Great Article on Fort St. John's Mark Hartigan

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Mark Hartigan’s future is stretching out for him like the open road he traveled earlier this week.

Driving his truck and towing a U-Haul trailer from Michigan to Minnesota, he knows his immediate destination but doesn’t have a road map yet to where his career is headed next.

The most celebrated and decorated player in the history of the St. Cloud State men’s hockey program will be a free agent for the second time in as many years unless the Detroit Red Wings re-sign him by July 1.

If they don’t, he should be in high demand. It won’t be a result of his statistics (three goals, four points, minus-2 in 23 regular-season games). What he can offer is a good luck charm.

He’s the only man on the planet who can say he was a member of the past two Stanley Cup championship teams — even though he didn’t skate a shift in either the 2007 finals with the Anaheim Ducks or with the Wings 10 days ago as they ousted the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.

“If you had told me back when I was in college that I’d have two Stanley Cups by now, I’d have said you were friggin’ crazy,” Hartigan laughed. “This year meant a lot more because it was with a team like Detroit that has such history and because I was with the organization all year. It feels like I went through it all, the whole ride.”

With the Ducks, he caught the last hand on the bandwagon. Traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second half of the season, he played just six games down the stretch and dressed only for the first game of the playoffs (going pointless in all). He lived in an Anaheim hotel for several months, complicated by the fact that his wife, Melissa, was pregnant with their daughter, and compounded by the death of his mother on April 22, 2007, following a four-month battle with cancer.

“It’s a lot less distracting now, that’s for sure,” Hartigan said. “I still wish she was here to see it, but I had a lot of family and friends in Detroit for the finals.”

The Cup celebration may have meant more to his father, Paul, than it did to Mark, whose sister, Lisa, also was there. And Mark’s brother, Colin, could barely contain himself at the chance to hang around his boyhood heroes. Mark even arranged for Colin to have his picture taken in the dressing room with Steve Yzerman.

One of Hartigan’s friends wasn’t quite so pleased by the outcome of the series. Ryan Malone, who played three years with Hartigan at SCSU and roomed with him for two, gave everything including his blood for the Penguins. Malone suffered a broken nose and also took a puck to the face in the finals. Nothing kept him off the ice, but he managed just one assist.

“I felt bad for him because he worked his tail off,” said Hartigan, 30, who won a wager between the two on the outcome of the series: A night of babysitting since both players live in Plymouth and have children under the age of 1.

Malone also will become a free agent on July 1 unless the Pens re-sign him.

“That’s why I don’t feel too bad,” Hartigan said. “He’s going to do just fine. Pittsburgh’s either going to pay him a lot of money or else he might’ve priced himself out of their market. He was a force 5-on-5. He skated penalty kill and power play. He scored goals, he set up goals. He blocked shots. He did everything except play goal.”

Hartigan won’t be in such demand, but the only season in which he played more NHL games and scored more points was in 2005-06 with Columbus.

“I’m going to talk to Detroit, for sure,” Hartigan said of his prospects for a new contract. “There are a lot of things going on around the draft (June 20-21). They told me right from the start that I wasn’t going to be in their top six (forwards), so they were up-front with me. You’d like to go someplace where you can play more, but this is also a team that wins. Is it better to be on the fourth line with the Wings or the third line with the (Atlanta) Thrashers?”

Hartigan played four first-round playoff games with Detroit, after which coach Mike Babcock began using Darren Helm to center the fourth line instead of Hartigan.

“They wanted more speed and Darren could provide that,” Hartigan said. “I’m OK with it. I still got to be a part of the team and I got a lot of games in.”

Not enough, however, to get his name on the Cup barring a rare petition. NHL rules stipulate players must have at least 40 regular-season games or at least one game in the finals to receive the honor. Regardless, Hartigan will get a Stanley Cup ring. And, he’ll get the trophy for a day.

On Aug. 25, 2007, he had it in Fort McMurray, Alberta. He took it to a fire station, a local hospital and a youth center — all of which had recently experienced losses like he had with his mother. Then he held a party for about 150 people at his brother’s home, with a bartender on hand and steaks for all. The Cup wound up in the hot tub and later the shower. The following morning, he ate cereal out of it.

His daughter, Ava Lynn, is just 11 months old and already she’s had her picture taken sitting in the Cup, twice.

“I’m not sure when I’ll get it,” said Hartigan, who wasn’t sure if he’d be able to join his former college teammates for today’s alumni golf outing at Wapicada. “It’s got to go to Europe first and then western Canada. I’d like to have it at our house but, since we’re in Minnesota now, maybe we can make a visit to St. Cloud.”

Only time will reveal when that might be, just as it will become clear which jersey he’ll wear in the fall.

This column is the opinion of Times sports writer Kevin Allenspach. Reach him at 259-3621 or e-mail at kallenspach@stcloudtimes.com. Read his blog at www.sctimes.com/kevin.

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