Warming up to Heater

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:36 AM ET

The only gap in Dany Heatley's game these days lies between his teeth. You'd think with all his money he could find a good dentist to provide him the chiclets of a movie star -- brilliant, bleached and bonded.

But then that wouldn't be real.

And that wouldn't be Dany Heatley.

"I used to see him on television in Atlanta and I'd be sitting there with my wife, Erin, and she'd look at him and say, 'Why doesn't he get his tooth fixed? He really should have a tooth in there,'" says Senators defenceman Chris Phillips, Heatley's roommate on the road.

"But once you get to know Dany Heatley and you see what he is all about, you realize that missing tooth represents him. That's just the kind of guy he is. There's nothing phony about him. That tooth kind of sums him up ... what you see is what you get."

In hockey circles, the missing tooth is up there with the Maple Leaf and the beaver when it comes the symbols of all things Canadian. Heatley is the latest in the tradition of the dentally challenged hockey heroes -- which includes Bobby Hull, Bobby Clarke and Doug Gilmour.

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Some members of the NHL have wine cellars. Heatley has a pine cellar. At his parents' home in Calgary, Heatley has stored a pile of used hockey sticks.

But not just leftovers from road hockey games past. These twigs are from guys like Mario Lemieux, Brett Hull, Ilya Kovalchuk, Viktor Kozlov and Jaromir Jagr.

Heatley even mentions attending a charity auction which saw him place bid on a Jagr stick he didn't get.

So he waited until he had a chance to play with the Czech star at the 2004 all-star game in Sunrise, Fla., and asked for one after the game.

He says he started collecting sticks a few years ago. No need to worry, though, it's not a hobby gone out of control. It's more like research, or even forensic work.

"It's something I started because I was more interested in looking at the sticks," said Heatley. "I wanted to see what guys did with their sticks. I wanted to see what kind of curve they used and test out the shaft. Then, I started getting sticks from guys I played with as well. It has just sort of grown."

The sharpshooter always treats his sticks with respect. He spends countless hours in the stick room getting ready for the next battle.

"I take pride in my stick. I like to spend time making sure that the curve is right and making sure that is taped up correctly. I want everything to be just right," said Heatley.

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Heatley comes from a hockey family. In fact, it wouldn't be outrageous to suggest he was brought to Earth on an extended road trip for Murray and Karen Heatley.

Dany was born on Jan. 21, 1981, in Freiburg, Germany, where Murray was in the middle of his first of three hockey seasons.

Murray's career also included stints in the Central Hockey League and the defunct World Hockey Association.

Murray was described as a top-line right winger who had a knack for scoring. Don't ask Dany about it though, he doesn't remember much of his early years.

Heatley was too young to recall when his father retired from hockey and settled back in Calgary.

But Heatley did grow up with hockey in his blood and his love for the game blossomed.

"You either love the game or you don't," said Heatley. "I love the game. I love everything about it and I love being around it."

Heatley was a typical youth. He would play street hockey with his friends until Karen would nearly have to drag him into the house to work on a school project or do some chores.

When he wasn't hitting the pavement, Heatley was on the ice playing minor hockey in Calgary or at the outdoor rink trying to hone his skills. Saturday nights he'd watch Calgary Flames games on Hockey Night in Canada and has vivid memories of their Stanley Cup victory in 1989.

And, while he loved the Flames, Heatley was a fan of Brett Hull growing up. Why? Because he was a sniper with a tremendous shot. Sound familiar? It should. The 6-foot-3 Heatley may be bigger in stature than the 5-foot-10 Hull (and definitely not quite as talkative), but both have displayed an excellent shot with little problem finding the net.

After graduating from Calgary in Tier II, Heatley had to decide where to go next. He went to training camp with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, but decided to follow in Murray's footsteps and play for the University of Wisconsin Badgers. It's a hockey hotbed known more by NHL GMs than the general public.

'I'VE GOT TO IMPROVE AND MAKE IT'

"You get into bantam and midget you think you're going to make it. But, deep down you think, 'I can play this game, but I've got to improve and make it.' I didn't think about realistically making it until I actually got here. Even after I was drafted, I still felt that I hadn't done anything yet. In midget and junior, I felt I had a chance because I loved playing."

But he admits he didn't pick the school because he wanted to get good grades. He wanted a higher education in the sport of hockey and thought it would be a good route to the NHL.

"I always felt when I went there it was to become a hockey player. I wanted to be a player. It's nice to have the school in the bank. For me, I went down there to play hockey," said Heatley.

"I got good grades growing up, but I wouldn't say I went down there for an education first. I know a lot of people say that when they go to school. That's not the case for me. School was a big part of it, sure, but deep down I wanted to be a hockey player. That was the big reason."

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Those who know Heatley understand him. Though he has been through a lot after a tragic car accident took the life of teammate Dan Snyder two years ago in Atlanta, he is a well-rounded, grounded young man who left Calgary in 1999 to pursue a hockey career.

Heatley has always been the type to step up. There are stories of him leaving Thrashers practices to go to the local children's hospital to visit with young patients.

He is a kid at heart and the kids in his Kanata neighbourhood shouldn't be surprised if they find Heatley out playing with them in the street after school some time this winter. That's just the kind of guy he is.

"He's one of the most down-to-earth people that I've met personally and professionally," says Heatley's agent Stacey McAlpine, who also represents Phillips. "He's such a quality person. To see him interact with young people and how genuine he is ... He's the first one in line when a community service organization comes calling. He's always one of the first guys to step up any way he can."

Away from the spotlight, Heatley enjoys listening to music. He fancies himself a rock star by dabbling with the guitar and had a big thrill last summer when he was in Madison, Wis., and had a chance to meet the members of the Dave Matthews Band.

Phillips says his buddy is actually a little boring.

"I don't get enough sleep and all he does is sleep," says Phillips. "I'm thinking about asking him to come over to my place and do some babysitting.

"That might cut down on the amount of sleep this guy gets."

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Senators GM John Muckler, one of the architects of the deal that brought Heatley to Ottawa, is sitting in the Corel Centre, looking down at the morning skate taking place below while discussing how this could be the perfect trade for both teams.

Muckler wouldn't have sent Marian Hossa packing unless the deal was right. Then came a call from Atlanta GM Don Waddell in mid-August.

Waddell was curious as to what Muckler was going to do with Hossa, who was up for an arbitration hearing. With the new collective bargaining agreement imposing a salary cap on teams, the Senators were going to have a tough time keeping Hossa depending on how the arbitration case went.

That's where the Thrashers came into play.

Ottawa landed an up-and-coming superstar in Heatley and also shed some salary by sending Hossa and defenceman Greg de Vries to Atlanta.

WANTED TO COME TO CANADA

"Dany wanted to come back to Canada. He wanted new surroundings. He's very comfortable," said Muckler, who signed Hossa to a three-year, $18-million (all terms US) contract to avoid arbitration before sending him to Atlanta for Heatley, who then inked a three-year, $13.5-million deal with the Senators.

"(Heatley's) played very well. He's enjoying himself and he's enjoying his teammates. He's added an element we didn't have before. He has changed the chemistry on this team. I'm sure the switch has been good for him. I know it has been good for us."

Watching Heatley, he looks like he has been given a new lease on life. Asking for a trade wasn't easy for the winger, but it would appear he couldn't have picked a better spot to land.

Everywhere he goes, he gets smiles and hellos from fans.

Ottawa is starting to feel like home.

"For me, you grow up in Canada and you know what it is like. At school all we talked about was hockey," said Heatley.

"This brings back memories for me. Calgary is a similar hockey town. For me, this has reminded me a lot of growing up. I didn't come in with any expectations. I just came in wanting to get playing again."

As for the tooth?

"Just write: I'm working on it," says Heatley.

Then, he flashes a smile and walks away.

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


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