SUN Hockey Pool

Saluting NHL's lunchpail crew

JORDAN HEATH-RAWLINGS -- 24 Hours Toronto

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

It was almost a major blow for the lunchpail brigade.

When Rory Fitzpatrick came within a few thousand votes of being elected an NHL all-star this week, you know there were a few guys with scraggly hair and an abundance of facial scars in dressing rooms around the NHL rooting for him.

The NHL's quiet majority of muckers, grinders and journeymen -- the guys who dig the puck out of the corners for the Jagrs and Selannes of the league -- must have been clicking "Refresh" on the NHL's voting page every day before heading to practice.

Rory fell short, but the lesson holds true regardless -- unsung heroes of the league need love too.

So in honour of Rory and what could have been, we present the Lunchbucket Brigade, a team of players who do what it takes to get the win. (And who can help your fantasy team, too).

Centre: Matthew Lombardi is quietly putting together an outstanding all-around season. With 28 points, he's not exactly absent from the offence, plus he kills penalties and scores (with four game-winners and four shorthanded goals) at opportune times. His +17 rating (second among centres) doesn't hurt either.

Wing: You couldn't ask for a better lunchpail hero than Chris Neil who leads the league in hits by a wide margin, is second among right wingers with 95 penalty minutes and still finds the time to pop in nine goals and 10 assists. With so many Senators hurt, he's even seeing some power-play time.

Wing: Perhaps an even better story than Rory is that of Dan Cleary who was given every chance to succeed with the Blackhawks and Oilers before bouncing to Phoenix and finally landing with the Red Wings, where his 17 goals thus far are three better than his career high. He's on the penalty kill, playing alongside Robert Lang at even-strength and has been a godsend on a Wings team strapped for scoring. Plus, he's from Newfoundland -- they don't come any more lunchpail than that.

Defence: Robyn Regehr is best known in Calgary for not being Dion Phaneuf, but the Flames d-man has 12 assists, a +16 rating and enough hits to fill out a couple of best-of albums. Ruslan Salei, known for doing nothing but hitting (not always cleanly) during his days with Anaheim, has finally found a place on the Panthers' powerplay. His career high in points before this year was 19. So far he's got 23.

Goalie: It's hard to qualify a goalie for lunchpail status, but we'll go with Avs goalie Peter Budaj, who's finally nabbed the number-one spot from Propecia-spokesman Jose Theodore. Budaj never complained about Theodore's second, third and fourth chances to nail down the starter's spot, he just consistently outplayed him until coach Joel Quenneville had no choice but to make him the starter. That's an attitude Rory would be proud of.


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