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Coffey passes praise on to others

The stars will come out in Tampa Bay this month when the All-Star Game comes to the Ice Palace. Each Sunday until the league's annual showcase, the Times will revisit All-Star Games through the memories of hockey's greatest players and coaches.

Ray Bourque is close on his heels, but Paul Coffey remains the most prolific offensive-minded defenseman in NHL history.

Scoring, simply put, is in the blood of Coffey, a member of four Stanley Cup championship teams (Edmonton in 1984, '85 and '87 and Pittsburgh in 1991) who has played in 14 NHL All-Star Games (1982-86, '88-'94 and '96-'97), more than all but four other greats: Gordie Howe (23), Wayne Gretzky (17), Bourque (16) and Frank Mahovlich (15).

Coffey is the league's No. 7 all-time points leader, trailing only six of hockey's most-feared forwards: Gretzky, Howe, Marcel Dionne, Mark Messier, Phil Esposito and Mario Lemieux. And he is the NHL's No. 2 all-time assist man, second to Gretzky.

It is little wonder, then, that the most indelible All-Star memories for the three-time Norris Trophy winner involve not him, but two of the NHL's great scorers _ two of the only six who have more points then he.

"I've had a chance to play in quite a few (All-Star Games)," Coffey said Wednesday, one day after he was traded by Chicago to Carolina with 1,477 points, including 1,094 assists, on a resume that has stops in Edmonton with Gretzky, Pittsburgh with Lemieux, Los Angeles, Detroit, Hartford (before the Whalers moved to Carolina) and Philadelphia.

"What I remember most has to be that game in Long Island when Gretzky was incredible, and that Pittsburgh game with Lemieux."

That's right: Ignoring his two All-Star goals and nine All-Star assists, what comes to mind first for Coffey are the feats of two superstars with whom he has had the good fortune to play with as teammates and share Cup victories.

Gretzky scored four goals in the 1983 game to which Coffey referred, all in the third period of a 9-3 Campbell Conference win over the Wales at Nassau Coliseum.

Lemieux matched the four-goal feat seven years later in Pittsburgh, where Wales beat Campbell 12-7.

"Watching those two guys," Coffey said, "was just amazing."

Take it from a great scorer in his own right.

_ TIM BUCKLEY

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