Pinkie problems hampered Ladd

CAMERON MAXWELL -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

The Eliminator could barely grip his stick, let alone shoot a puck.

But Calgary Hitmen left- winger Andrew Ladd gutted it out through the final few games against the Brandon Wheat Kings before the Hitmen bowed out of the WHL playoffs in Game 7.

It was a freak injury on his left hand -- his pinkie finger -- but the pain made it virtually impossible for the power forward to effectively control his stick. Despite that, the 19-year-old from Maple Ridge, B.C., wasn't using the injury as an excuse.

"I tore a muscle in there or something. I'm not exactly sure what it is. It made it tough out there to even hold onto my stick," said Ladd. "Shooting was the same sort of thing. It was a little tough."

That explains why Ladd's point production plummeted over the final five games of the Wheaties series.

He had been on fire with seven goals and three assists through the Hitmen's first seven playoff games.

In Calgary's final five contests, Ladd registered a single assist.

"My stick got caught between my pinkie finger and my ring finger and pushed down, so my finger popped out," said Ladd, who potted four game-winners in the post-season. "It's just the nature of playoffs and stuff you've got to deal with."

The 6-ft. 2-in., 202-pounder reckons he hurt the hand in Game 3 or 4 in Calgary but denied he was injured when asked prior to Game 7.

Ladd's not sure where he'll ply his trade next season. He was the Carolina Hurricanes' first pick (fourth overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Carolina GM Jim Rutherford took in a Hitmen game or two through the WHL playoffs.

But with the NHL in a state of limbo until a new collective bargaining agreement is hammered out, Ladd will have to play the waiting game. He'd like nothing better than to sign a deal and play pro hockey in 2005-06.

"That would be the first plan and the best thing for me. What I really want to do is take that next step," said Ladd.

"But if that doesn't work out, I've got a really great place in Calgary to play."


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