Scratch but no win

EARL MCRAE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

The morning practice over, sweaty hair stuck across his forehead, The Forgotten One sits ignored at his cubicle in the dressing room of the Ottawa Senators, sustained only by the hope that is not good enough and will probably never be.

In the crowded room alive with Stanley Cup excitement, the reporters with their notepads, pens, microphones, and cameras swarm around the other players, but nobody comes to speak to him, he all alone by the wall, The Forgotten One, slowly removing his equipment, his impassive eyes occasionally looking up and staring off into the mid-distance at nothing in particular.

When he was a small boy, he, too, like the others, dreamt of playing in the National Hockey League, and going to a Stanley Cup, and being in uniform when the Cup is hoisted, and knowing his family is in the crowd with tears of pride in their eyes. When he was a small boy, his dream was not to be just a practice player with an NHL team, one who sits alone and ignored in the corner of the room, no reporters asking him questions. For what could he tell them, he who is forgotten, he who isn't playing, he who has only hope?

Should the Ottawa Senators win the Stanley Cup this year, he will not be able to take his mom and dad and family to the Hockey Hall Of Fame in Toronto and point to the hallowed trophy and say "See, right there, there it is, my name -- Lawrence Nycholat" and he won't be able to say it because the name of Lawrence Nycholat, Ottawa Senator, will not be on the trophy.

And all the hope in the world won't magically put it there for Lawrence Nycholat, 28, defenceman, Ottawa Senators, for the NHL rules stipulate that one has to have played a minimum 40 games in the regular season and, if not that, at least one game in the Stanley Cup final itself.

The Forgotten One has played in only one regular-season game with the Senators -- March 27 against Boston -- and, in the play-offs, none, with absolutely no realistic prospect that he will, less so for the Stanley Cup final if his team gets there.

For Lawrence Nycholat, traded in February from Washington where he played in only 18 games this season, scoring two goals with six assists, hope is all he has, but not the hope that could make it happen, a defenceman injury, and improbable, the two defenceman it would have to be.

The best he can hope for is that his club, if championship victorious, will buy him a Stanley Cup ring and, surely, it will for Lawrence Nycholat, Ottawa Senator, who gives his all every practice, whose view of the games his team plays is from the empty dressing room over a TV monitor.

"How difficult is this for you, not playing?" I ask The Forgotten One.

Removing a shin pad, he pauses. Lawrence Nycholat, six feet tall, 200 lbs., the son of a Ukrainian carpenter from Foston, Sask., and his wife, played minor hockey for the Hounds of Notre Dame College, the legendary prep school in the Prairie province.

From there it was to the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL, stints with Cleveland of the IHL, Houston and Hershey of the AHL, the New York Rangers of the NHL (nine games, no points) and Washington. A scouting report on him said: Moves the puck crisply out of the defensive zone. Has offensive ability. Plays a solid team game. And: Is undersized for the NHL level and lacks the defensive acumen to play a regular shift in the big league.

'STILL PART OF TEAM'

"Everyone in the NHL has a competitive edge, you want to play," he says. "I want to play, but right now, we're playing so well. As much as I want to play, I put that factor above feelings of what I want for myself."

He glances around the room. "I'm still part of this team, nobody treats me differently. I keep in shape on the off-chance they'll need me. We have six players who are the best defensive corps in the league. I can learn from their strengths. Redden and Meszaros, how you get the puck out of your own end."

Nycholat, $475,000 salary, has unrestricted free agent status. Again, his hope. "It's a nice city. We have a great team. They haven't talked to me about a contract, but I wouldn't expect it at this point with all that's going on. I'd love to stay here."

His aunt Joanne and his cousins Vincent and Tessa would love it too. They live in Gatineau and have been going to the home playoff games, nurturing their own hopes for him.

And should Ottawa win the Stanley Cup, but his name not engraved with those of his teammates? He shrugs his shoulders. "It's okay. I guess. It's part of the rules. But sure. Who wouldn't want their name on it?"

One could argue that The Forgotten One -- who heads off to the workout room to shed more sweat -- will have his name on something personally more important this summer. A wedding certificate. He and Kristi, a lawyer in Minneapolis, are getting married. The ring a guarantee.


Videos

Photos