2003 - 2004
June 5, 2004
Generals' Elich pulling for ex-teammates on Lightning
Matt Elich - Photo Credit: The News & Record
BY LARRY KEECH
GREENSBORO - It won't be easy for Matt Elich, watching Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals on television tonight when he knows he could be playing for professional hockey's championship.
At least the 26-year-old right wing, who spent most of the 2003-04 season with the Greensboro Generals, has matured enough to accept responsibility and express no bitterness for his absence from the Tampa Bay Lightning roster.
"Most of those guys have been my teammates," Elich said. "How can I not root for them?"
The Lightning was a four-year-old NHL expansion team when it selected Elich in the third round of the league's 1997 entry draft. After two more seasons in junior hockey and one with the Detroit Vipers of the International League, his exceptional skating speed earned him an NHL opportunity. He played eight games for Tampa Bay and scored a goal in the 1999-2000 season.
Elich played eight more games for the team in 2000-01 before spending the 2001-02 season in the American League. He has played for three ECHL teams in the past two years. He attended six straight Tampa Bay training camps before he was released last year. Elich is coming off a '03-04 campaign with the Generals that was the most productive of his pro career, with 18 goals and 28 assists.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay was building a team that made the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last year in the franchise's second playoff appearance. But even Elich was surprised to see his former team reach this year's Stanley Cup finals.
"All the winning ingredients were there, and they've come together at the right time," Elich said. "It's basically the same team that has been there for several years, so it means something to me that I was part of it."
In Elich's opinion, the Lightning turned the corner when it signed Dave Andreychuk, a 19-year NHL veteran left wing, before the 2001 -02 season. Now in his 22nd season, Andreychuk is Tampa Bay's captain and remains a consistent, productive forward.
"We needed a Dave Andreychuk," Elich said. "His teaching ability, patience and professionalism transformed the locker room and the team. "You could see the pieces begin to mold together."
Elich believes his former immaturity and stubborn nature are the reasons why he isn't enjoying the Stanley Cup experience firsthand with his ex-teammates. He says he relied too heavily on his offensive talent without paying enough attention to the defensive requirements of the job. He began trying to mend his ways and rebuild his reputation during the past season in Greensboro in hopes of eventually getting another shot at the NHL.
"I don't know where my playing career will take me next season," he said. "It might be a higher level or Europe, or I wouldn't mind coming back to Greensboro. But I'm sticking with it."
Contact Larry Keech at 373-7080 or firstname.lastname@example.org
STANLEY CUP FINALS
Tampa Bay vs. Calgary
Calgary leads serIes 3-2
All games on WXLV-45
Game 1: Calgary 4, Tampa Bay 1
Game 2: Tampa Bay 4, Calgary 1
Game 3: Calgary 3, Tampa Bay 0
Game 4: Tampa Bay 1, Calgary 0
Game 5: Calgary 3, Tampa Bay 2 (OT)
Today: at Calgary, 8
Monday: at Tampa Bay, 8-x