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|21 октября 2006
Ozolinsh back after knee, head rehab // Newsday.
BY STEVE ZIPAY
GREENBURGH, N.Y. - For Sandis Ozolinsh, the long path back to the Rangers' lineup ends Saturday night in Toronto.
"I'm definitely excited," Ozolinsh, 34, said after practice Friday. "At the same time, a little cautious, nervous. I'm not gonna hide that. I want to go out and play solid hockey, play good defensively ... make better decisions."
Making good decisions initially wasn't a problem when the seven-time All-Star defenseman came to New York from the Anaheim Ducks at last season's trade deadline.
Ozolinsh started out well, especially on the power play, with two goals and nine assists in March. But April was a cruel month for the Latvian veteran, who was asked to play more defense in a new system with a balky left knee and some inner demons. The pressure built. In the playoffs against the Devils, he committed costly defensive blunders with foolish passes and mental errors and was booed mercilessly at Madison Square Garden.
The knee, Ozolinsh said Friday, "would give out once in a while, but it was really tough mentally. I never knew when it was going to go, so it was constantly on my mind. But it's no excuse. I did not play well."
After the costly gaffes leading to goals, "I knew I shouldn't do that, but I thought, 'Oh, it was just bad luck, bad luck, bad luck, it can't get any worse,"' he recalled. "Obviously, it can get a lot worse."
On the morning of May 3, Ozolinsh was arrested in White Plains on a drunken-driving charge after registering twice the legal limit in a field sobriety test. He was re-admitted to the league's substance-abuse recovery program, in which he had spent three weeks earlier in the season. On June 16, Ozolinsh pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of driving while impaired and paid a $300 fine.
Soon after, he had reconstructive surgery on the knee and, while rehabbing, re-evaluated his life and career.
"I had the whole summer to think about it - as awful as it was," he said. "I questioned whether I could play at all. First of all, I couldn't find out why I was making those mistakes; that was my biggest fault. I did not ask anybody and if somebody told me, it went right past me. It took a while after the season; I started looking back and stopped feeling sorry for myself and started looking at things in a different perspective."
Now pain-free and praised for his work habits by coach Tom Renney, Ozolinsh is penciled in for his season debut paired with Aaron Ward, with whom he briefly played in Carolina. "I certainly feel very comfortable putting him in," said Renney, who has developed a better rapport with Ozolinsh and has "erased the tapes [from last season]."
Inserting Ozolinsh into the lineup is just part of a major shuffle by Renney, who is concerned about the club's 3-4 record and lack of backchecking. He juggled lines and defensive pairings, moving left winger Martin Straka to center on a line with Petr Prucha and Jaromir Jagr; put center Blair Betts on a line with Brendan Shanahan and shifted center Matt Cullen to the wing; and dropped Michal Nylander to center a line with rookie Nigel Dawes and Jason Ward. Defenseman Marek Malik, who struggled against the Predators, will have root canal surgery and will not make the trip. Fedor Tyutin skated with Malik's regular partner, Michal Rozsival.
"We're on a reconnaissance mission here," Renney said. "We're trying to find our game, thinking what we've got to do to define ourselves again. Sometimes you can convolute that by making massive changes. At the same time, maybe it does give you the opportunity for some new life and new vigor and sort of get the guys' attention."
17 сентября. Ozolinsh facing several hurdles //
17 сентября. Ozolinsh facing several hurdles // Star-Ledger Staff