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Zholtok family values // Edmonton Sun
By ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun
The days after he'd been traded by the Montreal Canadiens to the Edmonton Oilers had been the worst of times for Sergei Zholtok, more trying than he'd imagined they could be.
Not because he was unhappy about being dealt by the Habs to the Oilers for Chad Kilger during his third season in Montreal after previous stops in Boston and Ottawa.
Not because, for awhile, with critics smirking the Oilers had done the impossible by losing a trade in which they got rid of the enigmatic Kilger, it seemed Zholtok's once-gifted hands had abandoned him and he might never score a goal again.
No, none of that.
The soft-spoken Latvian could live with his dumbfounding inability to score, with the nagging self-doubt and criticism, the many nights he spent in the press box.
What he agonized over most was living apart from his wife of 10 years, Anna, and sons Edgar and Nikita, the family he left behind in Montreal when the trade went down Dec. 18 - it was almost as if those hands of his were attached to his heart.
Reunited for a visit during the NHL's all-star break and with his family having joined him in Edmonton, Zholtok's been playing his best hockey since then, and it's no coincidence.
Some things you can't draw up on the chalk board.
"My family is back," said Zholtok, who had three assists in a 5-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings Tuesday, easily his finest night as an Oiler. "I saw my kids. I saw my wife."
When Zholtok, 28, flew to Montreal after the Oilers 3-2 win over Chicago Dec. 31, he hadn't scored a goal since the trade, a staggering span of 17 games. He had just two assists.
Since then, after several days spent back home, and with Anna and Nikita having arrived in Edmonton and Edgar soon to follow, Zholtok has a goal and four assists in the four games he's played.
"Right when we came back from the road trip, my wife and the baby flew here and they're staying with me," Zholtok said. "It's given me a lot of peace. That's what it is.
"My family has always been with me in North America, since 1992 when I came here. I've been married for 10 years now and it's a big part of my life. I'm older now, and I really appreciate my time with the kids. It's an important part of me."
ENDED HIS SLUMP
Zholtok, who scored a career-high 26 goals with Montreal last season, ended his slump -- 17 games with the Oilers and 22 overall since he'd scored for the Habs Nov. 25 - in a 3-3 tie with the Mighty Ducks in Anaheim on, fittingly, Valentine's Day.
"The thing about Sergei, and I tried to impress this on him, is that goals are going to come," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "It's just a case of going out and applying yourself each and every day and working hard. He's really done that.
"Now, he's starting to get rewarded around the net for it. It's just a product of that. I know that he's got skill. I know that he's got talent. That much is obvious. I don't know if he's re-dedicated himself, or whatever, but he's working hard each and every shift."
The goal in Anaheim was Zholtok's first in 81 days, a forgettable and lonely stretch. He played 13 games after the trade, then got a seat in the press box for one.
MacTavish dressed him again in St. Louis Jan. 18, a 4-1 loss in which the Oilers were awful, then pulled him from the lineup for three more games. Then, it was in for three and out for three more.
"He's really playing well right now," said MacTavish, who has refused to waiver in his belief Zholtok could contribute, despite opting to sit him at times. "He's skating well. He's going to open ice. He's making good decisions with the puck."
SOME DECENT OUTINGS
It's not as if Zholtok didn't have some decent outings even when he wasn't finding the net. But, that only goes so far. With Kilger off to a fast start in Montreal, Zholtok's confidence sagged.
"The main thing has been the coach's confidence in me," said Zholtok, who has seen regular duty on the power play. "I'm on the ice in all different situations.
"It's tough to get going in the middle of the season with a new team. It took me some time to know my partners, know the system, know the coaches. I'm not the kind of person who can change things so fast in my life."
Then, the trip to Montreal. Later, Anna and Nikita arrived, making the hotel suite he's staying in seem a little more like home. Edgar, in school in Montreal and staying with Zholtok's father, will be here in March.
"It's a good atmosphere here," Zholtok said.
"The team feels like a big, nice family. But, like I said, it's just taken me some time to adjust to this. The boys have been really helpful to make me feel at home.
"Sometimes, players get concerned when they're in the press box, not making the lineup.
'`They start looking inside themselves. I took some positives from it."
Zholtok, playing on a line with Rem Murray and Georges Laraque against the Kings, was unlucky not to have a goal or two to add to those three assists. Nobody is scoffing that GM Kevin Lowe got fleeced in the deal for Kilger any more.
The timing of Zholtok's re-emergence as an offensive threat, if he can maintain it, couldn't be better. The Oilers desperately need some scoring support for their first line down the stretch.
"I've missed some good chances," smiled Zholtok, who had a couple of prime cracks at Felix Potvin Tuesday.
"I heard from the boys they don't want to pass to me anymore.
"I wish I knew all the answers. I think confidence is huge for any NHLer. You get some points, you start making some good plays, you're skating well, the coaches trust you and they put you on the ice more. You're producing and it starts growing.
"There's a really thin line between playing well and not playing well.
'`I'm trying to take it a shift at a time, a period at a time, preparing myself for every game."
Score one for family values.
Страничка Сергея Жолтка на сайте
"Звёзды с Востока"
18 ноября. Honoring Zholtok's memory, one year after
his death - St. Paul Pioneer Press
11 ноября. Ex-Wild teammate returns home, recalls
Zholtok's death in Belarus // St. Paul Pioneer Press
11 ноября. Former Wild teammates Darby Hendrickson
and Sergei Zholtok had a tragic reunion in Latvia // Minneapolis Star
5 ноября. Zholtok's death has really hit home
// Providence Journal/Evening Bulletin
5 ноября. Вожак Латвии // "Спорт-Экспресс"
5 ноября. Сергей Жолток - смерть за 5 минут до конца
матча // "Спорт-Экспресс"
18 ноября. Honoring Zholtok's memory, one year after his death - St. Paul Pioneer Press
11 ноября. Ex-Wild teammate returns home, recalls Zholtok's death in Belarus // St. Paul Pioneer Press
11 ноября. Former Wild teammates Darby Hendrickson and Sergei Zholtok had a tragic reunion in Latvia // Minneapolis Star Tribune
5 ноября. Zholtok's death has really hit home // Providence Journal/Evening Bulletin
5 ноября. Вожак Латвии // "Спорт-Экспресс"
5 ноября. Сергей Жолток - смерть за 5 минут до конца матча // "Спорт-Экспресс"