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Veteran Workhorse Thrives Under The Radar

A look at Coyotes forward Jeff Halpern and what makes him a valuable asset to the team.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

As the echo of Katy Perry's "Roar" fades away from a victorious Phoenix Coyotes locker room, one player quietly goes about his business without much fanfare. He's not a superstar or a 30-goal scorer, but he is a 14-year NHL veteran whose contributions are a major part of Phoenix's hot start to the season.

Penalty killing and defensive zone face-offs don't have the glitz and glamour of a top-shelf goal or highlight reel hit, but they are often big factors in whether a team wins or loses.

Call him an unsung hero, a team player or just unselfish, Jeff Halpern is assigned the dirty work on most nights; a task he is more than willing to do.

"You always have certain jobs to do," said Halpern. "When you're asked to...take defensive faceoffs and kill penalties, you have to take pride in your job and what you are doing."

The 37-year-old Halpern began the 2013-14 season in Finland playing for TPS of SM-liiga. He scored four goals in eight games with TPS before signing a one-year, $600,000 two-way deal with the Coyotes on October 12.

The 3-2 Coyotes were looking to add another Centerman to their roster to aid their penalty kill and increase their faceoff wins. To fill this spot, coach Dave Tippett turned to a familiar face and a player he coached in Dallas, Halpern.

"He's met every challenge and it's been a huge help for us." -Shane Doan

"(He's) a strong faceoff guy, right-handed centerman, good character, guts of the game guy," said Tippett.

That impact has already been felt as the Potomac, Maryland native has won more than 58 percent of his faceoffs and has played 35.9 percent of the team's total short handed minutes in his eight games with Phoenix. His 5-on-5 minutes haven't been any easier as he starts in the defensive zone the majority of the time (51.4 percent).

Phoenix is 5-1-2 this season when Halpern is in the lineup. Halpern's impact is not lost on his teammates.

"He's met every challenge and it's been a huge help for us," Shane Doan said.

The Princeton University graduate's role on this Coyotes team has been and continues to be that of a fourth line center. Doan likened Halpern's role as similar to that of former Coyote Boyd Gordon who left for Edmonton as a free agent in the offseason.

Halpern's journey to Phoenix is a windy road that has taken him through Washington (twice), Montreal (twice), Dallas, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles and New York. In 915 NHL games, Halpern has scored 148 goals and 362 points while owning a 54.1 percent faceoff success rate (he has never had a season below 51.5 percent).

The Coyotes have had success under Tippett with veteran centers playing bottom-six roles. Robert Lang and Daymond Langkow had productive seasons for the playoff-bound Coyotes in 2010 and 2012 respectively. Continuing with the every other season theme, Halpern appears well on his way to filling that role heading into the 2014 playoffs.

Sports often boil down to hundreds of little things that help teams win. While it may not always show up in a box score, Halpern's contributions are as important as anything that makes the nightly highlight reel.

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