Wed, May 28, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Teams trade their way into Stanley Cup finals

AP , EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY

While the New Jersey Devils were still smarting last summer from a rare early playoff exit, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks were looking to change their losing image.

A bi-coastal trade did so much for both teams, they will meet for the Stanley Cup.

The Devils had finished the previous two seasons in the Stanley Cup finals -- winning once -- before being knocked out in the first round in 2002. The Mighty Ducks were coming off their third straight last-place finish.

Neither club was happy, so they got together on July 6 and made a deal.

New Jersey sent Petr Sykora and three others to Anaheim for forward Jeff Friesen and Ukrainian defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky. The departure of Sykora was a clear signal that major changes were necessary to build the Devils back into a champion.

"It feels very special to play against the team you got traded from," Sykora said Monday, the day before Game 1. "It's a weird feeling. If anybody told me before the season started we're going to be sitting here right now, I wouldn't believe him."

Sykora was the second part of the "A" line, the key to New Jersey's championship three years ago, to be traded. Jason Arnott was sent to Dallas, leaving only Patrik Elias.

Sykora wasn't just any player to put on a Devils sweater, he was part of the fabric that made them winners.

In Game 6 of the 2000 finals, Sykora was felled by a hit from Dallas' Derian Hatcher and removed on a stretcher. He was taken to the hospital, and wasn't on the ice to celebrate when Arnott's goal in double overtime returned the Cup to New Jersey.

When the trophy was given to Elias, he had the jersey of his Czech linemate and close friend draped over his shoulder. They still talk about once a week.

Bryan Murray was only two months into his job as general manager of the Mighty Ducks when he pried away Sykora. It was his third major move to upgrade the club, following the hiring of coach Mike Babcock and the signing of center Adam Oates.

"We knew what kind of player Petr was," Anaheim forward Steve Rucchin said. "He scored a lot of big goals and he's been a huge part of this team.

"From their end of the deal, they've gotten some good things out of their players, too. It's good to see that it's worked out good for both teams."

Ducks captain Paul Kariya said Sykora fit in right away.

"He's fantastic in the locker room and great to hang out with," Kariya said. "It took him probably a month or so to get used to the travel on the West Coast and to get used to our style of play.

"Once he adjusted, down the stretch, he was just incredible for our hockey club."

Friesen said he went through a bit of an adjustment period once he joined the Devils. But it was smoothed by playing on a line with Joe Nieuwendyk, another outsider who came to New Jersey for Arnott. Friesen scored 23 goals in the regular season and has added five in the playoffs. His goal with 2:14 left in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Friday night was his third game-winner of the series.

Tverdovsky was plagued by injuries that limited him to 50 games in the regular season. He was scratched for the final six games of the conference finals.

New Jersey

The Devils almost didn't make it to their third finals in four years, but they held on to beat Ottawa in seven games after taking a 3-1 lead in the East finals. They have given up more than three goals just twice in 17 playoff games this year.

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