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Original Issue

In The Crease

Many observers say the neutral zone trap ruins the game and
denies star players the chance to show their skills. But there
are ways to get around that stifling defensive system. To beat
the trap a team needs a defenseman who has great skating
ability, tremendous puck-possession skills, good vision for
passing and the confidence to beat defenders one-on-one. Here
are my top five defensemen at beating the trap: 1) Nicklas
Lidstrom, Red Wings; 2) Brian Leetch, Rangers; 3) Scott
Niedermayer, Devils; 4) Sergei Zubov, Stars; and 5) Sandis
Ozolinsh, Avalanche. Three of these players--Leetch, Niedermayer
and Zubov--began their NHL careers in the old Patrick Division,
where trapping and clutch-and-grab were the prevalent style of
play. Lidstrom and Ozolinsh learned the game in Europe, another
hotbed of trapping.

Canucks coach Mike Keenan has been given full control of
personnel decisions in Vancouver. (He shared it with senior vice
president Steve Tambellini after general manager Pat Quinn was
fired in November.) Keenan will try to build a team that is big,
quick and willing to play hard on a nightly basis. Considering
the club's disappointing record (12-29-8 at week's end), many
players in the dressing room are wondering just how long it will
be before they are traded.

The future doesn't look rosy for 1996 Vezina Trophy winner Jim
Carey, who toils for the Bruins' American Hockey League
affiliate in Providence. A right shoulder injury has jeopardized
his season, though even before that setback Boston officials
were criticizing his poor conditioning. Byron Dafoe has played
well as the Bruins' No. 1 netminder, but the scary part for
Boston is that it still owes Carey more than $4 million for the
remaining two years on his guaranteed contract. A brighter
development is the play of 19-year-old rookie forward Sergei
Samsonov, who was drafted eighth overall last year. He's mature
and physically strong and has tremendous support because his
family has moved from Moscow to Boston. Look for him to have a
big second half of the season.

Pierre McGuire coached the Hartford Whalers in 1993-94.

COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA Ozolinsh has the skills to break the neutral zone trap by himself. [Sandis Ozolinsh]