Steve Zipay is an award-winning journalist who has covered events from Super Bowls to World Series and issues
The phone call came in the wee hours of the morning of April 2, 2009, after 27-year-old Taylor Pyatt and the Vancouver Canucks had played the Anaheim Ducks. The news was horrifying. His high-school sweetheart and fiancee, Carly Bragnalo, had been killed in a taxi accident while vacationing with her parents in Jamaica. They were due to be married that summer.
Shocked and distraught, Pyatt went home to Thunder Bay, Ontario, was surrounded by his family, made funeral arrangements and stayed away from the game for weeks. He returned a month later for the third game of the second round of the playoffs against Chicago, but his heart was elsewhere. He was mourning and needed to get away, needed time to heal.
In Phoenix, general manager Don Maloney took a chance on Pyatt, an unrestricted free agent, and signed him to a one-year deal.
"We're always looking for value, and he had scored 20 goals [23 in 2006-07]," Maloney recalled last week. "He had a little knee issue and so we got him on a good contract [$600,000]. But he was still shaken. After Vancouver, with all the media attention, we were a nice respite for him to take a step back, sort his life out."
The 6-4 left wing, who was a first-round draft choice (eighth overall) of the Islanders in 1999, had 12 goals and 23 points and earned a two-year extension from the Coyotes. Last season, he had four goals and six points for the Coyotes in the postseason. "He was one of our top three forwards. We would've liked to have kept him," said Maloney, who is still under some financial restraints in the desert.
Instead, Pyatt opted for a two-year, $3.1-million deal with the Rangers, who had drafted his younger brother, Tom, now with Tampa, in 2005. "It was a good time in my career to be in Phoenix," Pyatt said Saturday. "I enjoyed it."
He's made a smooth adjustment, with three goals in his first four games, and has earned praise from coach John Tortorella.
Maloney is not surprised. "He's a quiet guy, good soldier, good hockey sense, attention to detail, good hands around the net. You're not looking for him to run someone over and fight, but he finishes checks."
On the personal side, Pyatt is engaged again.
"Some blows are tougher than others," Maloney said. "Give him credit. He's a great guy to root for."
Magic number 56?
It has been projected that 56 points will secure a playoff spot in this 48-game season.
Last season, the Rangers collected 61 points in their final 48 games.
December (2) 1-1-0
January (17) 8-3-1
February (19) 9-3-1
March (21) 10-6-1
April (2) 1-3-0
Total 61 29-16-3
Fedora makes way back to Broadway
The Broadway Hat, or a reasonable facsimile, is back. A black felt fedora, which Brad Richards brought back from the European trip that opened the 2011-12 season and was awarded to a Ranger after a win, was in Marian Gaborik's locker after his hat trick at home against Boston on Wednesday . . . Where are they now? Mats Zuccarello, the winger whose NHL rights remain with the Rangers, has 10 goals and 15 assists in 39 games with the KHL's Mettalurg Magnitogorsk . . . The Red Wings are raving about the contributions of former Rangers coach Tom Renney, now an associate head coach in Detroit. Renney signed a three-year deal . . . Coming up: Rangers play the Flyers on Tuesday, and the Penguins on Thursday at the Garden.
Torts thinks Segal could make it back
After Brandon Segal was returned to the Connecticut Whale, having played just 14 shifts for 5:21 in Boston last Saturday, coach John Tortorella said: "I don't think he's one and done," and instructed Segal, 29, to push to adjust to the speed and pace of the NHL. Segal was 3-1-4 in the last two Whale wins as of Friday, but former Boston College RW Benn Ferriero, 25, acquired Thursday from the Penguins, was the call-up for last night's game . . . J.T. Miller, 19, who scored nine points in seven games as part of Team USA's gold-medal squad in the World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia, will be the youngest player in the AHL All-Star Game in Providence tomorrow.