- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 29, 2004

TAMPA, Fla. — Three months ago, Chris Simon was a New York Ranger and apparently destined to miss the playoffs for a third straight year. Tonight he’ll skate for Calgary as the surprising Flames welcome the Tampa Bay Lightning for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Simon, 32, insists it’s just a coincidence that he’s a Flame and they’re in the finals for the first time in 15 years. After all, Calgary upset Vancouver and Detroit in the first two rounds as he played in just three of the games before injuring a knee.

“Hockey is such a team sport that I don’t think you can give too much credit to any individual player,” Simon said. “We’ve made it here with a lot of teamwork, a good system and goaltending. If you want to pick one guy, look at [goalie Miikka] Kiprusoff.”

Indeed, Kiprusoff, Hart Trophy candidate Jarome Iginla, two-way center Craig Conroy, clutch scorer Martin Gelinas and defensemen Robyn Regehr and Rhett Warrener are all more critical than Simon to Calgary’s chances of becoming the first Canadian team in 11 years to hoist the Cup. However, Calgary, just seven games over .500 before acquiring Simon, went 8-3-2 with him down the stretch (he missed two other games while serving an NHL suspension). So the Flames know the 6-foot-3, 232-pound left wing has had an impact.

“Si sets the tone for us,” Conroy said. “He’s going to be physical and aggressive.”

Only 20 active players have more career penalty minutes than Simon’s 1,596, and all but one of them have played more games. Only Los Angeles’ Sean Avery had more penalty minutes this season than Simon’s 250. Simon, a native Ojibwa who has dumped his previous long-haired and close-shaven looks for a Mohawk, is also first with 72 penalty minutes in the playoffs after being tossed from Calgary’s 4-1 loss in Game2 for instigating a scuffle with Tampa Bay bruiser Andre Roy.

But Simon’s hands aren’t just for fighting. His deft wrist shot has been largely responsible for his 125 career goals, including a personal-best 29 for Washington in 1999-2000 — the only season in a three-year stretch that injuries and suspensions didn’t keep him out of at least 40 games. And although he has played in just 11 of Calgary’s 21 playoff games, only first-liners Iginla, Gelinas and Conroy have more goals than Simon’s four.

“Si brings something that not a lot of players can,” said Washington goalie Olie Kolzig. “He’s intimidating and one of the biggest guys in the league, but he’s also got terrific hands and a great shot. Si’s one of those players who can put you over the top.”

Simon does have a knack for being part of a winner. He won the Cup with Colorado in his first full NHL season (1996), returned to the finals in his first full season with the Capitals (1998) and is now in his third finals for a Calgary team that hadn’t even made the playoffs the previous seven seasons. The Avalanche hadn’t won a series in nine years before they won the Cup. The Caps had won a lone series in six years before their finals.

“The camaraderie and the locker room have been the same on all three teams,” Simon said. “Each guy will do anything for a teammate and all three teams have had great captains, Joe Sakic in Colorado, Dale Hunter in Washington and Jarome here. When I came here, I was really excited because I knew they were making a push for the playoffs, and once the playoffs start, you never know what’s going to happen. You’ve got to get the bounces and work hard.”

Simon overcame his dangerous penchants for beer and bar fights in his tiny hometown of Wawa, Ontario, through hard work on the ice. He found his salvation in hockey.

“I love this game,” Simon said. “It’s in my blood. My grandfather played. My father still plays. They’re going to have to take my jersey away from me to get me out of this league.”

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