Rising like a Phoenix

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:05 AM ET

Less than two weeks after being shipped away by the Maple Leafs, Mikael Tellqvist is carving a nice niche for himself out in the Arizona desert.

Traded late last month for pesky Tyson Nash and a fourth-round draft pick, the former Toronto backup has led the Phoenix Coyotes to five out of a possible six points in his three starts, much to the glee of Wayne Gretzky and friends.

--I still feel a little rusty, but at least it's a good start with a new organization," Tellqvist, 27, said during a phone interview from Arizona.

"I loved Toronto, where you always were under the microscope and in the public eye. But I was the third guy there and knew something might happen.

"It's different here. You are not in the spotlight as much, which is fine. The most important thing is, they really wanted me here, which is great."

At the time of the deal, Tellqvist received calls from Gretzky, the Coyotes' head coach, general manager Michael Barnett and goaltending coach Grant Fuhr, all welcoming him on board.

"As soon as they got me, they said I was being brought in here to play," Tellqvist said. "They said there was no pressure on me, which made it easier.

"(Gretzky) has been great, and so has Grant Fuhr. Grant is an awesome guy to talk to."

Also extending a helping hand has been Curtis Joseph, who was the No. 1 goalie for the Leafs in 2001-02 when Tellqvist began his North American pro career with the AHL's St. John's Maple Leafs.

"Cujo has been really classy," Tellqvist said. "He's a future Hall of Famer who has really treated me well."

After winning his first two outings in Coyotes red, Tellqvist faced the Dallas Stars on Saturday, but suffered a heartbreaking 4-3 overtime loss because he, uh, used his head.

With Tellqvist having stopped Jere Lehtinen's initial shot, the puck fluttered up in the air, clunked off the back of Tellqvist's noggin, then bounced over the goal line with just 4.6 seconds left.

A bad bounce, sure, but one Tellqvist easily can shake off, especially with the slippery slope his ex-teammates in Toronto are skidding down these days.

"I still have a lot of friends up in Toronto, but this is for the best," he said.

RALEIGH CAPSULES

The Maple Leafs' recent woes likely have dampened coach Paul Maurice's enthusiasm for his much-heralded return to Carolina this week.

Three years to the day he was fired by the Carolina Hurricanes, Maurice will step behind the bench in Raleigh for the first time as the Toronto head coach when his Leafs face off against the Hurricanes on Friday night.

The Leafs' recent woes notwithstanding, Carolina still holds a special place in his heart.

In that vein, here are Maurice's three most memorable moments during his stint on Tobacco Road:

1. KIDDY CORPS

"Number one has to be the birth of my three kids, Sydney, Jake and Luke. That's easy."

2. SAY WHAT?

"Next has to be before Game 3 of the (2002) Stanley Cup final against the Detroit Red Wings in Carolina. The referee skated over to me at the start and tried to say something, but it was so loud in there, he just laughed and skated away. That was spectacular."

3. HERO'S WELCOME

"About 5,000 feet up, as we were landing in Carolina after beating the Leafs in the (2002) Eastern Conference final, the fire trucks were out and you could see the sea of headlights and people waiting for the plane to land. What a greeting! It was something else."

THE WEEK AHEAD

The Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals tilt tonight has served up more than its share of pre-game hype, and rightly so. It marks the first time this season that super sophomores Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby lock horns. "From my side, I think it's been built up so much that, in a way, you want to respond and make sure you have a good game," Crosby said. "But at the end of the night, the win is most important." Ovechkin agrees. "Of course, Sidney and me want to score goals and have some points, but it's most important for us to win the game." The Big O said he admires Crosby's skills. "He's a great player. I watch a lot of the games he plays," Ovechkin said ... Joseph, who has been pencilled in as the Coyotes starter in San Jose tonight, has kept busy during his recent stint on the bench. Because of his knowledge of players' tendencies around the league, Cujo assisted Gretzky in picking the Phoenix shooters for back-to-back shootouts last week.


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