I loathe watching player interviews or post-game media scrums. By the time every professional athlete makes it as a regular pro they've been overly brainwashed in cliche so that they know exactly what to say at every point in the season.
Sure, sometimes interviews do provide a choice quote or some sport-poetry, but there are only so many times one can hear that "the guys worked hard tonight and made big plays when it mattered." You know it's got to the point of no return when 17- and 18-year-old kids are drafted by a f--n NHL team they are so well trained that they are able to stare down stardom, keep their composure and just say "I'm happy that organization with such great history wanted me."
The other night Lubomir Visnovsky was released from his professional tryout with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. It is now a likely possibility that the 39-year-old, who once scored 68 points in a season, has seen his last action as an NHLer. Despite being small, Visnovsky was an offensively-gifted defenseman who's skating and ability to move the puck made him an upper-tier rearguard for most of his career. What Visnovsky gave up in size and strength he made up for with his quick wits.
On Oct. 28 of last year the New York Islanders lost to the Winnipeg Jets 4-3 at Nassau Coliseum. They were nearing the end of an incredible October and it became one of those "this team had to lose sometime" kind of losses. The Isles fell behind in the game on the back of some weird goaltending and because Andrew Ladd must always score against us.
Despite the loss, that game had one of my favorite plays from last season.
The home team was down 3-2 a little over halfway through the second period. That dude Tavares had just scored to cut the lead in half and the crowd was ready to ride more early season magic.
The Jets tried to alleviate some pressure by flinging the puck up the boards but the clearance was suffocated by Visnovsky. He calmly settled the frisky puck and kept the play onside with a dart parallel to the blue line. This move left him susceptible to a heavy hit -- something Visnovksy is no stranger to -- but he knew this and was ready for it.
Visnovsky is a gem because he was a master of doing things that most defenseman wouldn't even be able to think of doing. When he was under pressure he did things that probably made forwards think to themselves, "that was the last thing I'd ever expect a defenseman to do in that situation." He was a high-risk guy, but he was so damn smooth about it that his high-wire act was pretty much encouraged.
As TJ Galiardi bombed towards the diminutive Lubo, the slick Slovak pulled off a last-millisecond pirouette - stuck the landing, and had the otherworldly wits about him to lay a perfect zone entry pass to Mikhail Grabovski, who beat Ondrej Pavelec.
Unfortunately this style of play comes with a caveat. Visnovsky has spent a lot of his career fighting off concussions from big hits. Tom Wilson's lick on Lubo in April, for example.
Should that hit be the last we see of the slick skating Slovak in the NHL, it is an unfortunate ending to a career that deserved more attention for a man that played an entertaining brand of hockey.
When the Isles made their move for Visnovsky it was seen a step towards win-now mode for a team mired in a rebuild. He had spent his entire career in the western part of the continent providing offense from the blueline in Edmonton, LA, and Anaheim. It speaks volumes of the type of athlete Lubo is when you consider the start to his Nabokovian Islander career:
Visnovsky's case was similar to Nabokov's, but with a few more twists and turns. He was in Anaheim doing what Lubo does for the Ducks. He came to Anaheim from Edmonton, despite having a no-trade clause. When the Islanders traded for the Slovakian puck mover, Visnovsky's agent, Neil Sheehy, had announced that his client was looking to reverse the trade because he thought his no-trade clause was still kosher. The league ruled in the Islanders' (and Ducks') favor and Visnovsky was now all ours -- or so we thought.
The timing of all this couldn't have been much worse, as the NHL was just about to enter into it's sickest tradition, the Once-Every-Decade Labor Dispute.
When it became clear that the lockout was going to extend well into the fall, players began moving around the globe to find work. Visnovsky returned to his native Slovakia, playing for Bratislava Slovan of the KHL -- his hometown team.
The lockout finally ended and players began making arrangements to come back to North America. One player who didn't do such a thing was Lubomir Visnovsky. Visnovsky refused to report to Long Island for the entire shortened training camp and the first few weeks of the regular season, all the while his agent claiming it had nothing to do with the Islanders.
He did finally come over and Islander fans were quick to forgive a slick defenseman like Lubo for wanting to keep playing for his local team. Since then Visnovsky has been great for the Nassaumen. Like Nabokov, he grew to love the place he once tried to avoid and even signed an extension -- imagine that!
Despite starting off on an odd foot, it took very little time for Lubo to endear himself to his teammates and Islander fans. He stabilized the defense by forming a fluid, possession driving partnership with Thomas Hickey and offered the team's power play with some imagination along the blueline.
While Visnovsky's style and effectiveness made it hard not to like him, his off-ice temperament made it impossible. In today's world of cookie-cutter interviews and PR staffers doing as much coaching as the actual coach - Lubo stood out in the best way possible.
When Lubo and the Isles couldn't come to terms on a deal and he signed that ill-fated PTO in Chicago, he didn't go the route of "it's a business and I am happy for the opportunity to try out for Chicago," no - he did what Lubo does best - he waxed:
"Wow, it’s the best team in the NHL," Visnovsky recalled thinking. "I want to try it. Why not? Look at this place. Look at the city; it’s unbelievable. It’s a hockey city, the fans are unbelievable, the team is — wow. Everybody loves to play with the puck and play an offensive style, which I like. It doesn’t matter how old I am. I’m here, and I’m going to enjoy it."
We wish you the best, Lubo.