Stealing the Spotlight
Thursday, 04.26.2007 / 12:00 AM / News
April 26, 2007
by Brian Wheeler
Adam Mair has always been labeled a grinder, workhorse or mucker. It's a distinction that he embraced early in his NHL career, but has never fully accepted.
So when head coach Lindy Ruff announced Mair was starting on a line with pivot Tim Connolly and winger Ales Kotalik prior to the first round of the playoffs, Mair took an opportunity on the biggest stage in hockey and is steadily becoming a supporting cast member who steals the spotlight.
The hard-nosed center has become Buffalo's quintessential example of players stepping outside their comfort zone and playing out of character.
"There is some recognition personally of the expectation for the line," said Mair. "When you go out with those players, you know you're expected to do more than just getting it deep and cycling the puck. You want to be a complete hockey player that is also contributing offensively when you can.
"We're looking to create scoring chances."
Contribute, he has. Create scoring chances? Yep, he's done that too.
The 28-year-old has recorded two goals and two assists in six games during the playoffs, averaging 0.666 points per game. Compared to his 0.134 average in 82 regular season games, his production has skyrocketed, especially considering that he averages a team low 7:40 of ice time per game.
"My first few years in the American Hockey League, I was in more of an offensive role and was able to see some power-play time, but never at this level," said Mair. "The skill that [Connolly and Kotalik] have is remarkable. It makes it quite easy for myself."
Historically what Mair did best was run around the ice and lay waste to the opposition. But in the playoffs, he has become a changed man. He still puts forth a physical presence, but there is a certain finesse in his play.
The transition into a complete player is one that he has relished and waited for.
"It's just recognition and being able to realize that plays are there, who you're with and being as effective as you can every time you step on the ice," said Mair of his role change. "It's reading situations. You can't analyze it too much; you just have to focus on being a hockey player, and on creating and doing what you normally do best."
Don't believe him? Watch a replay of Kotalik's goal in the second period of Game One against the Rangers.
Collecting a draw pushed into the neutral zone by Connolly, Mair chose to carry the puck over the blueline instead of simply slamming it deep. He crossed to the right wing and feathered a pass to Kotalik cutting through the slot.
The result: A two-goal lead for Buffalo and the third time in four games that a player on that line had scored.
"It's been our strength all year long," said Kotalik of Buffalo's depth. "You see the guys in the lineup and you don't see a lot of differences in the lines. That's what a lot of teams don't have and we have to use it to our advantage.
"The best defense is the offense and we have to spend as much time in their zone as possible."
"I guess on the board, that's where [our line] goes," said Mair of the assumption that his line is Buffalo's fourth. "But we, as a unit, don't look at it like that.
"When we're put in the ice, we're just trying to make a difference."
That difference has been showing up on the scoreboard.