|STANLEY CUP HUNGER GRIPS HEDICAN
by Shawn Roarke, NHL.com Senior Writer
EDMONTON -- It's been a dozen years since the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup Final, ending more than 50 years of frustration for that franchise and its fans. The emotional seven-game triumph in 1994, clinched at home before an adoring crowd, was one of the true feel-good stories in sports during the closing decade of the 20th Century.
Bret Hedican never felt good about it, however. Today, he is veteran part of the Carolina Hurricanes team hoping to win its first Stanley Cup this spring against the Edmonton Oilers. But, back in 1994, he was a fresh-faced youngster, imported to Vancouver near the trade deadline to shore up that team's defense for a run at the Stanley Cup -- a run that ended that fateful June day at MSG.
The iconic picture of Ranger captain Mark Messier leaping for joy after present-day Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish -- then a center with the Rangers -- won a last-second faceoff in Game 7 to seal the taut, 3-2, Cup-clinching victory still haunts Hedican these many years later.
"I mean 1994, seventh game against the Rangers, I mean losing that game, I'll never forget it," said Hedican, now 35. "Obviously because of how awesome it was to be in that situation, in New York, in Madison Square Garden and in the seventh game Of the Stanley Cup.
"That always drove me in the summers to get back and maybe win a Stanley Cup someday. Those are the things that drive me, not the money, not the prestige, it's more the opportunity to have the opportunity to win an (Olympic) medal or, for sure, to win the Stanley Cup. Those are the things that keep me going."
That 1994 heartbreak must be quite the motivator, because, by most accounts, Hedican should not be playing in this 2006 Final series -- certainly not contributing at the elite level he has for the Hurricanes. He is playing near 23 minutes per game, the highest total among his team's defenseman, and has nine points and a plus-6 rating in 22 postseason games.
Even Hedican admits that he was never more unsure of his status as a hockey player when this year's training camp rolled around this fall.
Simply, his body had taken too much punishment. He had undergone surgeries on both knees and also suffered from a balky back. He finished the 2004 campaign in near-constant pain, taking pain-killing shots just to get on the ice in many instances. One of the best skaters of his generation, Hedican could no longer rely on his explosive attacking speed or breathtaking powers of recovery on the backcheck to define his game.
Playing 794 regular-season games and 83 more playoff games, like Hedican had by the end of the 2003-04 season, has a way of wreaking havoc with a man's body, said Hedican.
"Ultimately, it was the grind of the 82-game season and the playoffs and not really understanding what I could do to help combat, or really to solve the problems I had going on," said Hedican.
Hockey, for him, had devolved from the ultimate in pleasure to an unmitigated chore on most nights.
The long layoff before this year's training camp, because of the work stoppage that scuttled the 2005 season, left Hedican with a lot of time to think about his future. He admits that hanging up the skates was a major part of that thought process. He even began taking college courses to finish a business degree.
"I was going to retire," Hedican said. "I had had enough. My body was pretty banged up. My knees, I probably couldn't stand up on a stair without pain going through both my knees. I had just had enough of the grind and my body couldn't take it anymore."
For the most part, he suffered silently in pain. In fact, Carolina GM Jim Rutherford admitted he was taken by surprise when Hedican informed team doctors he was undergoing off-season surgery.
"I really didn't know about it," Rutherford admitted. "In his exit physical prior to the work stoppage, everything checked out fine, so it came as a surprise to us when we heard about it.
"So, what we did is we added a lot of depth on defense. As you know, we played seven defenseman this year. We were kind of preparing if somebody couldn't play, including him. But, you know, he came back and he's been a great player for us this year."
How could such a rehabilitation happen so quickly? Like most good fortune, Hedican stumbled across some people in native Minnesota that had the right answers. In this case, it was Denis Thompson, the developer of the ARP Protocols and the inventor of the ARP trainer.
Thompson is among the nation's foremost authorities on neurological muscle stimulation. His ARP Program features the ARP Protocols, the most comprehensive array of techniques and methodologies specifically designed to stimulate the nervous system to prevent injury, target injury at the source, accelerate recovery from all injury and surgery, keep athletes fresh and improve human performance.
Central to this process is the use of a machine that delivers DC electrical current into the affected muscle tissue and locates the problem area so specific corrective action can be taken.
"It solved my knee problems and my back problems," Hedican said. "Now, I can go out and skate with no pain in my knees and do the things I have been doing -- the things I could do 10 to 15 years ago.
"My poor wife, having to listen to me most days when I got out of bed. I really just kept focused and believed I could get through it. A lot of hard work paid off."
Not only has the hard work paid off personally for Hedican, who earned a berth on the 2006 United States Olympic Team; but it has also paid off in spades for the Hurricanes.
From an uncertain proposition at training camp, Hedican has arguably emerged as the team's best two-way defenseman. He plays on a the first defensive pairing with the physical Mike Commodore and sees time on both the power-play and penalty-killing units. Coach Peter Laviolette, the coach of Team USA at the Olympics, has developed an implicit trust in the veteran defenseman.
"He ended up being at training camp in great shape and has had maybe one of his best years," Laviolette said. "I didn't work with him for a long time in the past, but certainly right now he's at the top of his game. He's been there all year.
"He has been very consistent with his game and a valuable contributor to where we're at right now with the way he plays the game, his leadership on the ice, his experience, he's been to the Final. I think one of his biggest assets, especially the way the game is being played right now, is his speed and his ability to skate, get the puck, move it up to the forwards, contribute offensively and then, conversely, to be able to skate, to play defense and take away time and space.
In other word, Hedican is now playing like he did a dozen years ago when he fell a game short of claiming the Stanley Cup.
"He's another big reason why we're sitting where we are today," Laviolette said.
Now, however, Hedican hopes he is a big part of the Carolina Hurricanes sitting with the Stanley Cup in their possession come sometime next week.