Little Ball of Hate
At 35, Red Wing Pat Verbeek is still a banger only a teammate
On Nov. 10, Red Wings center Kris Draper strode into the
visitors' dressing room at Reunion Arena in Dallas for a
game-day skate and was taken aback by a familiar but unwelcome
sight. "What the f--- is Pat Verbeek doing in here?" Draper
asked Detroit trainer John Wharton. "We just signed him,"
"I was glad when I heard that," Draper says now. "I'd played
against him a long time, and we'd had some battles. You'd always
see his face in a scrum, and he was always looking to take
When Detroit general manager Ken Holland signed the 35-year-old
Verbeek to a two-year, $2.5 million free-agent deal, he secured
a potential Hall of Fame right wing and one of the game's
peskier players. The 5'9", 190-pound Verbeek spent the past
three seasons skating for the Stars and living up to his
nickname, Little Ball of Hate. Though he failed to score as the
Red Wings beat the Kings 8-5 last Saturday to take a
two-games-to-none lead in their Western Conference quarterfinal
series, Verbeek often crashed the crease and was in the middle
of many battles.
Verbeek wields his stick and elbows with a ferocity reminiscent
of diminutive scrapper Dino Ciccarelli, who played for Detroit
from 1992-93 through 1995-96. This season Verbeek put up 22
goals and 26 assists in 68 games. "It was strange when I came
here," says Verbeek. "They all hated me, and the feeling was
Verbeek, a 17-year veteran, won his first Stanley Cup last June
but had only 17 goals in the 1998-99 regular season, well off
the 31 he'd averaged over his career. To trim costs and get
younger, Dallas let Verbeek test the free-agent market. One
month into the season, he was unsigned and working out with a
minor league club in Fort Worth. "I knew I could still play,"
says Verbeek, "but if another month had gone by, things might
have been over."
Today the debate isn't over whether Verbeek might retire but
whether he's bound for the Hall of Fame. His last goal, on March
22 against the Flames, gave him 500, tying him for 27th alltime.
He also has 1,013 regular-season points. "Five hundred goals,
1,000 points and a Stanley Cup ring--he's a Hall of Famer," says
Draper. "With all the whacks he gives and takes, those are
The argument against Verbeek's making the Hall centers around
the fact that he has rarely been considered among the NHL elite.
In these playoffs, for example, he's overshadowed by Detroit's
star forwards Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Brendan
Shanahan. "It's great to help a team this talented," says
Verbeek. "That first day in Dallas, some of the guys were
wondering if I was in the wrong locker room. I told them, 'No,
I'm in the right spot now.'"
Playoff Prep Work
Everyone on The Same Pages
You might expect players to turn in early before playoff games,
but you might not figure they'd pore over their homework before
lights out. That's what diligent Leafs and Kings were doing
after their respective coaches, Pat Quinn and Andy Murray,
handed out required postseason reading.
Quinn issued monogrammed blue folders, each containing a
half-dozen pages that covered Toronto's special team
assignments, the first-round opponent Senators' offense and a
pep talk entitled Keys to Success. Murray delivered 45-page
dossiers that he said were meant to "eliminate excuses." The
homework included breakdowns of each opposing Red Wing,
reminders of L.A.'s first-round objectives and quotes from Kings
players. Says defenseman Garry Galley, "Even if you pull just
one or two things out of it, it can help. And it gives you
something to do in the hotel room."
New Islanders Owner
A Billion Reasons To Smile?
Forgive Islanders fans if they greet the seemingly welcome news
of the team's imminent sale with skepticism. If, as expected,
Charles Wang, the 55-year-old billionaire chairman of Computer
Associates International, completes the purchase of the
Islanders, he will become their fifth owner in four years. New
York, which went 24-49-9-1 in 1999-2000 and missed the playoffs
for the sixth straight season, has been undermined by a run of
owners ranging from the uninterested to the dishonest to the
downright disabling. Here are some of the worst moments in
recent team history.
--In 1992 owner John Pickett moved full time from New York to
Florida and in effect stopped running the team. In 1995-96 the
rudderless Islanders donned uniforms depicting a white-haired
fisherman, an embarrassing logo that inspired fan protests.
--In April 1997 con man John Spano bought the team for $165
million. He basked in the spotlight and persuaded general
manager and coach Mike Milbury to relinquish his duties behind
the bench. When Spano failed to make the proper payments to
Pickett, he was arrested for fraud and Pickett resumed ownership.
--In February 1998 a consortium led by Steven Gluckstern and
Howard Milstein bought the Islanders for $195 million. By autumn
they had moved the team offices from Nassau Coliseum to
Manhattan in a grandstanding effort to get public funding for
building improvements. Then, in an effort to force Nassau County
to build a new arena, Gluckstern and Milstein claimed the hoist
system for the scoreboard was inadequate, making the building
unsafe. A judge later ruled that the arena was O.K. Over the
next seven months the owners traded five Islanders
veterans--including star forwards Trevor Linden and Ziggy
Palffy--in a salary purge. The root of Gluckstern and Milstein's
discontent was the arena lease with Spectacor Management Group,
which denied New York revenue from parking and concessions.
With Wang poised to take control of the Islanders, there's the
possibility that he may shake up the staff, yet even those whose
jobs could be imperiled would welcome his arrival. "There's
uncertainty, but if a change means stability, thank heavens,"
says vice president of communications Chris Botta, who has been
with New York for 12 years. "Our fans deserve to know our good
young players will be here for a while."
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO A most unheralded 500-goal scorer, Verbeek will have to fight his way into the Hall of Fame.
This Date in Playoff History
APRIL 24, 1996
CAPITALS VS. PENGUINS
Petr Nedved scored at 19:15 of the fourth overtime to lift
Pittsburgh over Washington 3-2 and tie the teams' quarterfinal
series at two games apiece. Caps goaltender Olaf Kolzig, who
made 62 saves, was outdueled by Penguins backup Ken Wregget, who
stopped 53 of 54 shots after replacing the injured Tom Barrasso
at the start of the second period. The game, the third longest
in NHL history, ended at 2:22 a.m. EDT on April 25. Pittsburgh
went on to win the series in six games.