December 28, 2008 in Sports

Conklin a fixture outdoors

By IRA PODELL Associated Press
 

If teams are looking for a chance to play outside and make a run at the conference finals, they should turn a watchful eye toward journeyman goalie Ty Conklin.

Conklin found his latest home with the Detroit Red Wings, signing a one-year deal this summer worth $750,000. The defending Stanley Cup champions are Conklin’s fourth team in five seasons. Three of those clubs have played NHL outdoor games and reached the league’s final four in the playoffs.

“I think probably the last outdoor game I played before Edmonton, I was probably a Squirt or something. A Squirt or a Mite,” he said.

He has plenty of pro experience out in the elements now.

Conklin played in the original outdoor contest when he suited up for the Oilers in the “Heritage Classic” in Edmonton, Alberta, in 2003. He got all the way to the Stanley Cup finals with the Oilers in 2006.

After a brief stop with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who didn’t play outdoors or reach the conference finals, Conklin moved on to the Buffalo Sabres. They, too, played for the chance to reach the Stanley Cup finals and were picked to host last season’s “Winter Classic.”

Conklin had left Buffalo by the time that game was staged on New Year’s Day, yet he landed with the Pittsburgh Penguins – the Sabres’ opponent on that snowy day – who advanced to the Stanley Cup finals in the spring.

Now that he is with the Red Wings, he will be outside in the cold again at Chicago’s Wrigley Field when Detroit takes on the Blackhawks on Thursday. .

It will likely be warmer at the Friendly Confines next week than it was on that frigid day in Edmonton.

“It’s a lot easier to play when it’s not minus-20,” the Alaska native said.

Second helpings

Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews doesn’t believe in the sophomore slump.

After leading NHL rookies in goals last season and finishing third in points among first-year players, Toews is ready for more. Sure, it took until his 13th game this season to net his first goal of the season, and he just got out of the second of two five-game droughts. But he entered the Christmas break with nine goals and 17 assists in 31 games. Not too bad.

He was a runner-up last season to teammate Patrick Kane for rookie of the year honors after posting 24 goals and 54 points in only 64 games.

“I just believe it’s a mental thing that a player goes through himself, and that sometimes maybe other people convince him that that’s what he’s going through,” Toews said of this season’s struggles. “I had a slow start. Maybe I put a little too much pressure on myself and a lot of people maybe associated that with the captaincy. Obviously, I denied that.”

Carter clicking

Jeff Carter started scoring early this season and hasn’t let up.

If anything, he is picking up the pace.

Carter scored six of his NHL-leading 26 goals in Philadelphia’s first eight games – never netting more than one in any contest. He has been just as hot lately.

As Carter stakes his claim for a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star game, he is finding the net more and more. He scored eight goals in the nine games before this week’s break, pushing in front of Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek for the league lead in goals.

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