Monday, May 4, 2009
TOP TEN ALLTIME PENS
With yet another Pens/Caps re-match starting this weekend, we thought it would be a good idea to give you a dose of TOP TEN Pens/Caps moments. However, after sifting through countless YouTubes from the early/mid/late 90's, there were no real Caps highlights to be found. It went something like: Pens big goal. Pens big goal. Caps fight. Pens big goal. Try it yourself if you like, we're not kidding. So, in honor of one of the greatest NHL franchises over the last 20 years, we instead present to you the TOP TEN ALLTIME PITTSBURGH PENGUINS:
10. LUCKY LUC ROBITAILLE
Not many guys can play one season in one city and make this sort of impact. Maybe you think we are discrediting ourselves right off the bat, but whatever, you're an idiot. One of the best left wings to ever play in the NHL, "Cool Hand Luc" was traded to the Pens in 1994 after an alleged falling-out in Los Angeles with The Great One. (Maybe he told Wayne that Mario was #1...or maybe he didn't want to gamble on pro hockey.) Robitaille is the only player in franchise history with his own IMDB page, the only guy who could single-handedly deny Chicago a Stanley Cup by burying a Game 7 breakaway goal as time expired (thus sending the game into Sudden Death), and the only guy to notch a 4-goal game with certain un-named webmasters in attendance. Oh, and he wasn't too shabby against those hated Capitals, either:
9. KEN WREGGET
Kenny Wregget was brought into town as apart of the Tocchett/Recchi trade in 1992. For many years he played sort of a Tommy Maddox to Barrasso's Kordell Stewart, riding the pine and waiting for the wheels to fall off. And when Tommy B began his downward spiral of injuries/hatred, Wregget got his chance and shined. The best moments of Kenny Wregget's career involved the '96 playoffs, when Barrasso buried the Pens in a 3-1 first-round hole (to who else, the Caps). Wregget jumped in and rattled off 7 playoff wins in 8 games, before being INEXPLICABLY YANKED in that year's Eastern Finals. But we won't get into that. This guy has had the best goalie masks in franchise history (by far), the best Mutant League Hockey name (Wriggler), and the best local connection. Every now and then he's spotted at a Pens game, drinking at nearby bars, or smoking cigarettes on local golf courses. If you recall, the first Overtime penalty shot in post-season history ended badly for a certain Crapital (2:10 mark)...
8. ALEXEI KOVALEV
Pens fans loved "Kovy" (and some still do) because he brought the kind of silky smooth skating that reminded them of early '90's Lemieux. Kovy loved them back, because he always seemed to click in Black 'n' Gold. Known as flashy but horribly inconsistent in New York, and later hated as a headcase in Montreal, Kovy seemed to have it all together as a Penguin. Nobody outside of Jagr had nicer moves at the time. And after the Jagr Firesale Era began, Kovy was the only reason any of us would watch games. It was almost as if the healing powers of the Island...errr Pittsburgh...made him a star. Rumor is he's been trying to get baaaaack here for 2 years now. Check out some of the afore-mentioned sick moves below. My favorite is the dance at the 0:42 mark.
7. ULF SAMUELSSON
Before the days of tough guys/agitators like Darius, Ruutu, and even Frankie Leroux, there was ULF. One From the Heart put it best when they properly labeled him a "Swedish Linebacker". And its true - if there was ever a Penguin that Steeler fans could rally around, it was Ulfie. He had no business putting on skates, but could still shut down the best forwards. Ulfie couldn't play a single game without crushing, punching, or making guys trade hockey careers for Dumb and Dumber movies. Give me a cooler name. You can't do it. This little blast from the past shows how much Ulfie was loved by Pens fans (and former Steelers). It also reminds you that Steigy has been a douche for damn near 20 years now.
6. KEVIN "Big Artie" STEVENS
If there was ever a charter member of the Mario Country Club days, Artie would be that guy. This big, loud Bostonian was the perfect compliment as the Lemieux line's power forward. Stevens had no problem parking his butt in front of the net and cleaning up Mario's trash. He was a huge contributor during both Cup runs, with a whopping 61 pts in 2 post-seasons. During the 1st Cup year, Boston jumped out to a convincing 2-0 series lead on the Pens, yet Stevens told anyone who could hear him afterwards that they "weren't going to f*cking lose again." Sure enough, it sparked the locker room and they rattled off 4 straight wins to go to the Cup Finals. Unfortunately for Stevens, he picked up a nasty little crack habit during the glory years, and was eventually busted in 2000 by an undercover hooker in St. Louis. After his career faded away, he became a "talent scout" for Mario's Penguins. I'm fairly certain that just means playing pickup hockey with Phil Bourque during lunch. This video pretty much sums up the Kevin Stevens legacy:
5. TOM BARRASSO
Every good movie cast needs a villain. For reasons unbeknownst to me, Pens fans inexplicably still adore buffoons like Johan "The Moose" Hedberg, Ron Tugnutt, and yes even Ken Wregget. NEWS FLASH: None of those guys have ever hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup. The backbone behind not one, BUT TWO World Championships, Tom Barrasso still doesn't get the respect that he deserves. People can't mention the 1st Cup without gushing over "The Save"; yet nobody mentions the other 15 games that Tommy B won that same postseason. Imagine today if MA Fleury wins two cups - fans will demand a freakin statue of him outside the new arena. But Tommy B is still referred to as "Barrasshole". Why? After the Cup teams started to dis-mantle, Barrasso's playing career was marred by injuries, chokejobs, and more chokejobs. Hissy fits with the media didn't help matters (see below). But TOP TEN chooses to remember Barrasso for what he really is --- the alltime leader in goalie assists (suck it Brodeur), one of the best American hockey players of ever, and the best Pens goalie to put on the uniform. He might be Barry Bonds without the 'roids, but he can't hear your boos because those 2 big fat Cup rings are blocking you out.
4. SID THE KID CROSBY
It's early in Crosby's career, but we have no problem pegging him in the Top 4. If anything, we owe it to "The Kid" for resurrecting a proud franchise from some dark, dark days. It wasn't too long ago that we looked forward to Rico Fata, Dick Tarnstrom, and The Countdown to Steeler Training Camp. Attendance was at an all-time low. Jagr and Kovy were sold for peanuts. EIGHTEEN straight losses in 2003-04. Then one July afternoon in 2005, a simple lottery ball linked CROSBY and PENGUINS...and SHOWTIME. And from that moment on, the expectations were mammoth --- nothing any other 19yr-old player has ever seen: "Save the franchise, Sid." "Save this lockout league, Sid." "Put butts in the seats." "Build us an arena." And you know what? In four short years, he's answered the bell, averaging well over a point per game. He's got an Art Ross, a Lester Pearson, and a slewful of "youngest ever to do this" accolades. Lives with The Big Guy? CHECK. Hates the Flyers? CHECK. Owns the Flyers? BINGO. By all accounts, the Pens -- 2 wins away from a Cup last year -- are back. When we look back at this list in 10 years, will Crosby be higher?
3. RON FRANCIS
Quite possibly the classiest human in sports history. Over his storied career, Ronny Francis made a living by setting up the big guns on one end, and frustrating opposing forwards at the other. His excellent two-way play earned him a Selke Trophy (in a time when the Pens didn't love defense too much) and a Lady Byng in the same year. Doesn't sound right does it? How many tough defensive forwards today are also complete gentlemen? I don't remember ever seeing Ronnie get into yapping spats with other teams. Not even once. And thats what makes him great. For 23 years, he just went about his business, in a shockingly quiet and consistent way. The average fan has no idea that Ron Francis is FOURTH ALLTIME in career points scored ---- and no respect is ever hurled his way when people mention the game's best players. Can you imagine if that happened in the NFL? Those babies could never handle NOT having the spotlight on them. Rock solid. That's why Craig Patrick was so adament on trading for him. It's no co-incidence that 2 Cups happened only after Francis was on the team. He deserves his #10 in the rafters. We think its only a matter of time.
2. JAROMIR JAGR
Someday there will be a killer Hollywood screenplay regarding the tragedy that is Jaromir Jagr. Surely, no Pittsburgh sports figure is more conflicted in the city's history. Ever since 1990, when some snazzy reporter figured out that "JAROMIR" could be re-arranged to spell "MARIO JR", the expectations and destiny were laid out for #68. While Jagr was a bit player during the 1st Cup run, he was a fullforce beast by his 2nd year in the league. And that lasted for 15 long years. Over that time, it was remarkable how well he meshed with Lemieux, and the two became one of the greatest dynamic duos in sports history. When injuries/retirements befelled Mario, Jagr stepped up and carried the league squarely on his back. There were more than a few playoff series that Jags won all by himself, and over time, he had notched many of the most remarkable goals we will ever see. But alas......one day he cut the mullet, and everything went to hell. Suddenly, he became grumpy, clashed with coaches, developed a big gambling problem, and felt like he was "dying alive" in Pittsburgh. When Lemieux returned in 2001, it was the final straw for Jagr, whose captaincy was in name only. A few months later, he was essentially sold to those damn Caps (!!!) and Pens fans immediately elected him Public Enemy #1. Most fans will tell you they've never booed louder. Fittingly, his final career game was played at Mellon Arena during a series where he weirdly clashed with perhaps the next Jagr, Sidney Crosby. Since then, he's tried mending fences by praising his mentor Mario. So cheers to a sunny day in the not-so-distant future, when maybe this story will see a happy ending.....#68 in the Consol rafters??? Even Jagr thinks the Caps suck:
1. MARIO LEMIEUX
Easiest pick in the history of lists, top tens, and the number ten. When these lists are looked at in 3009, Le Magnifique will still be #1. We can't really say anything that hasn't already been said about the Big Guy. Mario IS the Pens. So I won't go into all the goals, assists, or championships that Mario was responsible for. But I will tell you what he means to us. He was the reason that we --- or most Western PA'ers --- even watch hockey at all. Whether we were young/foolish or old/cynical, Mario made us believe that hockey was the one sport where magic was real. Just when you thought something was impossible or inevitable, Mario showed up and brought us to our feet. Jaws fully dropped. Spine fully tingled. Six Super Bowls didn't have that feeling that Mario Lemieux brought to the city. Whether it was 1723 points; kicking cancer's ass; scoring 5 goals the night his son was prematurely born; nailing a breakaway on his "last" home game; announcing another WWF-like comeback; operating the LP by day and powerplay by night; sipping through a bottle of wine; crushing Ed Rendell; or sinking a birdie putt on 18....Mario was money. Still is. At 43 years of age, he's larger than all other 9 guys on this list combined. Today, when he scowls down from the owner's box with that patchy playoff beard, we all still get chills. That goes beyond putting a little black rubber disc into a net. It's magic.
Oh yeah - go Caps