Steve Sullivan

PHT Time Machine: Karma bites fan who mocked Steve Sullivan

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Throughout the season we will be taking an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back to when a fan mocked Steve Sullivan for getting hit in the face by a high stick … and was then later hit in the face by a puck.

With the Chicago Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche facing off on Wednesday Night Hockey (watch live on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET) we are hopping in the ole time machine to take a quick look back at the most absurd moment to happen between these two teams. Yes, it’s the Steve Sullivan fan incident from Jan. 26, 2001, when a heckler in the stands ended up getting a taste of his own medicine.

Chapter 1: The matchup

During the 2000-01 season the Blackhawks and Avalanche were two trains going in two very different directions.

The Blackhawks were stuck in the middle of the most irrelevant stretch in franchise history and looking completely hopeless. It was an impossibly bad 10-year run where they made the playoffs one time, were in the process of ruining the relationship with fans, and were on their fifth different head coach in four years.

The Avalanche, meanwhile, were one of the elite teams in the league. They had an All-Star laden roster that was five years removed from a Stanley Cup, had been in the Western Conference Final three more times since then, and were on their way to winning a second Stanley Cup a few months later.

It was a mismatch, and the game started exactly as you would expect with with the Avalanche racing out to an early 3-0 lead.

Chapter 2: Steve Sullivan gets high-sticked

It was at that point, midway through the second period, that an otherwise random high-sticking incident took place involving Sullivan and Avalanche forward Alex Tanguay.

As Tanguay attempted to clear the puck out of the Avalanche zone, his stick inadvertently clipped Sullivan in the face leaving a cut on the bridge of his nose. When Sullivan skated back to the bench, slumped over and in pain with a towel to his face, a glass-banger in the front row decided to start heckling the injured forward.

It did not go unnoticed by Sullivan.

Steve Sullivan Fan Incident

Banging on the glass is annoying, but I’m not going to stop you.

If you want to try to heckle the other team, just keep it clean and within the lines of good taste. You’re the fan paying the money to sit in the good seats, do what you want (again, within reason).

A good rule of thumb, though, is do not mock the injured players.

Chapter 3: Sullivan gets some revenge on the scoreboard

Maybe he was feeling some extra motivation. Maybe it was some good luck. Whatever the case, Sullivan did his best to bring the Blackhawks closer on the scoreboard by scoring a pair of shorthanded goals against Patrick Roy on the same penalty kill to cut the deficit to 3-2 late in the second period.

Sullivan was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise bad Blackhawks team, finishing the season with 34 goals including a league-leading eight shorthanded goals.

A good way for a player to silence a heckler is to do something during the game that impacts the result. For a few minutes, it looked like Sullivan might be able to do that. But again, the gap in talent between these two teams was so much that not even two shorthanded goals in less than a minute were enough to swing the result in Chicago’s favor (the Avalanche went on to win 5-2).

Chapter 4: Sullivan strikes back

It turned out to the best way to get even for Sullivan in this case was simply the opportunity to return the favor.

With the second period coming to a close, Roy attempted to clear the puck off the glass and accidentally put it in the stands where it hit an unsuspecting fan in the head.

You will never guess which fan it ended up hitting.

In the video posted above, Sullivan points out that he didn’t realize what happened until teammate Tony Amonte pointed it out to him. Sullivan then skated over to the glass and shared some “choice words” with the fan who had done the same earlier in the period.

Probably the best part of the exchange is the fans wife/girlfriend/friend holding the towel on the fan’s head, laughing, and giving Sullivan a thumbs up.

You can see everything, as well as Sullivan’s commentary, in the video above.

For more stories from the PHT Time Machine, click here.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sullivan ‘99.9 percent’ sure he’s going to retire

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The 2013 season may have been the last for Steve Sullivan.

The veteran forward, who turned 39 in early July, said that while he’s not ready to officially announce his plans for the future, he’s very close to having reached a decision.

“I wouldn’t say 100%, but 99.9%,” he told the Timmins Daily Press about the possibility of retiring. “I’ve had an unbelievable run.”

Sullivan split last year between Phoenix and New Jersey — the Devils acquired him at the trade deadline — and he had a decent campaign, scoring 17 points in 42 games.

But with August creeping up and only “very informal” discussions with a few teams about employment for next season, Sullivan is ready to acknowledge his 17-year career could be coming to a close.

Sullivan appeared in over 1,000 NHL contests and enjoyed some banner seasons playing with Chicago and Nashville during the 2K era. He scored a career-high 34 goals with the Blackhawks in 2000-01 and, in the first year following the 2004-05 lockout, put up a 31-goal, 68-point effort in his first full season with the Predators.

(That’s not to say his half-season in Nashville wasn’t any good. After being acquired from Chicago during the 2003-04 season, he posted 30 points in 24 games.)

While he’s not looking to get into coaching anytime soon — “not a very stable position,” he says — Sullivan is hoping to remain active in the game.

“When the day comes, when we do announce the retirement, I definitely would love to stay in the game in some form, or fashion, for sure,” he explained.

Devils GM’s goal: sign major free agents before July 5

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One look at the New Jersey Devils’ salary structure and it becomes clear that GM Lou Lamoriello has a lot to work to do this summer. The long-time executive told the Bergen Record that the goal is to lock up a bevy of players before the free agent period kicks in on July 5.

“In my opinion, they have to be done before that,” Lamoriello said.

The Devils’ list of free agents is staggering. Here are some of the most noteworthy names:

Unrestricted

Patrik Elias
Dainius Zubrus
David Clarkson
Marek Zidlicky
Peter Harrold
Steve Sullivan
Alexei Ponikarovsky
Tom Kostopoulos

Restricted

Matt D’Agostini
Jacob Josefson
Adam Henrique
Andrei Loktionov

Lamoriello said that D’Agostini isn’t likely to be re-signed and the same is true for Sullivan (who is reportedly “mulling over” retirement). Ponikarovsky seems to be a lower priority consideration while he claims that all RFAs other than D’Agostini will be locked up.

It could be a bumpy offseason for the Devils, especially if they decide to make other decisions about their future. (Both of their aging goalies only have one more year left on their contracts, for instance.)

As far as the draft is concerned, Lamoriello said he’d prefer to land a scoring forward.

What does the future hold for small players?

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Like speedboats among freighters, the majority of undersized hockey players who made it to the NHL did so because they were quicker and more agile than their larger, more powerful counterparts.

But what does the future hold for those that hope to emulate the likes of Tyler Ennis, Jeff Skinner, Steve Sullivan, Cory Conacher, Brian Gionta, and Nathan Gerbe?

Because according to Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock, the freighters of the NHL aren’t so slow and cumbersome anymore.

“The difference that I’ve seen in the last three years is, all the big players can skate like the little guys,” said Hitchcock, per Sportsnet’s Mark Spector.

And as if that wasn’t troubling enough for diminutive types, at least one general manager believes the way the game is played (and called) has started once again to favor the bigger player, as it did before the 2004-05 lockout.

“When I took this job, we decided on a style of play that resulted in great success,” said Canucks GM Mike Gillis last week after his team was swept out of the playoffs. “And clearly, the landscape has changed and we have to address those changes. We don’t have a choice. It’s not something I necessarily agree with. But that’s what we face, and that’s what you have to do.

“We have to make the changes and adjustments necessary to compete for a Stanley Cup. It’s my intention to do it and recognize what’s going on and make sure we have a team that’s better equipped.”

Gillis knows better than anyone that the last two teams to win the Stanley Cup did it with size and strength, since both the Bruins and Kings beat Vancouver.

Not that Boston and Los Angeles are bereft of skill; obviously, they aren’t. But there’s no question they favor a heavier, more physical game.

The worry for Canucks fans is that Gillis is overreacting based on a small sample size. What if the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup this year? Chicago finished the regular season ranked 30th in hits. Patrick Kane isn’t a giant. Neither is Jonathan Toews. The ‘Hawks are a great team because they have the puck all the time, and they know what to do with it.

Of course, Kane was drafted first overall, while Toews went third. They aren’t your typical players. Nor, for that matter, is Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis, the league’s top scorer. The reason he’s such a great story is because not many small, undrafted players do what he’s done.

Perhaps Gillis feels that, absent a blue-chip draft position, getting bigger and stronger is his best option in an NHL where big and strong doesn’t have to mean big and slow anymore.

Ilya Kovalchuk returns to Devils lineup today

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Do the New Jersey Devils have another push for the playoffs left in them? We’ll find out this afternoon as they’re getting Ilya Kovalchuk back in the lineup against Florida.

Kovalchuk hasn’t played since suffering a shoulder injury on March 23 against those same Panthers and the Devils were worse for the wear because of it dropping 10 straight games following his injury. They broke their string of losses on Thursday night beating the Flyers 3-0. Coach Pete DeBoer says trade deadline acquisition Steve Sullivan will sit out to make room for him.

Even after missing 11 games, Kovalchuk is still second on the team in points with 27, just four behind Patrik Elias. What won’t surprise you is New Jersey’s offense has tanked out with him out of the lineup. The Devils are last in the league in goals scored with 99. And you wonder how they managed to lose 10 in a row.