Intensity keeps him on the ice

5/21/98

By Paula Caballero
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

IRVING -- By age 16, Guy Carbonneau had perfected the art of playing through pain, battling a dislocated shoulder in his first year of major junior hockey.

"I had to stick my shoulder back in every four to five games," the now 38-year-old Stars center said. "I played, iced it, and the next day I go back. "Now, if you don't feel pain, it's not normal."

Carbonneau tells the story with as much emotion as a loaf of bread. He demonstrates the proper way to shove a shoulder back into the joint as if it's as easy as snapping together Legos.

"I had screws put in," he said. "It doesn't bother me anymore."

He has no appreciation for your awe. He doesn't get it. He just wants to play hockey.

He's just your average 38-year-old centering a line with two fast, young Finns, preparing to check Sergei Fedorov and making up for Joe Nieuwendyk's loss by averaging five minutes fewer per game than 27-year-old Mike Modano.

No big deal.

Carbonneau shrugs his screw-filled shoulders at pain. At age. At big-money contracts.

And his old-time work ethic and pure love of the game serve as a testament to why a player more than a decade older than the NHL's best is still as good or better than the rest.

"To me, age is irrelevant," Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said. "You could be done at 30 if you lose that competitive instinct."

Carbonneau "stays for all the right reasons: because he's a competitive person. Money and the amount he gets paid is irrelevant to Guy Carbonneau," Hitchcock said. "That's why he's an older player who can survive in a young man's game."

Carbonneau, who scored 221 goals in 12 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens and is an 18-year pro, is playing in his 15th playoffs and working on his third Stanley Cup ring. Although his days as a 20-goal scorer might be over, he is hardly a paycheck player who skates three shifts a game when he's not a healthy scratch.

In fact, Carbonneau battles every day to dispel the notion that old means unskilled, that old means tired, that old means done.

"It's a pride thing," said teammate and longtime friend Craig Ludwig, 37. "You want to prove to management you can still play, that you're still excited about the game, and that you'll do whatever it takes to help the team win."

Carbonneau has done whatever it takes to make an impact on the Stars in the past two seasons. Veteran leadership is the most obvious part of his job, but it's far from everything. He ranked third in the NHL in faceoffs won during the regular season, winning 59.4 percent. He played in 77 games in the regular season.

In these playoffs, he has one goal and won 59 percent of his faceoffs. He has averaged 16.3 minutes per game.

"You have to prove yourself over and over again," Carbonneau said. "It doesn't matter what you did the year before. There's a young guy trying to steal your job like I did when I started.

"You fight one day, go to bed, and get up and fight again."

Hitchcock knows he can rely on Carbonneau to play nearly every game, every season. He has averaged 75 games per professional season, not counting the lockout of 1994-95. That durability means he can play hurt. Ludwig said that mentality was instilled when they were younger, and remains with them today.

Not playing is not an option.

Knowing how to pop your shoulder back in place is a necessity.

"We see people out with injuries we had a few years ago that we never even talked about," Ludwig said. "When we started, you were under a lot of pressure to keep playing. Guys would get on you if you didn't play. You had broken fingers, a broken hand and they stuck a needle in you and you played.

"[Carbonneau] has been doing that a long time."

With age comes wisdom. Carbonneau is a smarter player than he was in seasons past and knows how to avoid injury. Some of that is making adjustments to equipment. Some is staying in tip-top shape. Some is seeing the game.

"He knows where the traffic is, how to get in and out, and he knows how not to expose himself," Hitchcock said. "He's learned to survive. There are guys like that. Gretzky is the same way."

But even Wayne Gretzky isn't as good in the faceoff circle. His performance in a decisive Game 5 against Edmonton further illustrated as much when he won a big draw in the remaining seconds of the contest with a one-goal lead while the Oilers had an extra attacker.

"When he goes out there, he thinks in terms of winning," Hitchcock said. "He feels confident in himself and feels that we have confidence in him."

Against Detroit, Carbonneau will be centering the Stars' Jere Lehtinen and Juha Lind -- another example of Hitchcock's confidence in Carbonneau. Carbonneau is a steadying influence on younger players, particularly in the playoffs, his teammates said.

"He's seen a lot of different situations and played in a real, real tough city [Montreal] for 12 years," Ludwig said. "There's no more pressure put on a player than in that place. He brings that focus. He can calm people down."

Carbonneau said last season that this season would be his last. Now, as it has for the past two decades, retirement seems illogical.

"I still want to play, so I'm going to try one more year," Carbonneau said.

After 18 professional seasons of shouldering the load, why should he stop now?

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