A Season on the Rink

A tumultuous year inside the crucible that is the National Hockey League

Lumme felt dismay as Coach Schoenfeld's head supposedly went on the chopping block during the Coyotes' midseason tailspin.

"The coach doesn't miss the shot, but in some funny ways, he can make a player miss the shot just by planting a seed in his head. If you get on somebody all the time, a person gets nervous and can't produce. Schony can be tough on us, but he doesn't do that. You can't fire a coach when you have a little dip like we had--a tough three weeks. But it's tough to say which comes first, chicken or egg. The media starts writing, then upstairs [management] gets rattled about it because fans are going on talk shows. It's all stupid stuff."

Like all mature veteran players, Lumme takes the long view: "We started so great, clicking on every cylinder, but there's no way any team can keep that up. It's a fine line--hitting the post or missing the post, you feel good or you feel really bad. But come playoff time, you can't ever feel sorry for yourself. Or when you win a game, you can't feel too good. One game is not a Cup."

Lumme and his wife, Minna--his high school sweetheart--have a baby daughter, Beanoora. Minna is a scientist by training, with degrees in microbiology and wood science.

"We have a very good life because of hockey, and I feel very lucky," Lumme says. "Now, if I can just earn a Stanley Cup ring. . . ."

Dallas Stars
at Coyotes
March 23, 1999

The league's trade deadline has passed, and the Coyotes' brass are tickled. Bobby Smith's biggest move has been to trade for Robert Reichel, a dynamic Czech winger who should add much-needed speed and scoring power.

"We've taken significant steps for an already good team," Smith says before the game.

"I want us to be a team where people say, 'If they're healthy and the goalie is on, they'll have a chance of being up there at the end.' I hope they can say that about my team this year. In our past, I don't think you could."

The Coyotes may measure their progress against the Dallas Stars. The Stars are talented, and are much deeper than Phoenix. They've lost only 14 times in 69 games, and are considered among the NHL's top two or three teams. Stars goalie Ed Belfour has won more games himself this season than 14 NHL teams.

The game is immediately intense. About 10 minutes in, Jeremy Roenick hurls himself into Dallas' All-Star forward Mike Modano. It happens routinely in hockey, a ferocious but not necessarily dirty shot, with Modano not even hitting the sideboards.

Modano drops face forward onto the ice, clutching an eye that will need seven stitches. The referee kicks Roenick out of the game, which sends Schoenfeld into orbit.

"That was a two-minute penalty, if that," the coach says later. "That was a good hockey play, what the game is supposed to be about."

Holding a towel to his face, Modano glares at Roenick--his teammate on the ill-fated United States hockey team at the 1998 Olympics. Hockey protocol dictates that the Stars will not forget Roenick's hit.

Another Phoenix penalty leads to a five-on-three Dallas advantage for two minutes. Brett Hull scores for the Stars to make it 1-0.

The newest Coyote, Reichel, is fitting in, making crisp passes and creating scoring chances for himself and his teammates.

But Dallas keeps charging, going up 3-0 late in the third period. Most of the near-sellout crowd has exited.

But it isn't over. Tkachuk scores on a rebound with 2:22 left, and Tocchet adds another goal with 1:28 to go.

The remaining fans are as loud as they can be. Phoenix pulls goalie Khabibulin to give itself an extra attacker. The Coyotes have at least two good scoring chances in the final seconds, but can't put it past Belfour.

Dallas 3, Phoenix 2.
The faithful roar their approval when it ends. Yes, Dallas has beaten Phoenix for the third time in four games this season--each time by one goal. But the Coyotes showed grit with their belated run.

Tocchet, however, is unmoved as he strips off his uniform.
"They know how to win and we don't," he says of the Stars. "I really honestly don't think they outplayed us that bad, but we got to go into the playoffs knowing how to win games like this. Dallas is better than us, that's how I feel after the game."

'No reason to get excited'
The thief he kindly spoke
'There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I we've been through that
And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now
The hour's getting late'

--"All Along the Watchtower," from Schony, a Jim Schoenfeld recording, circa 1975,

with lyrics by Bob Dylan

Jim Schoenfeld is the antithesis of, say, down-home former Phoenix Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons. Schoenfeld appears unapproachable, patrician, rigid, every blond hair in place. From afar, he appears like a taller, good-looking version of ex-governor J. Fife Symington III.

But he's not as unapproachable as he first seems. Schoenfeld is a bright, well-read guy who doesn't suffer fools gladly, even when he's the self-proclaimed "fool"--as when he berated his players before the Florida game.

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