Confidence guides Stars' Carbonneau

By Mike Heika, The Dallas Morning News, 6/3/00


Guy Carbonneau was sly dodging the question, kind of the same way he's sly on the ice.

Carbonneau was asked before Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals if he had asked Stars coach Ken Hitchcock about being used to check the New Jersey Devils' top line of Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott and Petr Sykora.

"It's tough on the road," Carbonneau said. "But I will when we go back to Dallas."

Carbonneau gave a little smile and walked off, content in knowing that the word had been sent out, both to Hitchcock and the Devils. It wasn't a challenge; it wasn't bragging. The 40-year-old center simply answered a question. Yes, he wants to check the Devils' best line. Yes, he feels he can do it. Yes, he'll make that request to his coach.

So, what else is new, he silently says with a shrug. What's it to you? he infers.

And that's why the NHL and the Stars might still get another year out of Carbonneau. That's why Stars fans love him so much. That's why every fan who gets the chance to watch Carbonneau work his craft in Dallas needs to be thankful for every chance there is to see the oldest player in the league.

Because Guy Carbonneau is worth it.

"He gives the line a lot of confidence just because he has a lot of confidence," said right winger Blake Sloan, who has spent the majority of the past two playoffs on a line with Carbonneau. "It gets you jacked up when he talks about wanting to shut down the top line. He wants a bigger piece of the game, so you want a bigger piece of the game."

Carbonneau is itching to do exactly what he did last year. That's when he was a spry 39-year-old and he told Hitchcock that he wanted the responsibility of checking Colorado's Peter Forsberg, maybe the most talented player on the planet. Stars center Mike Modano was having a little trouble spending all of his time on the ice chasing Forsberg around - and that allowed precious little time to create any offense for Modano.

So Carbonneau pitched the idea that he take care of Forsberg and let Modano get a chance to skate in the open ice. Hitchcock modified it to a tag-team event in which both Modano's line and Carbonneau's line took turns on Forsberg. And by the end of the seven-game series, Modano and linemate Brett Hull had escaped long enough to score five points apiece and Carbonneau was a plus-2. It was hardly a knockout, but it was a subtle move that allowed the Stars to get the matchups they wanted.

"That's the kind of guy Carbo is - he wants the biggest challenge, he always wants to prove himself. And that's why he's made it so long in this league," Hitchcock said. "He just has the ultimate confidence that he can shut anyone down."

And why not, he's done it before. Carbonneau asked for the same treatment in the 1993 playoffs when a kid named Wayne Gretzky was coming off a five-point performance in Game 7 of the conference finals and was all set to lead the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup against Carbonneau's Montreal Canadiens. But Carbonneau tightened the screws, Gretzky was held to two goals, and the Canadiens had another Stanley Cup.

"That's something that has really kept me going," Carbonneau said. "I don't think it's cocky; I think it's confidence. I think if you don't believe in your heart that you are better than the guy across from you, then you shouldn't be on the ice."

Carbonneau believes. He always has. That's one reason he is one of the finalists for the NHL's Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. The inscription on the award is: "To the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportmanship and dedication to hockey." That's Carbonneau's career in a neat package, the kind of player who demands respect, the kind of player who often gets what he wants.

So don't be surprised if Jason Arnott gets a little dose of Carbonneau on Saturday. "Grandpa," as his teammates call him, has already filed his request.

"I don't think we can keep Carbo out there all game, but I think you'll see we use him differently at home," Hitchcock said. "He lets us know what we can do."