By Larry Wigge
The clock was ticking.
In an instant, Sheldon Souray wound up, flexed his muscles, and let a slap shot fly from just inside the blue line.
There was just 2:08 left to play. It was just like the Elk Point, Alberta, native, had willed his way into this position. Well, that slap shot beat Chicago Black Hawks goaltender Ray Emery for a 2-1 victory and Anaheim's veteran defenseman had used his big shot once again to score the winning goal.
Whoosh. Instantly. That's how easily Souray can make a game. The 36-year-old, 6-4, 237-pound, defenseman can make a puck act like a stealth weapon.
To Anaheim fans, the only thing they've seen similar to it is a Nolan Ryan fastball.
Velocity equals instant impact. It's an interesting study in quantum reaction -- and it's also the way opposing goaltenders look at how scary those 90-plus mph shots are that might Ducks defenseman Souray delivers with regularity.
"It's just plain lethal," is how former Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said of Souray's slap shot. "But don't be confused about Sheldon. He provides more than just a big shot. He's big and strong and nasty to play against. He makes an impact that way, too."
Said Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, "It's hard. He has such an easy motion. Even when you know it's coming, you have a clear look at him, you think you see the puck and then ... it's by you."
Souray once scored 26 goal for the Montreal Canadiens in 2006-07 -- and had 23 goals another season for Edmonton in 2008-09. But that was then and this is now. He's played in the NHL for 13 seasons, starting with the New Jersey Devils, he has also played for Montreal, Edmonton, Dallas and now Anaheim.
There was a time when he thought his career was over in 2010-11, when his contract in Edmonton outweighed his performance and he cleared waivers and played the entire season with the American Hockey League Hershey Bears.
Then he signed a one-year contract with Dallas as a free agent. Again, his time apparently had run out as he became a free agent again last summer. Lo and behold, Souray signed a three-year, $11 million contract with the Ducks.
This deal feels like home for Souray, because his former wife Angelica Bridges shares custody of his two daughters Valentina (nine) and Scarlett (six). She is a actress living in Hollywood.
"I felt as a father, I had come home again," Souray said. "I could spend time with my daughters. When I'm at home, I could drive them to school.
"Personally, my kids and I had spent the summer with them since 2000. ... You don't know how that feels to be with them so much more."
And the Ducks.
"If the team wasn't a good fit, I would have gone elsewhere," said Souray. "Now, I have three kicks at the can with the Ducks.
"My career has gone full circle, from being a ruff and tumble defender to scoring some goals and then back to defense. Here, I'm a shutdown defenseman, along with Francois Beauchemin we like the responsibility of playing against the top line every night."
Now, the scoring, he has seven goals and 12 assists in 33 games following the March 29 victory over Chicago.
Souray was a third-round pick, 71st overall, in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft by the Devils. He always had a good shot, but he never realized how good it was until 2001-02, when he played in only 34 games with Montreal.
"I remember sitting in the pressbox and hearing some of the scout talking about how much my shot was missed, when I broke my hand," Souray recalled. "I missed a whole year and I had to relearn.
"But hearing those scouts talk about my shot taught me a lesson. I always had a shot ... I just had to use it."
The shutdown Souray now had recorded a +10 rating in his last 11 contests following the March 29 game against Chicago -- and ranked tied for third in the NHL in overall plus/minus (+24) and in plus/minus on the road (+12).
"When you play with some of the best offensive players in the world guys like Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf, Cory Perry, Saku Koivu and Bobby Ryan, they don't need me," he said, shaking his head. "Only every now and then."
Said Ducks GM Bob Murray, "We attempted to get bigger and stronger on the back end -- and I think we accomplished that. We've added some character across the team."
Size and character plus: A big shot. Big impact on defense.
That's what Sheldon Souray to the Anaheim Ducks this season.