<
>

Amonte gets cold shoulder in return to Chicago

CHICAGO (AP) -- Every time the puck hit his stick, Tony Amonte
could hear the boos in an arena where he was once cheered loudly.

"They have passionate fans here, that's the way I look at it,''
Amonte said Wednesday night as his new team, the Phoenix Coyotes,
and his old one, the Chicago Blackhawks, played the NHL's first 0-0
game this season.

"It's always different the first time back. You're standing
there at the blue line and look up at the flag. In preparing for
the game, I was just trying not to be too high or too low,'' said
Amonte, who made his return to the United Center after spending
parts of nine seasons with the Blackhawks.

"I had a few jitters, but you get over it. Sure it felt a
little weird going to the different bench and warming up in the
different end of the ice,'' he added.

Amonte may have been the center of the booing, but the game
hinged on the goalies.

Zac Bierk made 40 saves in his first start of the season for the
Coyotes, while Michael Leighton stopped 31 shots in his NHL debut
for the Blackhawks.

Recalled from the minors four days ago, Bierk held off Chicago's
seventh power play with two great saves early in the third, denying
Theo Fleury and Steve McCarthy.

"The second and third opportunities, our guys cleared them away
and let me see the puck,'' Bierk said. "To be honest, I wouldn't
have predicted an 0-0 game tonight.''

Leighton made one of his best saves with just under three
minutes left, turning away a close shot by Paul Mara. He preserved
the tie by twice making stops on Shane Doan in overtime.

"The last save came with about three seconds left. The guy just
jammed the puck and I got my toe on it right on the goal line,''
Leighton said.

"That would have been a bummer if that one had gone in.''

Leighton, giving top goaltender Jocelyn Thibault some deserved
rest, was admittedly nervous.

"I was jittery while I was getting dressed and Jocelyn told me
to relax. He was just saying play the way you can, don't think
about the NHL or anything else, just think about playing hockey.''

It was the first 0-0 game ever for the Coyotes. The last time it
happened in franchise history was Feb. 19, 1980, at the New York
Islanders. The Blackhawks have had 34 scoreless ties, the previous
one was Dec. 17, 1997, at Edmonton.

Amonte was booed in introductions and then every time he touched
the puck, which is nothing new in Chicago where former stars like
Chris Chelios and Jeremy Roenick are also greeted with the same
disdain.

"I'm in good company with Cheli. That's the way I look at it.
You close a chapter in your life and you move on,'' Amonte said.

"I didn't think he'd get booed every single time he touched the
puck,'' Chicago's Steve Sullivan said. "That must have been
nerve-wracking to come into a hostile situation at this arena.''

Amonte, a two-time Chicago captain, had an uneasy split from the
Blackhawks when he could not reach agreement on a new contract as
he and Chicago GM Mike Smith differed on his value.

"It's unfortunate the way it worked out,'' Amonte said in a
pregame interview with TSN.

"It was a hard thing to deal with. Talking with Mr. (Vice
President Bob) Pulford, it seemed like he really wanted to keep me
around here and let's try to get this thing done. With Mr. Smith,
it didn't seem it work out.''

He ended up signing a four-year, $24 million deal with the
Coyotes in the offseason.

Amonte, who led the Hawks in goal scoring five times and went
over 40 goals in three of those seasons, has started slowly with
his new team with just 11 goals in 42 games.

But he's still the NHL's current iron man, appearing in his
452nd straight game Wednesday night. In his 13-year career, Amonte
has missed only eight games.

Game notes
Blackhawks LW
Eric Daze sat out his second straight game
with a stiff back. ... The Coyotes were without their top two
goalies, Sean Burke and Brian Boucher, both of whom hurt their
knees in a Jan. 3 game at Detroit. ... The Blackhawks had a
four-minute power play starting late in the first period and
continuing into the second, including a 42-second span when they
had a two-man advantage. But Bierk made a couple of nifty saves,
one on Fleury, to turn them away.