- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2003

Only in Florida.
On Dec. 27, three days before the fan voting for the NHL All-Star teams closed, Florida Panthers defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh was in fourth place, more than 4,000 votes behind the player in third place.
At the same time, Panthers center Olli Jokinen wasn't even on the horizon, wasn't even listed among players receiving votes, wasn't even on the ballot.
Guess what? Ozolinsh will start on defense for the Eastern Conference. He not only vaulted from fourth to first, in a 24-hour period, he managed to accumulate 50,606 votes to finish nearly 8,800 in front of New York Ranger Brian Leetch, who had been holding a lead of about 18,000 votes.
Jokinen? He went from nowhere to 11th, picking up 18,000 write-in votes in a single day.
How could this be? Of course, South Florida has had ballot-counting problems in the past.
The Panther Booster Club had a contest among its fans with the winner receiving an autographed stick. Whoever filled out and delivered to the league the most votes for a Florida player or players would get the stick.
Two women, one of them a forensic scientist from Miami, filled out the 47,500 ballots that filled 19 cases, then had them authenticated and delivered to the NHL.
Fan balloting determines the starting six players for the Western and Eastern Conference teams, with league public relations and marketing people filling the rest of the slots on each team. Players usually receive sizable bonuses simply for making the team and more incentives if they are a starter.
The stuffing of the ballot boxes, documented in two South Florida newspapers and admitted by the individuals involved, calls into question the fan-voting concept. There have been similar incidents in San Jose and Detroit, but nothing came close to this example.
"It's an honor to be a starter," Ozolinsh said last night before acknowledging he was not having the type of season that an All-Star starter would be expected to have (7-18-25, minus-9).
"I'm not stuffing in the votes," said the defenseman when asked if it was fair to take the spot from somebody who deserved it, "so it's not up to me who starts and who doesn't start."
What could not be determined yesterday was the difference in last-minute votes received by Ozolinsh and Jokinen. The defenseman's name was printed on the ballot, so it was easy to punch out the tab next to his name, dangling chads and all, and send in votes for him, 47,500 of them from one voter. Jokinen's name was written in on the same ballots, but he received only 18,000 surprise votes.
There were some other lapses from the voters around the league. Vancouver's Markus Naslund, the NHL's second-leading scorer, and teammate Todd Bertuzzi, who is ranked fifth, were not among the top eight vote-getters in the Western Conference.
For the Washington Capitals, Jaromir Jagr will be an Eastern starter with 122,725 votes; Peter Bondra was ranked 16th among wings at 39,759. Olie Kolzig was ranked 11th among goalies, Robert Lang 15th among centers. Sergei Gonchar remains fifth among Eastern defensemen with a final vote tally of 78,555.

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