- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2001

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. The 10th pick in the 1989 NHL draft, Bobby Holik arrived in Hartford at 19 as the young talent who could turn the struggling Whalers into winners.

Twelve years later, the Whalers are long gone from Hartford and Holik has never been even a 30-goal scorer, but he's certainly a winner. The 30-year-old Czech center is a big reason why the New Jersey Devils can win their second straight Stanley Cup and third in seven years in Game 6 of the finals tonight against the Colorado Avalanche.

The Devils had been outplayed in the first three games of the series and trailed 2-1 when coach Larry Robinson assigned Holik to shadow Avalanche standout Joe Sakic. The likely Hart Trophy (MVP) winner had three goals and two assists before that but has managed just one assist in the two games since.

"I made a mistake by not doing it earlier," Robinson said. "Bobby reacts very positively when given a challenge. That's when he plays his best. It seems he has elevated his game."

Sakic isn't the first superstar to feel like the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Holik was an unwanted dance partner with a nasty streak and the mouth to match.

Holik hounded Pittsburgh superstar Mario Lemieux into a weak one-goal, three-assist performance in the Eastern Conference finals. This came after he led the Devils with eight points in the first round against Carolina and drove Toronto coach Pat Quinn crazy with his physical style in the conference semifinals.

With 16 points, Holik ranks only eighth in the playoff scoring race and fourth on his own team, but he's being seriously mentioned as the possible winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' MVP.

"Bobby contributes in a lot of different ways," said Devils captain Scott Stevens, last spring's defensive-minded Conn Smythe winner. "The first series, he scored a lot of points. The last two series, he's been more of a checker. Bobby does a great job at whatever he's asked to do. He does whatever it takes to win even if that means sacrificing in certain areas of his game."

Holik, whose father, Jaroslav, was a star in Czechoslovakia, said he doesn't care about the individual acclaim.

"I don't look at it as playing defense," Holik said. "I generate as many chances playing against the top lines as I did when I was playing against the third or fourth lines. If you play smart, you'll get your chances to score. The kick isn't stopping these guys. The kick is what it results in winning. That's what team sports are all about. As you mature, you realize you have to sacrifice for the team to win. You develop a certain identity, and you go with it. My father played the same way."

Holik didn't play this way in Hartford, but he did score 88 points with a plus-1 defensive rating in his two years there before the Whalers dealt him to the Devils for holdout goalie Sean Burke in 1992. Holik wasn't to blame for Hartford's failure to win a playoff series.

"Any 18- or 19-year-old rushed into an organization that is struggling is seen as the savior, and that's unfair pressure," Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "You can't live up to that. When anything goes wrong, they look to him as the reason, as an excuse.

"You don't find a lot of kids who are as talented as Bobby was and built like that. He also had the bloodlines. His dad was a very heady player, and you don't forget your roots. Bobby just had to find his niche. He was a big part of our "Crash Line" [with fellow hard hitters Randy McKay and Mike Peluso] in 1995. That line was critical to our success. Bobby did well when we moved him to wing for a couple of years, and he has had exceptional years the last two years. Bobby has matured. Larry has relied on him more than in the past."

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