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Mighty Ducks Get Ozolinsh From Panthers

January 31, 2003 GMT

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) _ Attempting to end a three-year postseason drought, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks acquired All-Star defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh in a trade Thursday with the Florida Panthers.

``This is a guy that will give us skill at the back end, that will help our power play considerably,″ Mighty Ducks general manager Bryan Murray said. ``This kind of player is important to take the next step. ``

Anaheim also got left wing/defenseman Lance Ward from Florida for center Matt Cullen, defenseman Pavel Trnka and a fourth-round pick in the NHL entry draft.

After Thursday night’s 4-3 victory at San Jose, the Ducks had 55 points and trailed Colorado by one for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth.

The Avalanche beat the New York Rangers 4-3 in overtime.

Florida, 12th in points in the Eastern Conference, played Detroit to a 2-2 tie.

``It came as a bit of a shock to me, but right now I’ve had a couple hours to let it settle in and I feel pretty excited about it,″ Ozolinsh said. ``I don’t think anyone enjoys being traded, but sometimes it’s for the best.″

The 30-year-old Ozolinsh has seven goals and 19 assists in 51 games this season. He was voted into the starting lineup for the Eastern Conference in Sunday’s All-Star game, to be played in Florida. It will mark his fourth straight All-Star appearance and seventh overall _ six of them starts.

Despite being traded to a Western Conference team, Ozolinsh will play for the Eastern side in the All-Star game, the NHL said.

A similar instance happened in 1990 when Bernie Nicholls was traded from the Los Angeles Kings to the New York Rangers a day before the All-Star game.

Ozolinsh played in 83 games last season for Carolina and Florida with 14 goals and 38 assists, ranking him fifth among NHL defensemen.

``That’s why we traded for him,″ Murray said. ``We’ve got all the defensemen we need. We needed someone to do something with the puck that we haven’t been able to do.″

But Ozolinsh said he’s no longer just an offensive-minded backliner.

``I’m not as reckless defensively as I used to be,″ he said. ``I’ve learned a lot from playing all these years. I think I can be more valuable defensively.″

A 6-foot-3, 215-pounder, Ozolinsh represented Latvia in the 2002 Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City. He has played in 712 regular-season games with 148 goals and 343 assists. Since his first NHL season in 1992-93, he trails only Al MacInnis (164) of St. Louis in goals by a defenseman.

Drafted by San Jose 12 years ago, Ozolinsh was a member of Colorado’s 1996 Stanley Cup championship team. He led all defenseman in points with 19 in 22 postseason games that year.

The trade comes amid questions about Disney’s willingness to spend money on personnel for the Mighty Ducks.

``I think it really shows a real commitment by ownership by bringing a name, an all-star player, here,″ Murray said.

Ward, in his third NHL season, had three goals and one assist in 36 games for the Panthers. The 24-year-old player has four goals and seven assists in 134 career games _ all with Florida.

Cullen, 26, had seven goals and 14 assists in 49 games for the Mighty Ducks this season. A second-round draft pick by Anaheim in 1996, he has 65 goals and 135 assists in 426 NHL games.

Trnka, 26, has three goals and six assists in 24 games. Drafted by Anaheim in 1994, he has 11 goals and 47 assists in 322 career games.

``Matt Cullen and Pavel Trnka are both very solid young players, who are moving into the prime stages of their careers,″ Panthers general manager Rick Dudley said. ``We feel that we have improved our team now and for years to come.″