Ray Whitney ... former stick boy, current Cup champ
From Oilers stick boy to Stanley Cup champion, Ray Whitney has seen it all.
In this week's Facing Off, the 15-year NHL veteran tells us what it was like to lift the Stanley Cup against his hometown team, whom he'd choose between Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, and which teams are the front-runners to dethrone the defending-champion Hurricanes.
Question from David Amber: Back in the 1980s, you were a stick boy with the Edmonton Oilers for a few years. What exactly were your duties back then?
Answer from Ray Whitney: I would come to the rink for a few hours before the game. I would take care of the simple things, like fill the Gatorade cups, bring the sticks to the bench and basically do whatever the trainers told me to do. I was their gofer.
Q: Which players treated you the best when you were a stick boy?
A: One that stands out is Paul Coffey. If you got him on a day when he wanted to talk to you, he was always very nice. [Wayne Gretzky] was good. He didn't talk a lot, but in terms of tipping the staff, he was the best. I remember getting a check from Wayne Gretzky Enterprises when I was 14 years old.
Q: Wow. That must have been cool.
A: Yeah, it was. A check for $100 when you're 14 years old in 1988 was pretty good. I never cashed it. I wanted to hold on to that.
Q: You could always put that on eBay and make a small fortune.
A: [Laughs.] Sure.
|Fast Facts -- Ray Whitney|
• He was drafted in the second round (23rd overall) by the San Jose Sharks in the 1991 NHL draft.
• He was born in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, the same hometown as "Lost" star Evangeline Lilly. Mike Commodore, Richard Matvichuk and Joffrey Lupul are also from there.
• He was the Western Hockey League MVP in the 1990-91 season.
• He played in two NHL All-Star Games (2000, 2003).
• He is a five-time 20-goal scorer.
Q: What was it like for you when you reached the NHL and suddenly you're playing against Mark Messier and not handing him a Sherwood?
A: I always stayed out of Mess' way. He is all business at the rink. But Esa Tikkanen was always yapping at me on the ice. We would be on the ice for a faceoff and he would be on the bench yelling at me, "Hey, stick boy! Go get me a stick."
Q: And I bet he used a Torspo, knowing he's a Finnish player?
A: No, he actually used Koho.
Q: Really? You remember all the sticks the guys used?
A: I would be able to tell you not just the sticks those guys used, but the curves, too. I knew everything about those guys hockey-wise.
Q: Any crazy characters from those great Oilers teams?
A: I remember Ken Linseman had a couple of dozen sticks in his rack and he's flexing them and weighing them and really checking them out. Then, he took a few sticks and put them aside. The rest, which was more than a dozen, he wrapped up and wrote on them in black marker "NFG." So, I go up to him and say, "What's NFG mean?" He says, "It's no f-ing good," and he tells me to send them all back. [Laughs.]
Q: So, he was pretty picky with his sticks?
A: Yeah, he was really picky. Gretz was the other way. He always had a few dozen sticks on his rack and he would come in and say, "Cut me five today." He didn't look at them once. He felt comfortable with whatever stick he used.
Q: You scored your first NHL goal against the Oilers. What was that like for you?
A: That was pretty cool. I played two games near the end of the 1991-92 season and didn't score. Then, next season, my first game I scored against Ron Tugnutt on the power play, but we lost the game, 3-1. It was equally special for my dad. He still has that puck.
Q: Last season, playing in the Stanley Cup finals against the team you grew up cheering for, what was it like when you returned to Edmonton for Game 3?
A: It felt pretty good, especially since we were up 2-0 at the time. I was proud to be coming back to my hometown for the Stanley Cup finals. It was fun.
Q: Your father provides security for the Oilers at their home games, but during the finals, they didn't allow him to do that job. What was your reaction when your heard that?
A: I understood it. I think he did, as well. He felt that they didn't need to tell him that he couldn't work. It was a little disappointing that they banned him from the dressing room, but he understood. He's back working with the Oilers this year, so everything is cool. It was a weird situation for him, working for a team and having his son playing against them for the Stanley Cup, but everything is now back to normal.
Q: The Hurricanes won consecutive Games 7s to win the Stanley Cup. Describe what it was like in the dressing room before skating out to play in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.
A: To be honest with you, it was as calm as the room ever was during the entire playoff run. We played so poorly in Game 6 and we just felt like we were where we wanted to be -- at home in a winner-take-all situation. We all realized everyone was going to be at their best that night and we were. We played a perfect Game 7.
Q: During the 1996-97 season, you spent time in both the AHL and IHL. Did you wonder at any point if your NHL career was over?
A: I didn't that year because I just signed a brand new contract. I was making $800,000 in the minors. It was a three-year deal, so I wasn't concerned about my future. The next summer, my deal was bought out by the Sharks, and then I got worried. I couldn't get a contract anywhere. All I could get was a tryout with Edmonton. I barely played there, and then I got put on waivers. Luckily, I got picked up and things have been great ever since.
Q: You got picked up by Florida. At the time, they were thinking, "Here's a guy who is crafty, quick, smart with the puck, a good playmaker & "
A: You forgot good-looking! [Laughs.]
Q: Yeah, whatever [laughs]. You did play with Pavel Bure in Florida. What did he teach you as a player?
A: He couldn't teach me anything because I couldn't do anything he could do. I have never played with a guy who was that dynamic. If there was one thing I learned from him, it was he never worried about scoring or about anything. If he scored three goals or none, after the game, he was exactly the same. It's not that he didn't care, it's that he could handle the pressure and not let it affect him. I have never seen anyone with a hunger to score like him. Actually, there is one now. I think [Alexander] Ovechkin is just like that. Ovechkin actually reminds me of Pavel, because you can tell he just loves scoring goals.
Q: If you had a chance to play with either Sidney Crosby or Ovechkin, who would you play with?
A: Could I have both? Could I play right between them? [Laughs.] I don't know who I'd pick. I'd probably pick Sidney because he would pass me the puck a lot more. Ovechkin wants to score all the goals. They are totally different players. I think Sid likes to pass the puck, play the give-and-go game. Alex is so dominant because he is big and powerful. It would be a treat to play with either of them. That question is too tough to answer.
Q: You have played for six NHL teams. Why do you think a guy with your talent has moved around so much?
A: I'm the type of player who is never going to be a superstar. So, sometimes, if you are a good player, you price yourself out of a position. That's what happened to me in Detroit when they decided to cut budgets. It was easy for them to get rid of me. Some teams I have been on, when things start to go sour, they say, "Hey, we can always get rid of a smaller player and add size." Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't. When I left Florida, they were cutting salary. In Columbus, it was my choice to leave for a better contract. I got bought out by Detroit. So, a couple of my moves were business and a couple were deserving.
Q: In your 15-year NHL career, what one player stands out as the best teammate you've had?
A: When you've played on six teams in 15 years, you have a lot of great teammates. But probably the guy I was closest to is Mike Sillinger. He was my roommate in Columbus and in Florida, too. I know him the best and loved playing with him. I also played with Bret Hedican in Florida and here in Carolina, as well. So, along with Sillinger, I would say he is the best. Bret is one of the nicest people you will ever meet.
Q: And he's married to Kristi Yamaguchi.
A: I know her a little bit. She's a sweetheart, very humble in terms of what's she accomplished and a great match for Bret.
Q: Could any of those figure skaters outskate an NHL player?
A: Oh, yeah. I think some of them could outskate some of us, even if they were going backwards. They are really fast.
Q: Your teammate Rod Brind'Amour is known as the most ripped guy in the NHL. How ripped is he?
A: He's just a shade more ripped than me [laughs]. He's a joke. He has muscles on top of muscles. I didn't even know there were muscles in some of those places. He loves working out, but he's quiet about it, never asking anyone else to work out with him. It's amazing he's in the shape he's in at his age.
Q: Right now, who do you think are the favorites to win the Cup this season?
A: I think Anaheim and Buffalo are the favorites. We just played them back-to-back. With the two great defensemen they have and the way [Teemu] Selanne is playing, [the Ducks] are a real strong team. Buffalo, because they roll four lines, have six solid [defensemen] and a great goalie, they are a good team.
ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.