By Bill Whitehead
In what could only be considered a fitting moment Monday night, Scottie Upshall didn’t really address his recent renaissance and fantastic play after Florida’s 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in a game where Sean Bergenheim (two goals) and Tim Thomas (38 saves) were battling over No.1 star consideration. Instead, the 30-year-old Upshall took the time to discuss what was clearly more important to him.
“There’s a confidence growing within our group. Our goaltending has been outstanding, and Tim’s keeping us in these games. We had a couple of new kids in the lineup that played well. Bergenheim’s back and he’s playing the style of hockey he played in the playoffs. That’s going to help us out huge. I think collectively we’re feeling more comfortable playing tight games against good teams. That’s a good team over there,” said the winger, referencing his former club he played with from 2006 to 2009.
Upshall’s team-first attitude isn’t a surprise. He’s a tremendously likable person, and the day GM Dale Tallon signed him in 2011, TSN joked that the Alberta native acts as if he’s never had a bad day in his life. He’s also a player who when healthy is an asset to any team. And he’s talented, though he often somehow gets grounded by a team, gets hurt or doesn’t fit into their system, and is soon dealt away. On his fifth team since 2006, Upshall found himself in former coach Kevin Dineen’s doghouse this season, and the winger, who has one more year left on a contract that will pay him $3.5 million next season, appeared as a prime candidate to be traded away as Florida seemed to fritter away its season.
Good thing that didn’t happen.
Upshall has been simply dynamic the past month and has undergone a rebirth. In his last 14 games, Upshall has five goals and seven assists, but analyzing his play goes much deeper than scoresheets and box scores. If anything extraordinary or noteworthy has happened lately, it’s a good chance No.19 is involved in it in some way. On the power play Monday, he threw himself head first on a 50-50 puck to chip it into the corner and keep the play alive. He’s repeatedly agitated opposing defenders and goalies, getting in the way, stabbing at loose pucks and bringing emotion to a club that relies on a little something extra to make up for what it might lack in skill.
Late in the game and with the Flyers pushing to tie the 2-1 game, Upshall took over and helped salt away the victory. He gathered a faceoff in front of Philly goalie Steve Mason and rocked the netminder with a hard shot from a sharp angle that banged off his mask. After Brad Boyes stole the puck behind the net from defenseman Erik Gustafsson, Upshall tapped his stick on the ice, asking for the puck. Boyes delivered, and Upshall patiently waited and delivered his own crisp pass – one that Erik Gudbranson banged home with the help of a tricky bounce over Mason.
If you didn’t know what Upshall’s game was all about, you saw it in that moment and the next few. He celebrated with the spirit of a prep player who had just helped his team claim a state title, hugging his teammates and enthusiastically high-fiving the bench. When he sat down, he put his arm around Aleksander Barkov and patted him on the head, encouraging the Finnish rookie who had screened Mason.
“It was a big game, and personally, I played in Philly and I wanted to get this win for us. I knew Gudbranson had it, and it was a big shot for him. He’s a good young player, and gaining confidence like that is going to help him,” Upshall said.
Again crediting his teammates for their outstanding play. Again bringing the enthusiasm that’s needed on a team that needs a little boost every night. Again playing with the extra energy and tenacity of a family dog who’s been cooped up inside and finally gets to go outside and run in a giant yard. Again with the little things that don’t appear in the highlights but that coaches salivate over.
Again and again and again.
That’s Scottie Upshall and that’s the reason he’s been wearing the “A” on his sweater lately.
And he’s well worth holding on to now.
PRICELESS MOMENT: Gudbranson broke a huge drought without a goal when he gave Florida a 2-goal cushion in the last five minutes of the win over Philadelphia. After that media scrum ended, I grabbed a few moments with Gudbranson, who was more than happy to talk about getting back on the scoresheet.
The Ottawa native, who was paired with former World Junior Championship and Under-18 teammate Dylan Olsen, had a great reaction when Sun-Sentinel beat writer Harvey Fialkov asked Gudbranson if he knew how long it had been since he had scored a goal.
“No, I don’t even want to know,” Gudbranson replied.
“On the button…,” Fialkov said.
“You mean it was a hundred? Oh, come on, no,” Gudbranson said, genuinely surprised and putting his hand over his mouth.