It wasn't like Chris Biotti was ordered to play defense when he was a kid because he couldn't skate or shoot or handle a hockey puck. The Golden Eagles' second-year pro from Harvard can do all those things and a lot more.
But as a kid growing up in Boston idolizing Bobby Orr, defense was a premium position to Biotti."We've chosen what we want to do," says Biotti, speaking for his defensive teammates.
"Defense is a very non-glamour type of position," Biotti acknowledges. "But look at the way Ken Sabourin or Kevin Grant (Eagle teammates) play - we're usually very good passers and very good contact players," Biotti says.
"We want to regulate and quarterback the play." That's something his father taught him, too - "just quarterback the play."
Having a former NHL defenseman as Eagle coach brings blueliners to the attention of the team, if not to all the fans. "He's hard on the defensive corps," Biotti says.
"When we lose it's our fault, and when we win it's our fault," Biotti says.
Wednesday night in the Salt Palace in the first game of the Turner Cup semifinal series against the Milwaukee Admirals, it was the first half of the statement that was truest, though Coach Paul Baxter never made a public example of it.
Biotti's defensive partner gave away the puck as Biotti gambled at neutral ice, and the Admirals got a 2-on-1 breakin for what turned out to be the winning goal in a 3-2 game. That made it 3-1 at the time.
"One big one in the neutral zone," was all Baxter said of the incident, looking more to overall sparkless Eagle play and a very effective checking game played by Milwaukee as the cause for the defeat that the Eagles hope to remedy in Game 2 tonight in the Palace.
But Lappin goaled just :33 after Milwaukee's Rob Murphy had run it to 3-1, making it 3-2, and Lappin's score could have been a game-tying goal instead of one that just didn't help that much.
The Eagles will be better tonight, they all promised.
"The thing I strive for is to be accountable for every game," says Biotti, who scored the Eagles' first goal Wednesday and who was even for the game in +/- statistics.
Biotti, who was the Calgary Flames' No. 1 draft choice in 1985, has had a rocky road to follow the past few years. At Harvard, he dislocated a shoulder, then blew out a knee. As a Crimson sophomore, he didn't get enough ice time to rebound from the injuries. After two years at Harvard, he went pro.
"He made a big commitment, turning pro after two years," says Baxter. "We're not talking Dick and Jane Community College."
He went from playing in a limited number of college games to being ready for 101 Eagle games plus exhibitions last season; he actually played in 84 games, including playoffs. "I was struggling mentally," Biotti says of the hefty schedule.
"It was tough on him," recalls Baxter. "He was like an 18-year-old hockey player, for all intents and purposes. He had to get back his self-esteem."
Baxter, however, has been a Biotti booster from Day 1, extolling his "great hands" last year and now calling him greatly improved in all aspects of the game, even though Biotti missed 25 games this season after his jaw was shattered by a puck in December.
"He's really learned that commitment and determination are a major part of becoming an NHL player," Baxter says. Biotti will have to keep improving next year, and he will continue to be an NHL prospect if he does, Baxter says.
"My level of play is much more consistent," says Biotti. "Last year, I faded in and out." He says he's matured and gained confidence.
Also, he's fully grasped Baxter's rotating-zone style of defensive play, and he's comfortable playing physical, positional hockey. "I've worked hard to develop my physical play," says Biotti, who's noted more for carrying the puck. "It's mostly concentration on never allowing anybody a free ticket - you have to always finish a check. I've learned to finish a check at every opportunity."
A good bump, says Biotti, is often more effective than a crushing hit in which the defender throws himself out of position. "I like to hit," he adds quickly. "The big hit is great for the crowd and for intimidation, so I won't cut that down." But his forte is more subtle.
"He may not be noted for it," says Baxter, "but I'm pleased with the progress he's made. He's becoming more of a physical force. I don't expect everyone to put guys through the boards; I expect guys to play the man."
There's not a lot of glory in that, but it's what Biotti has chosen to do.