major concern is the absence of a pool of young officials to move in, but, as executive vice president Max McNab of New Jersey once said, “The job has the same appeal as a missionary to the backwaters of the Amazon.” ... Just as the Redskins continue to receive complaints about their nickname, the New Jersey Devils are plagued by critics. Owner John McMullen said, “When we lose, I get letters from religious organizations saying, ‘Until you change the name from Devils to Angels, you’ll keep losing.’ ”

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