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November 19, 2003 - Thomas stands tall within short time
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Thomas stands tall within short time

November 19, 2003

BY HELENE ST. JAMES
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER

One day late last week Kris Draper, Ray Whitney and Steve Thomas stood back-to-back-to-back in an effort to settle the kind of question that must be answered: Who, among these Red Wings forwards, was tallest.

All are officially listed as 5-feet-10 in NHL and team media guides, but that's because there's an unofficial league bylaw that no player should ever admit to being shorter. Which, in this case, all are.

The ad hoc height committee was just one of the many ways Thomas has fit in since he joined the team last week after being signed as a free agent to alleviate the injury loss of Henrik Zetterberg. Thomas has shown he can play left wing on a utility line with Jason Williams and Darryl Bootland, and on a scoring line with Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan. And tonight, when the Wings play host to Columbus, he'll get a chance to make his debut on a power-play unit with Pavel Datsyuk and Brett Hull. Thomas' hard-nosed style is perfect for roving around the crease and pouncing on loose pucks.

"He's very versatile," coach Dave Lewis said of Thomas on Tuesday. "He's not afraid to go to the net and hang around the net, he can go in and establish a forecheck, and on the power play you like a guy to go in and knock somebody off the puck."

Thomas, 40, scored a goal in his first game while on a checking line, and helped take out the defense on the play that resulted in Yzerman's goal at Minnesota.

"He's only played three games, but he sure doesn't look like he missed the early part of the season," Yzerman said. "He's very comfortable out there and he's keeping up with the pace."

Thomas' adaptability is part of his work ethic.

"I'm not someone who is going to bitch and complain about who I play with," he said. "I can't pretend to think I'm a finesse player -- I go out there and I try to take the body and I forecheck and I go to the net and try to get some dirty goals. The only way I know how to play is the way I always have played."

Even so, Thomas admitted he enjoyed playing with Yzerman and Shanahan.

"If the way I play fits into the groove of that line, then that's great," he said. "One guy has over 600 goals, the other guy has over 500. If I can get some of Shanny's rebounds, things will be fine."

As for the height issue, Whitney revealed the results. Draper won, while he and Thomas were dead even. "Draper said I was 14 hands, like how you measure horses," Whitney said with a smile. "He said, 'Just like Seabiscuit.' "

NOTEBOOK: Goalie Dominik Hasek (groin) is out tonight and Thursday, Lewis said. Forward Darren McCarty (back) is going to stay off the ice at least until the next scheduled home practice, which is Sunday.