The Michigan Daily - SPORTSMonday - Monday, December 6, 1993 - 3
The former Wolverine hockey star talks
about his start in the NHL
Pat Neaton had an outstanding ca-
reer as a defenseman with Michigan.
Infourseasons, Neaton played a large
part in the Wolverines' success, in-
cluding appearances in theNCAA semi-
finals the past two seasons, with his
consistency and two-way ability. He
was selected to last year's Central
Collegiate Hockey Associate first
The Redford, Mich. native was a
seventh round pick (145th overall) of
the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1990
National Hockey League Entry Draft.
After beginning this season with
Pittsburgh's minor league affiliate in
Cleveland, Neaton reached the NHL.
Daily sports writer J.L Rostam-
Abadi recently spoke with Neaton
&bout his quick rise to hockey's pin-
nacle after graduating from Michi-
gan only seven months ago.
Daily: You scored your first goal
in your NHL debut against the Phila-
delphia Flyers. You didn't look too
excited. Granted, it was the 11th goal
of an 11-5 blowout, but what was it
like to score in the NHL?
Neaton: I was excited, I was defi-
nitely excited. It wasn't a decisive
*goal in the game, but it was the first
one, so I definitely was excited.
D: Did you expect to score?
N: I don't know whether I ex-
pected it or not. That game was pretty
wide open and there were a lot of
power plays. So I had a couple of
chances, and that one just sort of was
lying there for me.
D: Were you surprised with (Pen-
*guins) coach Eddie Johnston putting
you on the power play as a rookie?
N: Well, I was surprised when I
got'the call (up to the NHL). When I
got that call, that's when they told me
they'd use me in that situation. So I
knew, going into the game, that he
was going to use me there.
But it was a little bit of a surprise.
They had afew injuries and they wanted
to bring somebody up and usually I can
use my assets - speed and puck han-
dling - to try and help out.
D: In college you played against
some of the best teams and players for
four years. How much faster paced
and difficult is it playing with the
'N: In college, sometimes the
games seemed like they were faster.
Players are just smarter here. They
*just move the puck smarter. They
don't make the same mistakes, so to
speak. Like defensive zone coverage
and man, they don't let their man go.
It's smarter and they move the puck
just a little bit quicker, but the pace is
pretty comparable at times.
D: Was there much of a transition
that you had to make?
N: Oh yeah, there's definitely a
transition. There's a lot of things that
you have to learn because you have to
adapt to the pro game. It's just like
any step you make - you have to
learn along the way.
D: What's it like playing with
some of the greats, like Jaromir Jagr
and Kevin Stevens?
S-N: They're just phenomenal play-
ers. They do so many things so well.
They're highly skilled players, and
it's just a great experience to play
along aside those players. You thor-
oughly enjoy yourself and you sort of
see how far you have to go.
D: Have you learned a lot from the
defensive corps, especially Ulf
Samuellson and Marty McSorley,
about your position?
N: Yeah. I think one of the guys
that helped me out a lot is Larry
Murphy. He just sort of helps me out
on when to, because he's sort of the
same style, on when to jump in and
It all comes down to decision mak-
ing. You know you can't jump up and
rush every play. You have to pick
your spots, and he helps you adjust to
that. And just by watching him, you
.an learn a lot too.
A J: Was it difficult to keep your
confidence in the minors?
N: I wasn't there long enough to
really get down, because wejust started
the season. I was only 16 games into the
season and there was a lot of communi-
cation on 'This is where you fit into the
organization' and 'This is what you
have to do well.'
It wasn't to the point that I was
there three or four years and really
dragging on, and I'd never know if I'd
get the call. I was surprised when I got
the call but I was still excited and I
was still ready to play. It was only the
first quarter of the season.
D: How secure do you feel about
your current status?
N: You never really want to try
heck of a start over there.
D: Are you surprised with
Michigan's success after losing eight
players from last year?
N: I knew they got some good
players and the thing is that they have
some character leadership there with
the seniors and I'm not really sur-
prised. They've got some good play-
ers there. They have a lot of talent on
that team. It's just a matter of carrying
it out through the rest of the season,
because they have all the potential to
do what they want. They're a very
talented, talented group.
So I guess I wasn't really sur-
prised. I talked to (Michigan assistant
coach) Mel (Pearson) at the begin-
jump up and when to make those
D: Were you disappointed with
not making the U.S. Olympic team?
N: Yeah, I was disappointed be-
cause I really wanted to make that
step on the Olympic team and then
have a good year there and see what
It was a disappointment for me
because I thought I would have
adapted well to that style. I was down
after I got cut, but things have worked
out well, so I'm trying not to look
back on it at all.
D: Do you think there was any
N: People say there's politics in
everything, but there's coaching de-
cisions that have to be made and they
made their decision.
Obviously the guys they picked,
they're good hockey players too, and
they feel that they can each play a role
on their team, and if they felt that I
wasn't going to be able to contribute,
then they made that decision.
It's just something I have to live
with and I don't want to really get into
the politics of it or the why and the
hows. It happened and it's over with.
D: How do you feel about Dave
Roberts making it and you not?
N: I'm happy for Dave. We were
both there when the decision was
made, and last summer they had a 22
and over team and I made it and he
didn't, he was very supportive and
I talked to him the other day and I
want to see him do well. He was a
classmate of mine for four years and
I was happy to see him get that oppor-
tunity and you want to see him do
well. You root for each other.
D: What's going on with (former
Michigan defenseman and Pittsburgh
teammate) Chris Tamer? How's he
N: He's doing well in Cleveland.
He's playing real well. He had an
injury there for a while with his hand,
but he's bounced back from that and
he's doing well.
D: How well do you think Michi-
gan coach Red Berenson has pre-
pared his players for the NHL?
N: The thing that helped me when
I got here is ... the way I skate, and
they want me to skate with the puck
and jump up on the play. And the
thing with Red, he prepares you ... to
do every drill at full speed.
Sometimes I've noticed that you
see other coaches and they don't teach
their players that. When I came into
camp, it was just installed in my head
that I do everything at full speed.
So ... you stand out there and then
that's when all the opportunities started
to happen. He prepares you. He pre-
pares guys for hockey after college and
he prepares them for life after college.
He's always said that it's never
going to last forever, so he's big on
both part of the aspects, and even
though I've had an opportunity to
play here, I'll definitely be ready if
this doesn't work out.
D: What's it like going out onto
the ice for a game in the NHL as
compared to college?
N: It's definitely exciting. There's
no fight song, so you sort of miss that.
Actually, you don't play any games
during the week in college and you
get that big rush toward the weekend
and then when the fight song is going,
that's where you really get a pump.
Here, it's exciting too, when you
have 80 games a year (editor's note -
The NHL schedule is 84 games). You
can't really charge out to the ice with
the same fury. You can't do that for
I don't really want to rate or com-
pare the two against each other, be-
cause they were both really exciting.
The R.H. Factor
Inordinate number of
tragedies mar 1993
As 1993 slowly comes to a close, I think I speak for many sports fans in
saying ... good-bye. In a year where obituaries seemed to appear on the front
page of the sports section more often than championships, nothing could have
salvaged the past 365 days.
Whether it be former greats such as Arthur Ashe, Roy Campanella and
Don Drysdale or modern-day players such as Tim Crews, Steve Olin and Alan
Kulwicki, it seemed that every time I turned on SportsCenter there was yet
another athlete whose life had suddenly ended.
The sheer multitude of individuals who died is what is so hard to
understand. Tragically in every year a few fall victim to the gods, but in 1993
the number seemed to transcend the definition of cruel.
Even more shocking was the plethora of current professional athletes who
passed away in 1993. Not that any death is expected, but sports celebrities are
supposed to be immortal. They don't cry or bleed or show any signs of pain.
And they certainly don't die. That simply doesn't happen.
At least that was what I believed in 1979 when I was a naive eight-year old
who had just been exposed to the world of baseball. Living near New York
City, I rooted for the New York Yankees and idolized Thurman Munson, the
team's catcher and captain.
If I ever had a sports hero it was Munson. To me he epitomized what an
athlete should be. He played hard, giving every ounce of energy he had each
time he crouched behind the plate. Yet he was a true sportsman, not afraid to
tip his cap to a fellow hard-working competitor.
Having just started to play Little League that year, I often pretended that I
was Munson whenever I stepped in the batter's box against an imposing 10-
year old. Naturally I wore No. 15 and asked to play catcher so that I, like
Munson, could don the tools of ignorance with pride.
On an early August afternoon, just two days before I was to go see the
Yankees in person with my Dad, I was at home playing with a friend when
my Mom told me to come inside. She had the television on and said she just
heard some bad news. It had just been announced that Munson had died in a
small plane crash near his home in Ohio.
I was too young to fully comprehend what had happened. It seemed
inconceivable to me that someone as physically strong and fit as a baseball
player could suddenly pass away. I watched the screen like I was viewing a
cartoon believing that the image wasn't real and that when I went to Yankee
Stadium next, Munson would walk on the diamond again.
Alas, even athletes are human.
I was never able to really follow any one player again like I had with
Munson. I gradually stopped rooting for the Yankees as well, as the team lost
most of its luster. I still have his poster up in my room, a symbol of the one
and only athlete I ever wished I could be.
I can't help but think that today other children have similar feelings about
those who left us in 1993. The one lasting image I really even have from this
past summer was the AP photo of a father and his young son both decked out
in their Reggie Lewis jerseys, paying homage to their own personal hero.
In the same vein my heart rings out to basketball fans around the world
who lost a hero in Drazen Petrovic. Petrovic's appeal transcended national
boundaries, as he received fan mail from all over the world after a terrible
automobile accident. He brought joy to so many playing a child's game.
Sports provides an interesting paradox. For most, watching a basketball or
football game is a way to relax and forget the realities of the everyday world.
Yet the tragedies of 1993 are something that cannot be viewed from afar.
They are very real, with very real consequences and very real lessons. When
juxtaposing these two images, the innocence of sports fades away.
LPGA golfer Heather Farr, who died of cancer last month, had undergone
multiple operations to try and bring her disease into remission, yet she never
once pitied herself or her plight. The same holds true for Jim Valvano, who in
his weakened state still encouraged others never to give up fighting.
These people were no longer athletes, held up on a pedestal for all the
world to see. They were human beings, who cry and bleed and show signs of
And, sadly, die an early death.
Some other things did occur in the sports world this year. The Buffalo
Bills made the greatest comeback in NFL history against the Houston Oilers,
only to lose another Super Bowl. The Chicago Bulls were the first NBA team
to three-peat since the Boston Celtics of the 1960s. Barry Bonds proved that
indeed a player could be worth $40 million.
Yet in the grand scheme of things, these events don't really matter. Their
significance is muted by the sight of Chris Streets' family grieving at
courtside during a Hawkeye game or Bobby Allison losing another son in
Davey. Reality again sets in.
Thus, 1993 will not be remembered for spectacular plays or incredible
moments. Instead, it will only go down in history as the year that sports lost a
little more of its innocence and too many of its stars.
and sit there and guess what they're
thinking because you never know. I
mean, tdmorrow you could be back
down in the minors or you get sent
down for a couple days and then called
up for a couple days and sent down
the next day.
I mean, it can go any which way so
you really have to try and not get that
into your head. You can't really try to
ask yourself, 'Oh, I wonder what's
going to, happen?' and 'I wonder how
long I'll be up?' because you'll just
run into dead ends.
You just have to go out there and
play and see what they have to say and
take it a day at a time. It's an old clich6,
but it's the only thing you can do.
D: Was it tough playing almost
every game for four years at Michi-
gan, and then to play so sparingly
with the Penguins?
N: Well, sometimes it's tough,
because you have to keep your legs
fresh because, in my situation, you
might go three quarters of the period
(on the bench) and then get a power
play, and then you get thrown out of
there and you have to be ready to go.
So you have to keep up and you
have to keep up on the bench when
you're not playing. It's nothing you
can get down about, you just have to
be ready when you get the call. And if
you're not ready, there's no excuses,
D: Are you following the Wolver-
ines this season?
N: Yeah, I've talked to the guys a
couple of times and they're off to a
ning, and he said they were on the
road a lot and then they were going to
maybe have to weather the storm a lot
of times during the first half of the
season. But they've surely passed that
test with flying colors, so they just
have to stay on an even keel and keep
plugging through it.
D: How has your game improved
since leaving Michigan?
N: It's just a matter of getting
smarter with the puck and decision
making. I think I've improved defen-
sively a little bit in my own zone.
But it's funny though, because a lot
of the things that I learned at Michigan
I took here and I've adapted to the next,
level so to speak. It's just a process of
building on each step.
D: What improvements do you
think you still have to make?
N: I just think I have to get stron-
ger a little bit and I have to keep on
improving on the things that I do well.
I'm never going to try and lead the
league in penalty minutes or run guys
over, but I have to just keep on work-
ing with staying with my man and
quick feet and doing things well de-
fensively and then the decision mak-
ing that I was talking about with Larry
Murphy; watching him and the deci-
sion making that he has.
I have to get a little better on that
... I have to get a lot better on when to
(state Street + Sports' T
. ^ '
- - - --
10. Everybody has a head.
9. Sizes for all, the short and the tall.
8. Endless selection of teams, colors & logos.
7. Great for the roommate who never gets up
in time to shower.
6. Good enough for Kris Kross, Gary Moeller,
& Bill Clinton.
5. Everyone needs a 'lucky' hat for watchina
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