Diminutive Steve Sullivan has become a big-time scorer for
When you're 5'9" and 158 pounds and you make your living among
the brutish body-bangers of the NHL, you need a plan. "I try to
get in and out of traffic before anyone flattens me," says
Blackhawks right wing Steve Sullivan. "My goal is to have my
carcass intact when I retire."
Considering that Sullivan, 26, is having the most productive
season of his five-year NHL career--he led the Blackhawks with 67
points through Sunday--and that he recently signed a three-year,
$9 million contract extension, it's easy to forget that 16 months
ago most general managers had given up on him. After scoring 20
goals in 63 games with the Maple Leafs in 1998-99, Sullivan
suddenly didn't fit in Toronto's plans early last season when the
Leafs shifted to a more physical style, and general manager Pat
Quinn placed him on waivers. "I was in limbo for two days,"
Sullivan says. "I was thinking, No one's taking me. I'm going to
On Oct. 23, only hours before he would have cleared waivers and
been sent to the Maple Leafs' minor league affiliate, Sullivan
sat in his kitchen picking at his lunch. The phone rang, and he
steeled himself for the worst. It was Quinn. "When he said that
Chicago had taken me, it was like getting a new life," Sullivan
Lorne Molleken, the Blackhawks' coach at the time, gave Sullivan
regular ice time, and when Chicago acquired crafty center
Michael Nylander from the Lightning three weeks later, Molleken
paired them on a line. Sullivan and Nylander combined for 115
points last season and have continued to excel this year under
coach Alpo Suhonen. Through Sunday, Sullivan had 31 goals and 36
assists; Nylander had 22 and 34. "They're tough to shut down
because they feed off each other," says Detroit right wing
Darren McCarty. "Nylander passes so well, and Sullivan has great
That anticipation, along with a combination of straightaway speed
and darting quickness, makes Sullivan a scoring threat on open
ice. His league-best seven shorthanded goals include two in 51
seconds against the Avalanche on Jan. 26. Sullivan also showed
mettle after he got hit by a puck that broke his left ring finger
on Feb. 18 against the Kings. The next day, with the finger
painfully swollen, Sullivan set up a pair of goals against the
"He's achieved an identity as an exciting player in Chicago, and
we see him as a centerpiece in our rebuilding plan," says general
manager Mike Smith. "There will always be doubts about a little
guy playing at this level, but he's made me a believer."
No Longer on Thin Ice
As of Sunday, eight games after a Feb. 15 promotion from the
AHL's Quebec Citadelles to his hometown Canadiens, Francis
Belanger, a scrappy 23-year-old rookie left wing, was still
looking for his first NHL point in his role as a spot player.
Points or no points, the mere fact that he's in the league is
In July 1999, a year after he was drafted in the fifth round by
the Flyers, Belanger was driving a motorboat on a lake in
Kelowna, B.C., with fellow Philadelphia prospects Dimitri
Tertyshny and Mikhail Chernov. Tertyshny was kneeling on the
boat's bow when it hit a wave and he was pitched into the water.
He was struck by the propeller, which cut his jugular vein, and
was bleeding profusely when Belanger and Chernov pulled him back
into the boat. Tertyshny was pronounced dead at the scene.
Images of Tertyshny's death haunted Belanger for weeks. Belanger
started binge drinking, and at least partly because of that he
didn't get promoted to the Flyers over the next 18 months. "The
bar would close; they'd kick me out; I'd sleep for two hours and
go to practice," he says. "I was trying to forget." After the
organization released Belanger, he entered a rehab clinic in
Scranton, Pa. "My career was on the line," Belanger says. "My
Following 12 days of therapy he emerged sober and energized. He
skated and trained for five hours a day until the Citadelles
offered him a seven-game contract on Jan. 13. Belanger scored
eight goals in his first six games. After passing a detailed
psychological exam, he signed with the Canadiens and has
impressed management with his drive to make the most of his
second chance. He has limited, but not given up, his drinking,
and when Montreal is at home, he often eats quiet meals with his
parents, Gerald and Diane. "From where I was, this is a dream,"
Belanger says. "The hardest thing for a player to do is to ask
for help." --Brian Cazeneuve
Will They Be Survivors?
Injuries Rock Blues
The writhing is on the wall in St. Louis. Though the Blues were
only three points behind the Avalanche through Sunday in defense
of their Presidents' Trophy, St. Louis had dropped seven of its
last nine games, mainly because five key players were sidelined
with injuries. Last season's league MVP Chris Pronger (broken
left forearm) may return for the playoffs, but 1999 Norris Trophy
winner Al MacInnis (displaced ligaments in his left eye) isn't
sure he'll be back before next season. Top sniper Pavol Demitra
(deep cut in his right leg), No. 2 center Michal Handzus (torn
abdominal muscle) and all-world pest Tyson Nash (torn right ACL)
should return this month.
These setbacks may force G.M. Larry Pleau to be aggressive before
next Wednesday's trade deadline so that the Blues can hold on to
a high playoff seed in the Western Conference. "You might think
of trading for a higher-level player than you normally would,"
says Pleau, who's pursuing Coyotes power forward Keith Tkachuk.
In the season's first half St. Louis was a Stanley Cup favorite,
but it has lost that status as injuries have taken their
For the latest scores and stats, plus more news and analysis from
Michael Farber and Kostya Kennedy, go to cnnsi.com/hockey.
COLOR PHOTO: ROCKY WIDNER Having been waived by the Leafs last year, the 5'9" Sullivan now leads the Blackhawks in points.
COLOR PHOTO: J. MCISAAC/B. BENNETT STUDIOS
COLOR PHOTO: J. RUSSELL/B. BENNETT STUDIOS
WHOM WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE?
Drafted with the 18th choice in 1995, the 6-foot, 190-pounder had
28 goals this season through Sunday and 117 in his career. He
played a key role in the Devils' Stanley Cup victory last year.
Drafted with the 11th choice in 1995, the 6'1", 205-pounder had
24 goals this season and 115 in his career. With Calgary an
also-ran, he has not played in the postseason in four years.
The Verdict: Sykora is quicker and more consistent, but the
gritty Iginla could develop into a top power forward, so we'll