Saturday, March 31, 2012

Eriksson: Loui, Loui He's on a Roll

By Larry Wigge

Whether it's been Dave Tippett, Marc Crawford or Glen Gulutzan as coach of the Dallas Stars, each one of them came away with a quick reaction of sorts to leading scorer Loui Eriksson.

"He's sneaky," said Gulutzan in his first year of coaching in the NHL. "He's got that sneaky, smart way to fly under the radar because he is so cerebral ... and he does everything real well."

Loui Eriksson and his 26 goals and 44 assists, when he contributed two key assists in a 3-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers March 28. The totals gave him 70 points, reached the 70-point mark for the third consecutive season -- following years of 73 points and 71.

Truth be told, the instincts the Stars' amateur scouts saw in Eriksson were just part of his natural maturation process. The Goteborg, Sweden, native, was chosen with Dallas' second-round pick, 33rd overall, in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

The other day, Tippett, now the head man of the Phoenix Coyotes, remarked a conversation with American Hockey League coach Dave Allison, speaking of  prospects he should watch in the next training camp in 2006-07.

"I remember talking to Dave Allison early in the 2005-06 season and asking him which players caught his eyes," Tippett exclaimed. "He said, 'You're going to have to make room for Loui Eriksson pretty soon. With his skating and passing skills, he's like a big centerman.'

"I was caught offguard a little, because I thought Loui was pretty nondescript at the Stars training camp a few months earlier. But Dave insisted, 'He reminds me of Jere Lehtinen. I don't have a player any more consistent than Eriksson. You can put him on the No. 1 line or the checking line. He's very responsible defensively, but he makes an impact offensively -- finding ways to use his skating and shooting skills while going to the net.' "

Allison was right. Eriksson was a keeper.

"I remember telling him, 'Don't be satisfied with just being a solid player,' " Tippett recalled. "I told him, 'There are times in games where you can step up and be an extraordinary player. So, don't just hover around the perimeter. Go to the net, where you have to pay a price ... but you can elevate your game."

Message heard loud and clear. Suddenly, it was Loui Loui, he's on the go. Loui Loui, he's on a roll.

OK. So, I've taken liberties with the lyrics from the Kingsmen's 1955 hit song. But there's definitely a pretty good beat and harmony to the game Loui Eriksson these days. In fact, it's fair to say that he was the most unexpected 30-goal scorer in the NHL -- unless you talked to Allison.

Ditto for Crawford. As the warm Dallas sun beat down on the back of his neck before the Stars coach stepped into the team's practice facility for a little tour late this summer of 2009-10. But it wasn't the weather in Big D that first caught Crawford's attention.

"There were about a dozen or so players on the ice and one guy was about a mile and a half ahead of the rest," a wide-eyed Crawford said. "I looked at him a little closer and wasn't surprised that it was Loui Eriksson."

This season, Eriksson has made magic with center Mike Ribeiro and newcomer Michael Ryder, who was coming in from the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.

"Loui's smart and he never panics on the ice," Ryder recalled. "He always makes the right decisions and is really good at anticipating what is going to happen. He's a very smart player."

Eriksson remembers how close things can get at this time of the year. All the Stars had to do was win their final game to get into the playoffs. They lost to the lowly Minnesota Wild 5-3 on the last day of the regular schedule.

The loss still lingers in Eriksson's mind.

"It's not because of being in Dallas because back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, when they were winning the Stanley Cup here, guys like Joe Nieuwendyk and Brett Hull and Mike Modano were pretty well known," says Eriksson. "That's the kind of success we'd like to have.

"I think we have the team that might make some noise in the playoffs. But first we've got to see if we make them."

Another newcomer, Sheldon Souray, a defenseman, has lived on the edge throughout 13-year NHL career. Big shot, lot's of attention.

Gushed Souray, "How sick is Loui? Seventy-point seasons three years in a row. I'm glad he's on our side." 

The 6-3, 193-pound right winger is one of the genuine strengths Dallas has. He recently signed a four-year contract for $17 million.

You've got to remember, this is Big D, where the legend of the Texas Rangers signing Alex Rodriguez or Brett Hull or Terrell Owens makes the story of the development of a shy and skinny Swedish kid only a work-in-progress article. But, I think you'll agree, there's always room from a feel-good story that has this good-guy-makes-good-in-a-big-way theme.

"My dad always told me you start with small goals and then listen to other people who know more about the game than you do, work as hard as you can at the things that will make you a complete player and then have confidence that your drive will take you to your dreams," the 26-year-old told me. "Yeah, I was real skinny, but I was confident I had the skills to someday play in the NHL."

For me, when I first talk to a young player on the rise, I always want to get inside of him and see what makes him tick. One of the prime questions is: What obstacle did you have to overcome to get to where you are today? For Eriksson, that was the skinny. But the impetus, the drive began when he was 15 and his dad, Bo, a pretty good handyman for years was stricken with a brain tumor. Following the surgery the left side of Bo's body was left limp following the removal of the tumor.

"When you're young, you think you're parents are so strong, that there's nothing they can't do," Loui said, eyes wide open and focused on telling me how much his father fought through this affliction to continue working for Qunnila, a computer company in Goteberg. "Whenever I'm feel a little bruised or achy, a picture of my dad pops into my brain. Nothing stops him. He doesn't complain about what happened to him. He gets up in the morning like always and goes into work and fixes those computers."

Now, you see where that work ethic and drive that Eriksson shows on the ice each game comes from.

Eriksson may not have the bulldozer skills of Peter Forsberg, his favorite player growing up, but the impact Loui provided the Stars last season and is doing it again this season -- he can make all the plays, whether it be make or take a long stretch pass in stride for a break or use his stickhandling skills and creativity to weave through the traffic in front of the net to give the Stars another scoring opportunity.

"Loui is a lot like Jere Lehtinen," said Morrow. "He does a good job of complementing everyone."

And it all goes back to hard work and that smart and intuitive advice Loui got from dear old dad a long time ago.

You bring up Loui Eriksson's name to new GM Joe Nieuwendyk and he gushes, just like the three former Stars coaches did.

"He's such a gifted skater and hard worker. What's most important is knows how good he can be and how good he wants to be," Nieuwendyk added. "You notice first how smart he is. But the most important part is the determination and drive -- the fearless approach he show you -- and how he's not afraid to get to the dirty areas in traffic."

Like Marc Crawford said, he's about a mile and half ahead of a lot of other players in that regard.

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