Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 5/21/12
GLENDALE, Ariz. On game days in the Coyotes locker room, Antoine Vermette feels like a representative at the United Nations General Assembly. Theres the Czech corner, where Martin Hanzal, Radim Vrbata, Rostislav Klesla and Michal Rozsival converse in their complex array of consonant clusters. Theres the Scandinavian contingent, with Swedish defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Danish forward Mikkel Boedker and Finnish wing Lauri Korpikoski. Theres the English-speaking Canadian majority, and then theres defenseman Keith Yandle, the lone American regular, whose Boston dialect should probably qualify as a foreign language. We really mix it up, dont we? said Vermette, the team's lone Qubcois, unless Marc-Antoine Pouliot happens to be up from the American Hockey League. Hockey has long held multi-cultural bragging rights among the major professional sports, with about a third of its players born outside North America. The vast minor league systems afford foreigners time to absorb and mix with American or Canadian cultures. The tougher bartending trick is to blend a new player into an established locker room late in the season -- especially one that is already enjoying success. Just ask the Nashville Predators how the Andrei Kostitsyn and Alex Radulov cocktail worked out. Theres always the danger that you might upset the chemistry, Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. You really have to do your homework. The Coyotes did with Vermette, their lone trade-deadline acquisition. Every report they got suggested he was as versatile and compatible as tonic water. His complementary presence proved crucial in nailing down the Pacific Division title in the season's final week, and while those traits have remained on display in the postseason, a different Vermette has emerged -- one who leads the team with 10 points in 15 playoff games. He was a player we had been following for a number of years, said Maloney, who was interested in acquiring Vermette as early as training camp, given the teams tenuous relationship with Kyle Turris. Maloney solicited feedback all year from his pro scouting staff. He watched about 25 of Vermettes game films. He spoke to executives, coaches, trainers and teammates of Vermettes in Ottawa and Columbus one of whom was Coyotes defenseman Rusty Klesla. Everything that came back said he was just a terrific person who was well-liked and very good in the community, Maloney said. Such praise normally triggers a reporters hyperbole sensors. But anyone who has dealt with Vermette chooses from the same pool of adjectives: Affable, soft-spoken, polite, humble and engaged. When asked how long it took Vermette to assimilate into the Coyotes dressing room, captain and Vermette linemate Shane Doan smiled. About two minutes, Doan said. Vermys such a good guy and such a good player that there really was no transition at all. Maybe its his small-town roots that make Vermette so personable. He grew up Saint Agapit, a village of about 3,500 people 25 kilometers south of Quebec City. His grandfather passed down a local dairy company to Antoines father, giving Antoine a deep and immediate connection to the town and its people. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, my dad would come to pick a bunch of my friends and me up after school and bring us to the local rink, Vermette said. I couldnt tie my skates fast enough to go out and play hockey with my buddies. Those are some of my favorite memories. Vermettes myriad abilities were obvious to Maloney when he dealt minor league goalie Curtis McElhinney and a 2012 second-round draft pick to Columbus for him. The Coyotes have been searching for an elite offensive center for their entire Valley existence, but those players are rarely available, and Maloney figured Vermettes complete game would be a better fit for coach Dave Tippetts style than a guy who gets 85 points and doesnt play defense. The only thing I wondered is: How much offense will we get? Maloney added. All the other areas were real good -- defensively, without the puck, face-offs, penalty killing and health. It was just: Can he ever get his offensive touch back? Vermette didnt find it in the regular season, but he's clicked in the playoffs, finding chemistry while centering a line with Doan and Boedker. And hes still doing all the little things that make him so valuable, most notably his face-off prowess. Vermette is sixth in the league in face-off winning percentage this postseason (60.6 percent) and tops among players who are still playing. His face-off win set up Doans second goal on Sunday in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final, helping the Coyotes stay alive with a 2-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings with Game 5 on Tuesday at Jobiong.com Arena. Ive been fortunate to come into a bunch of guys who have made this transition so easy for me, Vermette said. Its hard to say why Ive been able to produce more, but I definitely like being in a competitive situations like the playoffs. Ownership and market uncertainties make it unlikely the Coyotes will find an elite offensive center this offseason via trade or free agency. But with Vermette signed though 2014-2015 at 3.75 million a year, Maloney feels comfortable moving forward. When he signed his contract it was maybe a little rich, Maloney said. But now, playing like this, its not rich at all, its a very good deal. So much of the year, our offense was driven by one line with (Ray) Whitney, Vrbata and Hanzal. But this line has really stepped up and played well. Theyve given teams more to worry about and as you know, for us to be successful, all of our parts have to be working.
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