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|25 сентября 2007
Ozolinsh sets about breaking bad habits // San Jose Sharks Medianews
By David Pollak
SAN JOSE -- For Sandis Ozolinsh, it has been a year to break bad habits.
First, he had to confront the alcohol issues that have haunted him throughout a 15-year NHL career, issues that have brought the veteran defenseman full circle back to San Jose for a tryout with his first NHL team. He has been helped by the league's substance abuse program.
"That was a big turnaround this summer and I'm finally comfortable with what I am and what has happened," said Ozolinsh, 35. "I actually feel pretty good and I do what I have to do and I do what I was advised to do. And I do it for myself and not for anybody else."
Then, Ozolinsh got serious about another problem -- physical conditioning. He hired a personal trainer and eventually took on the challenge of a personal triathlon -- swimming, biking and running throughout his suburban Denver neighborhood as his wife and children followed behind in the family car.
"I'm really pretty proud of it," Ozolinsh said. "I finished the distances and I was paying the price after I finished. I stopped and thought about it. ... It was a long period of time since I had done something to the point of exhaustion."
It has been 15 years since Ozolinsh arrived from Riga, Latvia, for his first training camp with the Sharks.
He was 20 and taking his first step toward becoming a seven-time NHL All-Star as an offense-first defenseman. An important cog in the Sharks' initial playoff run in 1994, he set what remains as the franchise record for goals (26) and points (64) from the blue line. But in October 1995, the Sharks had a chance to acquire Owen Nolan from the Colorado Avalanche and Ozolinsh was sent packing; that spring, he scored 19 points in 22 playoff games as the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup.
More trades followed. To Carolina. To Florida. To Anaheim, where in the NHL's post-lockout era he was labeled an overpaid underachiever and sent to the New York Rangers in March 2006.
Things didn't go well in New York as Ozolinsh's style did not match the Rangers' approach. In that spring's playoffs against New Jersey, the Madison Square Garden crowd booed him mercilessly.
Last season, the Rangers demoted him to the minors after 21 games, but he refused to go.
There had been trouble off the ice as well.
In May 2006, he was arrested in White Plains, N.Y., and charged with driving while intoxicated. That brought a second stint with the NHL's substance-abuse program for a problem that surfaced when he was with the Sharks. In November 1994, Ozolinsh was arrested on Highway 87 just south of downtown San Jose and faced similar charges.
Ozolinsh takes a matter-of-fact approach to his past and why he thinks his current rehab program, meetings and all, will work this time.
"I hope I've matured a little," Ozolinsh said. "You learn from experience -- sometimes faster, sometimes it takes a little more time."
The Sharks flew to Calgary on Monday for tonight's exhibition game against the Flames, but Ozolinsh wasn't on the plane.
He's ineligible to play in any exhibition games -- another consequence of his participation in the league's substance abuse program. Until Oct. 10, all Ozolinsh can do is practice.
That doesn't trouble Sharks general manager Doug Wilson.
"You get to see him in practice and we practice at a pretty high pace," Wilson said. "What he's accomplished in this league, it's not like he's a young player and you don't know if he's capable."
So far, Ozolinsh has been working hard, a continuation of the renewed work ethic that began last summer when he hired his personal trainer.
"My motivation was pretty low," Ozolinsh said. "Once I'd get to the gym, it's fine. But getting to the gym was a problem. You know, 'I'll watch another hour of news, I'll have another cup of coffee.'"
Ozolinsh, recognizing the new emphasis on speed in the NHL, wanted to change his routine from weight-lifting to condition training.
The move paid off. Skating laps after one recent series of drills, for example, he had a little extra jump in his stride as he passed several potential teammates.
At least one is ready to welcome Ozolinsh to the roster.
"I knew how good a player he is by playing against him," goalie Evgeni Nabokov said, "but you never really realize how good he is until you practice with him and see how he reads the play and how he skates and how he handles the puck and how hard of a worker he is."