SUN Hockey Pool

Horcoff has silenced critics

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

NEW YORK -- The people who were calling for Craig MacTavish to be fired early this season were probably the same people who were griping that Shawn Horcoff had no business being anyone's first-line centre.

Halfway through the season, the coach and his young centre are silencing a lot of their critics.

IN GOOD COMPANY

With 14 goals and 45 points, Horcoff is right up there with the likes of Jason Spezza (48), Joe Sakic (44) Sidney Crosby (48) and marquee wingers Markus Naslund (47) and Simon Gagne (47).

Horcoff doesn't have a tenth of their name recognition, but his numbers are every bit as good.

"Names for me don't mean very much," said MacTavish. "I want players who do the job on the ice, complete players. Not at any point of the year do you ever regret showing confidence in a guy who's such a complete player.

"I said last year that he was a pretty good match-up against the top centremen in the league and this year he's surpassed that - he's starting to be defended against instead of him being the defender."

WHISPERS

Horcoff heard the whispers, if not the chuckles, when MacTavish said he could be their first-line guy, but didn't take any of it personally.

"I understood that," said the 27-year-old, fresh off a hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Pittsburgh. "I've been a fan of hockey before. I can understand where they're coming from, someone's not proven, why wouldn't they go out and get someone who's bona fide?

"But most guys get to that situation by going through my process, kind of building yourself, gaining an opportunity and when you do get that opportunity, making the most of it.

"I said in my own head that if the fans were patient enough to give me some time to prove that I can do it, I would. And I knew, too, that if I didn't prove I could do it they'd get someone in who could."

Doesn't look like they'll have to.

"I feel confident. I was confident coming into the season that I was able to play this role. I just had to go out and prove it to myself, my teammates and our fans. Personally I'm comfortable there, comfortable with our line."

So is the coach who backed him when few else did.

"I always pull for Horc," said MacTavish. "He epitomizes what it takes to play this game at a high level. He's a guy like Jarret Stoll who does everything for you. They kill penalties, they take faceoffs, three on five, power play. You just don't add those kinds of players to your lineup at this level. To have both those guys develop into that role is huge for us."


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