Holik finding his stride

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:26 AM ET

Don Waddell acknowledged he had to do some sweet talking to justify some big numbers to his bosses.

The subject for the Atlanta Thrashers general manager and those who own the National Hockey League club was centre Bobby Holik and the three-year, $12.75-million US deal he signed in August of 2005.

"I've had to answer to my owners about paying a guy $4 million (a season) to score 15 goals," Waddell said. "But he has been at his best when we have needed to win games and close out (the opposition). He has been a catalyst for us."

By his own admission, Holik did not adjust quickly to the faster NHL. A defensive specialist, the 6-foot-4 Czech did not play during the lockout and never really did find his footing in his first season in Atlanta.

And though he had a mere five points in 12 games heading into last night at the Air Canada Centre against the Maple Leafs, Holik was playing like the Holik of old -- dominating in the faceoff circle, killing penalties with enthusiasm and generally making shifts unpleasant for top skaters on other clubs.

Flashy Thrashers such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa overshadow Holik, but he is not seen as any less valuable.

The 35-year-old Holik shed some weight during the summer and arrived at training camp 10 pounds lighter than he did a year ago. He is playing at 230 pounds now.

"I literally hit camp running," Holik said. "Last year there was a lot of adjustment for me. Finding my game is a work in progress and it's evolving. You never want to say, 'Aw, forget it, I am not going to change anything.'"

Through it all, Holik has kept tabs on another 35-year-old veteran -- Leafs captain Mats Sundin. When he was with the New Jersey Devils, Holik made a habit of checking Sundin into the ice.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for him,"Holik said. "It's a tough place to play especially when you are not on top, and the Leafs are not always on top. A few years ago (with the Devils, in the playoffs), we had a great team and he was a challenge for us. This is not an easy market to play in and Ithink Maple Leafs fans forget that a lot. But that does not affect his game and you have to admire that."


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