Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Gaborik believes he can succeed in a small pond

By Larry Wigge

Would you rather be a small fish in a big pond .... or a big fish in a small pond?

Marian Gaborik gone full cycle going from Minnesota to the Big Apple back to Columbus.

He's achieved success in both arena, which can teach us something about ourselves and give us a chance to expand our skills. He scored 42 goals and 41 goals in three-plus seasons with the New York Rangers ... and he also had 42 goals with the Minnesota Wild in 2007-08.

So, at 31, how does he succeed in the little pond again?

Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen understood the scenario.

"When a player of Gaborik's caliber became available, we were quite excited about it," Kekalainen said. "This is an explosive player. We worked on it for quite a while. We're looking at this as a long-term solution, not a rental. He's under contract through next season, and we would like to see the relationship continue beyond that."

The Trencin, Slovakia, native, is like a will-of-the-whisp type of player. Explosive bursts. Unbelievable speed. And surprisingly elusive in close to the goal ... kind of an under-the-radar attack.

"I feel good," Gaborik said. "It's hard. Everybody goes through some bumps and bruises, but I feel fine. My shoulder is fine (after offseason surgery). I feel confident going to Columbus and helping that team make the playoffs."

Gaborik had to OK a no-trade clause in his contract. He said he talked by phone to Vinny Prospal and Artem Anisimov, before agreeing to the trade for center Derick Brassard, right winger Derek Dorsett and defenseman John Moore and a sixth-round draft pick in 2014.

For some reason, Gaborik had been in a two-goal in 22 games slump with the Rangers, in which he had nine goals in 35 games. In his first game with Columbus, he netted the game-winning goal on a goal-mouth feed from Anisimov in a 3-1 victory over the Nashville Predators April 4.

Marian had two key goal for the Blue Jackets in their first four games to go along with three assists.

Said Animinov, "A great scorer. He knows how to put the puck in the back of the net. He can beat you in so, so many ways. And when skates? Wooosh! He just goes. He's just gone."

Some say he uses his speed to part the ways of the defense.

"I think he backed off their defensemen through the neutral zone," Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "You watch the way they play, they have a tight gap. But the threat of his speed wide and the playmaking ability backed them off and opened up some space for us in the neutral zone.

"The other thing it provided was an intangible. It's confidence among our group, having a guy who is a threat to score a goal at any minute."

Now, the Columbus Blue Jackets have that intangible ... to get a goal at any minute.

"I am the fourth oldest player on the  team," Gaborik laughed. "Like Minnesota, there are a lot of small, fast forwards, who can turn a game around."

We're back to the small pond way of thinking with Columbus. But that's OK with Gaborik.

In his first eight seasons after being picked third overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the Minnesota Wild, the Trencin, Slovakia, winger had been wildly successful -- despite missing big portions of several season with hip and abdominal injuries. Still, he score 30 or more goals five times, including a career-high 42 goals in 2007-08. 

We first ran into Gaborik as he got off the bus at the 2002 All-Star Game. He was preparing to suit up for the YoungStars.

Several fans of the Wild asked for a photo of him. After the photo was taken, the fan's digital camera immediately displays the finished product, leading Gaborik to ask for a copy of the photo to send to his parents in Slovakia.

"You could see the 'Hollywood' sign on the mountain in the background," Gaborik says. "I have sent them photos of the White House, Liberty Bell, Niagara Falls and Gateway Arch, but I think they will like this one the best. I mean, how many times do you see that sign in a TV show or movie?"

Pavol Gaborik is in the furniture-making business back home in Slovakia. He still makes most the pieces by hand and sells them out of a little shop.

"Marian grew up playing hockey, but he spent just as much time creating art -- oil paintings, sculptures that are on display at home," Pavol said. 

So you've got not only a gifted skater, but much, much more in Marian Gaborik.

Former Montreal Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier once described him as, "Gaborik is like a Ferrari -- he's sleek and fast. He goes from a dead start to 60 mph faster than anyone in the game -- and he's got the hands to be one of the game's best playmakers."

While growing up in his native Slovakia, Gaborik idolized international stars Peter Stastny, Peter Bondra and Pavel Bure. But even if a player has the skills of Bure and comes from a foreign land, success isn't a given.

"It's like being in school," says Jaromir Jagr. "You be quiet and listen and learn. You can't be confident in your skills because you are not totally confident in how you act."

Gaborik was aimed in the right direction by the Wild, which tried to help him through the cultural transition. He says, however, a lot of his comfort level came from watching movies.

"Jennifer Lopez's parents learned English in the movie The Wedding Planner by joining a Scrabble club," Gaborik says. "I just watch the movies to learn ... to help me become more comfortable with the language."

Now it's Gaborik who is becoming the celebrity. His maturity is evident in how he approaches the game. He's a thinking-man's player, whose 6-1, 200-pound size doesn't hurt in the physical NHL game.

"Gaborik sees the ice and reacts to a potential play like a veteran," said former coach Pat Quinn says. "He no longer plays like a kid. He makes all the plays that a Mario Lemieux or Jaromir Jagr does."

Marian Gaborik is now 31-years-old. He still has the creative mind of an art major and that of a quality goal scorer.

Now, if only the Columbus Blue Jackets can harness that for Gaborik ... well, that will be quite a fit.

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