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Islanders free agent signings Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina bring the experience of one of hockey's top rivalries to Long Island.

Wednesday, 07.28.2010 / 9:10 PM / News
By Dyan LeBourdais
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There is no doubting the intense rivalry that exists between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. Each season the teams battle each other for one of the top playoff seeds in the East. Two of the newest Islanders defensemen, Milan Jurcina and Mark Eaton, are well versed in the rivalry and the intense competion it brought about.

“That was always special,” Jurcina said about playing Pittsburgh. “In our building (the Verizon
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Center) it was crazy. It was the same thing in Pittsburgh, but our coaches were always saying it’s not about Crosby and Ovechkin. It’s Pittsburgh against Washington. So they were always special games and a special atmosphere in the buildings.”

After losing to Detroit in the 2008 Stanley Cup finals, Eaton and the Penguins beat the Capitals in the second round of the playoffs to go on and defeat the Red Wings for the 2009 Stanley Cup victory.

“With the addition of both Mark and Milan, we add both size and experience to our defense,” said Islanders General Manager Garth Snow. “Each played in winning environments the past few years and we look forward to them bringing that same element to our dressing room.”

Eaton, who signed a two-year contract on July 2, has been playing in the NHL for the last 10
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seasons, having played the last four seasons with Pittsburgh and establishing himself as a valuable player along the way.

“He’s a really quiet defensive defenseman,” Jurcina said about his new teammate. “He’s playing against the top lines (every night). So Pittsburgh used him and they went to the Stanley Cup when he was out there. He played against (Henrik) Zetterberg and those guys when they played against Detroit, so he’s a great defenseman.”

Jurcina, a native of Liptovsky Mikulas, Slovakia signed a one-year deal on July 2. Originally drafted by Boston in 2001, Jurcina has played the majority of his professional career with Washington, but had a short mid-season stint with Columbus last year.

“He’s a solid defenseman,” Eaton said of his new teammate. At 6’4” and 236 pounds, “He’s a big guy that can lay some big hits and he’s solid in his own zone. From what I remember, I think he’s got a pretty heavy shot as well. So that’s some good tools to have as a defenseman, the size and the experience. He’s been in the league a while now and he plays well in his defensive zone. That’s a great trait to have for your defensive core.”

While both players are extremely talented, their experience playing on teams leading the Eastern Conference is extremely valuable, and gives them the ability to handle the pressures of being in the NHL.

“It was a lot of pressure [playing for the Capitals],” said Jurcina, who had six goals and 30 assists in 211 games with the Capitals. “There was a lot of pressure up there. Everyone was expecting to have a good game and good results, but when we didn’t have good results everyone was at us, newspapers, coaches, GMs, so it was a lot of pressure.”

Even though Eaton, like Jurcina, felt the pressure to perform well, he knows the experience he gained will help his career in the long run. He played in 24 games during the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs and tallied four goals and three assists for seven points. During the 2009-10 season, he earned a career high 16 points (three goals and 13 assists) in 79 games.

“(Playing for the Penguins) was a great experience. Obviously, winning the Cup two years ago was the highlight of my career so far and it hopefully gave me a lot of valuable experience, experience that I can try and bring here,” Eaton said. “I know this is a young team and hopefully I’ll be able to pass some of my experience along to these guys.”

While he’s never considered himself a vocal leader, Eaton will definitely be able to help Islanders Captain Doug Weight educate the Islanders young core of players.

“I’m more of a guy that likes to lead by example by doing the right thing on and off the ice, but if the opportunity is there, I will say something,” Eaton said. “So it’s something I’m looking forward to. I’ve played with a lot of great veteran guys that have done the same for me. I’m looking forward to returning the favor.”

Eaton’s new teammate shares his excitement. “I am really happy I am on this team,” Jurcina said. “I am really excited to play with all these guys inside the room.”




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