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Original Issue

Big Bucks In A Phone Booth

Although Pat LaFontaine (U.S.) and Pat Flatley (Canada) were undeniably the best players on their respective teams at Sarajevo, the Islanders haven't been the only NHL team to improve itself with Olympians. In all, 19 former '84 Olympians—10 from Canada, nine from the U.S.—were on NHL rosters as of Sunday, and most have made an impact.

Like forward Russ Courtnall (Canada) of the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 11 NHL games Courtnall, 19, has scored three goals and seven assists. Courtnall was Toronto's No. 1 draft choice in '83, the seventh pick overall. The leading scorer for the Canadian team in this winter's world junior championships, Courtnall joined the Canadian Olympic team in January, and his best effort at Sarajevo was a goal and two assists. But that was in an 8-1 win over Norway, whose defense was as solid as a slice of Jarlsberg. Courtnall expected to return to his junior team in Victoria, B.C., but injuries prompted the Leafs to bring him to Toronto. Coach Mike Nykoluk says, "In his time with us, he's been everything we figured he could be in the NHL."

Despite his good start, Courtnall's transition from the Olympics to the pros wasn't easy. "Going from a big ice surface to a smaller one was a large adjustment," he says. "In the warmup for my first game, I thought I was in a telephone booth and I almost hit the end of the rink."

The NHL's Olympians have found that NHL goalies definitely aren't a bunch of Vladislav Tretiak clones. Like Flatley, the Rangers' Bob Brooke (U.S.) and Calgary's Carey Wilson (Canada) both scored on their first shots at an NHL goal. Boston Bruin Dave Donnelly's (Canada) first shot slid across the goalmouth, but he still came up with an assist. Goalie Mario Gosselin (Canada) didn't see any NHL goals close up in his debut: He shut out St. Louis 5-0. Two days later Gosselin beat Detroit 6-2, but in his third start he sprained his right knee and probably won't play again this season. His counterpart on the U.S. team, Marc Behrend, had a rockier start with Winnipeg. He lost his first game 6-5 to Edmonton in overtime and is now 2-3. No. 2 U.S. goalie Bob Mason had two impressive wins for Washington but had the misfortune of joining the team with the best pair of goalies in hockey (SI, March 19). Mason was sent down to the Caps' minor league club. "He'll be back," says coach Bryan Murray.

Two of the highest-scoring U.S. players, who were also LaFontaine's wings on the Diaper Line, haven't worn an NHL jersey yet. Ed Olczyk, 17, is at home in Palos Heights, Ill., lifting weights and waiting for the June draft, in which he's expected to be selected high in the first round. David A. Jensen of Needham, Mass. will decide this summer whether to go to college or sign with the Hartford Whalers. He returned from Sarajevo to play in Lawrence Academy's last game of the season, a 6-4 win over Buckingham Brown and Nichols.


Courtnall has found a home in Toronto.