Leafs' Steckel is magic on faceoff

David Steckel shoots during Leafs practice at the Mastercard Centre October 5th, 2011. (DAVE...

David Steckel shoots during Leafs practice at the Mastercard Centre October 5th, 2011. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:49 PM ET

When it comes to sharing the dark arts of winning faceoffs, Dr. Steckel can become Mr. Hide.

But there’s no disguising what David Steckel can do for the Maple Leafs if he keeps last year’s league-leading numbers for his new team. In his first five minutes on Thursday, Steckel had seven wins on eight draws. When the 2-0 win over Montreal had ended, he was 18-for-25, many of them in-and-out appearances to let another centre on, once the Leafs had cleared their zone.

A good magician never reveals the trick and Steckel disappointed a group of newshounds eager to dissect his talents on Friday at the MasterCard Centre.

“I out-battle the other guy, I’ll give you that much,” Steckel said. “It’s not really secretive. Everybody knows what I do, it’s not like I’m ever changing up techniques. But I know what other guys do. For the most part, I’ve seen every guy in the league.”

The big man from Milwaukee says he gets tested on this topic by the media every time he changes teams, having stayed in the top seven of draws in all four of his NHL seasons, capped by 62.3% last year. No wonder the 6-foot-5 Steckel was in demand at the end of Friday’s practice, giving tips to willing pupil Mikhail Grabovski, whom the Leafs want to see get better in the dots.

“I’m not the be-all, end-all,” Steckel cautioned. “What happens when I go 0-for-8? You’ll be asking me what happened out there. And that will happen with the law of averages. I usually won’t meddle with teammates, but if they want some helpful hints, I will. Obviously I won’t win every draw for them, but I might say ‘why don’t you try something like this?’”

With his long frame, the left-hand shooting Steckel often has to bend at a steep angle and lower his grip on his stick to get nose to nose with the many small centres in the league. He either gets the needed leverage or simply out-muscles them if the puck is loose. Coach Ron Wilson said he’s never had a specialist capable of Steckel’s numbers on any of his teams.

“Every year, the same guys are at the top of the list,” Wilson said. “Like when you’d play Carolina, you knew Rod Brind’Amour was going to win faceoffs. It had nothing to do with coaching, it was just something he was good at.

“We’re lucky David was available. (On power plays) when you win a faceoff, you’ve killed 30 seconds.”

Steckels’ numbers have held despite ongoing rancour on how such stats as faceoffs, hits and giveaways are kept rink-to-rink.

“Different for every building,” Steckel agreed. “Some barns, you have to hit the guy and take the puck (to get a credit) and some you don’t. I know of a couple (who are stingy on faceoffs), but I’m not going to throw them out there. Guys know which barns they are.”

Steckel came to the Leafs Tuesday night from “a whirlwind” 10 hours, after meeting with Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello about his cloudy future in Newark. The deep Devils had exiled him to their fifth line and needed to shed his $1.1 million US salary to add Petr Sykora. The Leafs, needing help in both size and faceoff ability, scooped him for a fourth rounder and Steckel was ready in time for the Habs.

He was immediately on the same page as goaltender James Reimer as Wilson noted after the game.

“James likes to freeze pucks, which isn’t bad, now that we have a guy who’s going to win the faceoffs in those situations. It slows the game down and gives the other team a lot of frustration. They’ve got something going, we take a breath and we can get ourselves re-set.”

Reimer agreed that Steckel’s presence gives him more justification to smother pucks as part of his ‘economical’ goaltending style

“I like to stop the play whenever I can,” Reimer said. “Franky (goalie guru Francois Allaire) has a little motto — you work so hard to get the puck, don’t give it back. When you play the puck sometimes it’s scrambly and our guys get caught out there. But I have faith in my centreman (to freeze it) and that gives our coach a chance, especially at home, to get his match-up out there.

“When you have a guy such as Steckel and all the centres on our team, it’s just an asset to our puck possession time.”

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca

 

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