Senators Alphabet: O is for Oleg
O is for Oleg, as in Oleg Saprykin. Oleg was only with the Sens for a brief time and once the 2007 playoffs were over, he went to Russia to play in the KHL.
Media personalities and fans love the trade deadline. Salivating for weeks over potential, often unlikely, scenarios to improve their club, the trade deadline is the last opportunity to better their teams (err before the Nashville-Radulov scenario that is). For years Sens fans salivated over Gary Roberts; this season, Gary Roberts-lite was discussed (Ryan Malone). When the Sens don't make a big splash, inevitably much of the fan base is disappointed. Many deadline deals don't work out or receive mixed reviews (see Adnan's take on Matt Gilroy). Some trades can't be properly judged until years after the fact (consider all the draft picks that were acquired in February 2011; it will be a few years before we know the value we received for Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly). Finally, some are those quiet deals that no one takes any note of as they wait to see if Rick Nash will be moved. These moves fly under the radar but can pay dividends for their team (like Ben Bishop has in his month with the Sens). Oleg Saprykin wasn't the move many fans wanted. Many felt a 2nd round draft pick was too high a price to pay for him. Saprykin was an afterthought for most Sens fans but even afterthoughts make history.
Oleg was a first round draft pick of the Calgary Flames in 1999 but had a reputation as an underachiever during his NHL career. When the Sens traded for Oleg and a 7th rounder, he had managed to contribute 14 goals and 20 assists in 59 games with the Coyotes and cost the Sens a 2nd round draft pick. Many will point to an earlier trade (January 3, 2007), with the Coyotes as the key move which improved Ottawa's post-season fortunes. This trade shipped perennial disappointment Alexei Kaigorodov to Phoenix for Mike Comrie. In 41 regular season games with the Sens, Comrie scored 13 goals and chipped in 12 assists. Despite a shoulder injury that required local anesthetic and prevented him from tying his skates in the playoffs, Comrie chipped in 5 post-season points.
Saprykin frequented Ottawa's fourth line during the stretch drive and playoffs in 2007 beside teammates Dean McAmmond and Christoph Schubert. His regular season play was unimpressive: in 12 games, he managed only 1 goal and 1 assist. This uneven play meant Saprykin often found himself in the press box.
Saprykin was one of those quiet players who never showed up on the score sheet with any consistency, but every once and awhile, came up huge. One of those times was June 3, 2004. Saprykin, then a member of the Flames, was battling the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Oleg became an instant hero in Calgary by scoring the overtime winner and put Calgary one win away from Lord Stanley's mug.
While he didn't approach hero status in Ottawa, he did make two key offensive contributions during the 2007 run. The first was the game-winning goal in Game 1 in the Eastern Conference Final against the top seeded Buffalo Sabres. The previous year, Ottawa had been the 1st seed in the East and a Stanley Cup favourite while Buffalo was the 4th seed. Yet the Sabres upset the Sens in the 2nd round and Ottawa spent another summer as playoff underachievers. Tensions between the two clubs were raised in the regular season when the Sens and Sabres engaged in a brawl on February 22, 2007. Chris Neil's hit on Sabres captain Chris Drury was the shot that sparked the fireworks; the highlight for most was the heavyweight match between Sabres tough guy Andrew Peters and Sens
tough guy goalie Ray Emery. All of this contributed to the context Game 1 was played in. Buffalo and Ottawa never hated each other more and never played more meaningful games against each other. Game 1 would go a long way to determine the fortunes of the series. The Sens jumped out to an early two goal lead, with goals from Mike Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson. But by the end of the second period the Sabres had tied the game and many Sens fans were wondering if what would play out in the third period was a script we had read before. Oleg Saprykin changed that. He scored the third goal, the one that broke the tie, the eventual game winner. Saprykin was in the slot and put a Dean McAmmond feed past Ryan Miller midway through the period, to give the Sens a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Saprykin's last point as a Senator came in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals against Anaheim. It was an assist on Dean McAmmond's eventual game winner (minutes before he got his head smashed by Chris Pronger). McAmmond's strike would prove decisive and Ottawa took Game 3, the first home game in the series, 5-3. At that point, the series was 2-1 in favour of the Ducks, but fans celebrated on the Sens Mile that night because the potential for a series win was there.
Sometimes big playoff goals are scored by the usual suspects, the guys who come through no matter what. It was fitting that Daniel Alfredsson scored the overtime game winner that put the Sens in the Finals for the first time. Sometimes these goals are scored by guys like Saprykin, the unexpected heroes, the afterthoughts. Who's your favourite Sens unexpected hero?