Suspended winger won't be watching Game 5

Originally Published: May 29, 2004
By Sherry Skalko | ESPN.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- Ville Nieminen can't bear to watch.

Sure the feisty Calgary Flames winger will be in the St. Pete Times Forum on Thursday night as his team takes on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals.

But actually watching the game won't be part of his agenda. He'll be serving his one-game suspension for checking Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier from behind in the losing minutes of Game 4; he doesn't want to add to his punishment by sitting in front of a television monitor helplessly.

"If I'm letting my teammates down, let's put it this way, it's tough to watch," Nieminen said after the Flames' pregame skate.

Nieminen will be serving his second one-game suspension of the playoffs. He was suspended for Game 5 against the Detroit Red Wings in the conference semifinals after receiving a major penalty for charging and a game misconduct for knocking over goaltender Curtis Joseph with four seconds left in Game 4.

Calgary beat Detroit 1-0 without Nieminen, and then closed out the series with a 1-0 win in Game 6.

Despite his experience in handling the matter -- and his teammates' success without him -- Nieminen said it's different this time because it's the Stanley Cup finals.

"Of course it's tougher," he said. "Like I said, last game when I got suspended, I watched one period. I'm not going to watch any of tonight. I can't.

"It's a lot easier to be out there than watching the game on TV or in a press box. I've had enough hotdogs already."

Nieminen received a five-minute major for the hit on Lecavalier, a penalty that all but put an end to any hopes of a comeback by the Flames. However, his aggressive play was emblematic of the performance of the entire team throughout the series, especially in Game 4. Hoping to take a 3-1 lead in the series, the Flames charged out of the gate and fell down two men after Chris Clark was assessed a minor for crosschecking after Mike Commodore had been whistled for holding and the play had stopped. Brad Richards scored on the ensuing five-on-three, a goal that stood for the rest of the game.

"Obviously, if you look at our team, everybody is doing it. If you don't do it, we haven't gotten this far," Nieminen said. "Every player is involved in every department and that's our heart, strength.

"We probably got a little bit overexcited and we started looking around again to who is going to score one or two or three goals. Who is going to be a hero tonight because (Lightning goaltender Nikolai) Khabibulin played so good. That's been our problem when we don't get our team scoring ... we are too excited as a team at times but at the same time if we are not overexcited I don't know if we would be this far."

Which is why Nieminen likely will be his usual trouble-making self in Game 6, unafraid of throwing another borderline hit.

"In Game 6 against Detroit I really felt that," he said before pausing to find the perfect description for what his approach will be when he returns to the lineup. "I tell you one thing, I will be well rested and almost arrested."

Nieminen, the last player off the ice Thursday morning, was insightful, remorseful and comical while addressing a group of reporters. The fact he was still in full equipment, sweat dripping down his face, while his teammates had since dressed and were on the bus and waiting for him to go back to the hotel only highlighted the back-and-forth encounter.

When asked why he made the trip instead of waiting back in Calgary for Saturday's Game 6, Nieminen replied with playful sarcasm: "Because there was a seat available on the plane for me. Any other good questions like that?"

Until Nieminen's return, Martin Gelinas likely will take his place alongside Marcus Nilson and Shean Donovan, who he spent some time playing with this season. Recently, Gelinas has been a fixture on the Flames' top line with Jarome Iginla and Craig Conroy.

"It will be a little different. Iggy is a power forward and creates a lot of things by himself," Gelinas said after skating with Nilson and Donovan during the morning session. "Marcus and Dano are skilled and very fast. I'll have to read (them) a lot better. But it will be good. We'll utilize our speed and hopefully the results will be there."

As quick-witted as he was, Nieminen was also careful, measuring his words and hesitant to concede that his absence will hurt the team.

"It's a team that wins these things," he said. "It's unfortunate that I'm not playing today. But & I don't know. If I say that, people will say I think I'm a really good hockey player."

When asked if he regretted the hit, Nieminen turned the question back on the inquirer.

"Is there some other things in your life that you look back and wish you would have not done?" he said. "I think everybody in this room has those kind of things. It's unfortunate that I have the last one."

Sherry Skalko is the NHL editor for ESPN.com.

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