Rambler's Top100

5 2002 . 
zolinsh a good bet for All-Stars

By Michael Russo

SUNRISE When Sandis Ozolinsh realized that the Panthers were hosting this season's All-Star Game, he kiddingly told his wife, Sandra, "Maybe we better rent."

Twice before in Ozolinsh's career, he had played on a team that was about to host the All-Star Game. Both times -- once with San Jose and once with Colorado -- he was traded and had to return to that city to play the game in another uniform.

But come February, Ozolinsh should be representing the Panthers in front of his hometown fans in his seventh All-Star Game. The offensive defenseman has fans throughout North America and his native Latvia, so he could be voted to start for the sixth time.

"I have the luxury of people voting for me from two countries," the humble Ozolinsh said, accompanied with his typical smile. "With the help of the Internet, maybe people are stuffing the ballot box."

Of course, Ozolinsh was also popular when he played in San Jose and Colorado, so he still gets a lot of votes from those fans.

"It's fun to play in the All-Star Game," he said. "It's always an honor to participate. I remember my first game [at Madison Square Garden in 1994]. I was a nervous wreck. ... It's a good time."

Ozolinsh is having a much better time playing in Florida compared to his old team, Carolina. He's averaging 29:31 a game, second in the NHL, compared to limited action he saw with the Hurricanes.

He's tied for second among defensemen with five goals and tied for sixth with 19 points. He scored 10 goals and 29 points in 37 games after his arrival last season, a pace of 22 goals and what would have been a league-leading 64 points over an 82-game season.

But, he says, "You cannot really judge anything by last season's results. I had a good emotional boost coming from Carolina where I was playing 17, maybe 20 minutes a night to coming here playing 30 minutes a game.

"That really gave me a lot of confidence. I had more confidence with the puck and really took the initiative to play the game."

But coach Mike Keenan is confident with Ozolinsh on the ice both in the offensive and defensive end.

"He logs a lot of ice time and plays a lot of important roles besides special teams," Keenan said. "He's always up against the best players from the opposition, and he's our only defenseman we have that can do that on a regular basis.

"He reads the play so well. The thing that sets him back most is he's most critical of himself than anyone. Offensively, he has all the skills in the world. We'd like him to stay away from his own self-analysis because he doesn't play as well when he's down on himself."

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24 . Phobia may keep Ozolinsh from captaincy - Sun-sentinel

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23 . Ozolinsh relishes ice time // Miami Herald 


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