SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Reggie Savage hopes he's not forgotten in Baltimore.
The forward began his pro hockey career with the Baltimore Skipjacks in 1990, and he starred with the team until it moved to Portland, Maine, in 1993.
Savage was a local hero. Skipjacks jerseys bearing his name and No. 7 could be found on fans all around the Baltimore Arena. The 15th overall selection in the 1988 draft was supposed to be the offensive whiz the Washington Capitals so desperately needed.
It never worked out that way. Savage played in 17 NHL games with Washington and endured a bitter tenure in the Quebec/Colorado organization. Now, at 25, he's trying to woo the Vancouver Canucks while fighting a reputation as a defensive liability who doesn't always come to play.
Savage returns to Baltimore this week for the first time in three years as a member of the Syracuse Crunch. The Crunch begins its Western Conference semifinal series with the Baltimore Bandits at the Arena tonight.
"I want to show everyone in Baltimore that I'm still alive -- I can still play hockey pretty well," Savage said. "I still have some friends in Baltimore. I enjoyed playing there. It's been a few years since I've been back, and I want to play well for the fans."
Syracuse has been a perfect fit for Savage, and vice versa. He began this season in the International Hockey League without an NHL contract.
"Sometimes in life you figure that you're past the time for the NHL, and the next minute it's like, hey, somebody wants to take a look at me for the NHL," Savage said. "All year I didn't hear nothing from the NHL teams. I feel really fortunate to be with Syracuse."
He still doesn't have that contract, but the Canucks, the Crunch's parent club, are interested in signing him.
The Crunch was a struggling team in need of a veteran presence for much of the season. Syracuse acquired Savage in March and turned its season around.
"We would not even be in the playoffs without Reggie," Crunch coach Jack McIlhargey said. "He pays the price, and that's what you have to do to score goals. He gives us a lot of leadership. I'm sure there are guys in the National Hockey League that Reggie is better than."
Savage had nine goals and five assists in 10 games after the trade to Syracuse and added four points in the Crunch's 3-1 first-round series win over the Binghamton Rangers.
"It was nice to come here and really showcase my talents for the Crunch and the entire Vancouver organization," Savage said. "Putting this team in the playoffs is a big accomplishment for me. It's a very good situation for me here. I know Vancouver is not happy with their team."
The Canucks barely qualified for the playoffs before exiting in the first round, and an off-season overhaul is expected.
"He needs a team to give him a chance," McIlhargey said. "There are opportunities for him here. There are going to be some openings in Vancouver. Vancouver is very impressed with what Reggie has accomplished here."
This might be Savage's last crack at the NHL.
"I've got to fight the reputation every day," Savage said. "I'm a very proud man. Either I can play in the NHL or be a dominant player in the AHL and deserve an NHL contract, or I can finish my career in the IHL or in Europe. Hopefully, we can sit down with Vancouver and work out a contract. I've played hockey since I was 5 years old, and I've dreamed to play in the NHL for so long. If an NHL team wants to give me a chance for even 10, 20, 30 games . . . I've got to take that chance."
Pub Date: 5/01/96