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In The Crease

The NHL's most improved team is the Blues. Beset by injuries to
key players like Brett Hull, Pierre Turgeon and Al MacInnis,
they have put together a corps of former minor league
workhorses, including Blair Atcheynum, Jim Campbell, Chris
Conroy, Pavol Demitra, Scott Pellerin and Terry Yake, who
refused to give up their NHL dream. These players have seen the
inside of far more Motel 6's than Ritz Carltons. They're in St.
Louis partly because of the influence of Jimmy Roberts, an
assistant coach. Roberts, who played 15 seasons in the NHL and
who coached many of these players in the minors, is a savvy
hockey man. In his playing days Roberts was regarded as a smart,
passionate player who would do anything to get the job done.
That's also the kind of player he likes.

When the Canadiens departedfor an eight-day road trip recently,
slumping forward Brian Savage packed more clothes than usual
because he expected to be traded to the Flames for defenseman
Zarley Zalapski and forward German Titov. Montreal general
manager Rejean Houle, however, didn't pull the trigger on the
swap. Wise move. During that trip Savage, who had been a
leftwinger his entire NHL career, was shifted to the right side
on a line with Vincent Damphouse and Martin Rucinsky. The unit
clicked. Last week against the Islanders, Savage, who has soft
hands and a rocket shot, scored four goals and added two
assists, more points than any Montreal player had gotten on the
road since Joe Malone in 1917.

Travel with an NHL team and you hear grumblings about things as
mundane as the soap in the visitors' dressing room, but the
griping these days about the condition of the chippy and rutty
ice at many arenas is genuine. The Edmonton Coliseum, though,
has terrific ice, and building manager Chris McKenna is
responsible. His formula is simple: Keep the ice temperature at
15?, the humidity in the arena at less than 40% and the air
temperature at 68?. In addition, the ice must be seven eighths
of an inch thick and Zambonied four times in the three hours
before game time. The most important part of the formula is
using distilled water when the ice is flooded. Why? Less iron in
the water allows the ice to set better.

Pierre McGuire coached the Hartford Whalers in 1993-94.

COLOR PHOTO: B. BENNETT/BRUCE BENNETT STUDIOS Since nearly being traded, Savage has savaged opponents. [Brian Savage in game]