'Wizard' still enjoys playing, still making plays

04/03/2014 1:49 PM

04/03/2014 1:50 PM

He's closer to 42 than 41, he's played more than 1,300 games in the NHL, has a Stanley Cup ring and could easily retire and work on lowering his golf handicap.

But Ray Whitney is still playing. More importantly, he still wants to play and is playing well for the Dallas Stars.

The secret to his longevity?

"I'm not sure what the answer is. (Teemu) Selanne might have a better answer than me," Whitney said Thursday. "For me, I stay in shape year-round and it has worked for me, for the most part."

But there's also the mental side. An 82-game season is a grind and Whitney is in his 20th NHL season.

"It's not too bad, especially when you have a three-week break three-quarters of the way through," Whitney said, noting the NHL's Olympic break this season. "That's always helpful. I think if you do it long enough it just becomes more of a habit.

"I think your mind and body get shut off in the summer and get turned back on in September. It's like anybody doing any job. If their alarm clock is going off at 7 they probably don't need that alarm clock anymore. My mind and body are probably the same. When it's September I'm anxious to get going again."

Whitney will forever be a part of the Canes' past, having helped win the 2006 Stanley Cup and reach the Eastern Conference finals in 2009. People in Raleigh fondly remember "The Wizard" and all the things No. 13 did on the ice, and he's also the answer to a Canes trivia question: who assisted on the winning goal in the Canes' last playoff victory -- Scott Walker's Game 7 goal against the Boston Bruins in 2009.

Since leaving the Canes after the 2009-2010 season, Whitney spent two years with the Phoenix Coyotes, reaching the Western Conference finals in 2012, and now is in his second season with the Stars. He has nine goals and 23 assists in 68 games, picking up a goal and assist Tuesday in the Stars' 5-0 win over the Washington Capitals, when he was plus-3 on the night.

Whitney may not like the tag "elder statesman" but has filled that role and others for the Stars, who are fighting for a playoff spot.

"It's his veteran leadership," Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said. "He's been a big part of our first power-play unit. He can make plays in real tight places.

"He finds a way to get around the ice and find openings and make plays. It's what kept him in the league. He sees the ice as well as anybody in this league."

Whitney smiled Thursday when asked if it seems like it had been eight years since the Canes won the Cup.

"Yeah, it does actually seem like a long time," Whitney said. "But it's fresh in my mind the tailgating, the games. It makes you realize even more how hard it is and how special it is to get there."

Whitney would like for the Stars to get there. Playoff seeds, he said, mean little. He noted that in 2006, the Edmonton Oilers were the eighth seed in the Western Conference and reached Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Canes (former Oilers center Shawn Horcoff is now a Dallas teammate).

"There are upsets every year and you see it in every sport," Whitney said. "You see it in football, in the NCAA tournament, you see it in hockey. You've just got to get in."

Canes beat writer Chip Alexander

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