Something old for a new tradition
Mario Lemieux probably hasn't enjoyed a french fry for weeks. After all, he has a game fast approaching.
One of five Hockey Hall of Famers booked to play for the Penguins in an alumni game against the Washington Capitals at 9:30 a.m. on New Year's Eve, Lemieux figures to receive an immaculate reception from 10,000 fans in attendance at Heinz Field.
Ten years after his famous comeback from retirement, Lemieux started training for this game -- tickets sold out in 10 minutes on Dec. 17 -- by playing afternoon games with the Penguins staff three weeks ago.
During his prime in the early 1990s Lemieux famously told fellow Penguins center Ron Francis that his offseason training involved not ordering french fries with a club sandwich.
"I'm not worried about Mario. He had a long way to go until he became normal on the ice," said Francis, an assistant coach with the Carolina Hurricanes who was granted permission by the team to miss a day of practice for the chance to reunite with several Penguins teammates from the 1991 and 1992 Stanley Cup champion squads.
"This is only the second game I've played since retiring, and there's no getting around it -- it's about being around your buddies and playing outside like we all did as kids," Francis said.
Lemieux and Francis will be joined by fellow Hall of Fame Penguins Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy and Bryan Trottier.
Coffey is as envious of Lemieux's staff games as he was fast on his skates for the high-scoring Penguins of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
"I'd like to be privy to a pro team like he is to get on the ice," Coffey said. "The only exercise I get now is my lungs burning from yelling and blowing whistles while I coach my kids. It'll be short shifts for me."
Penguins alumni roster
Mario Lemieux headlines the team, but he will be joined by Hall of Famers Ron Francis, Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy and Bryan Trottier. But other notable names are aplenty on this roster.
Players: Bill Guerin (2009-10); Gary Roberts (2007-08)
They are two cult heroes from the Sidney Crosby era. Roberts helped toughen up the young Penguins for a return to the playoffs in 2007. Guerin provided top-line goals and top-shelf humor on the Cup run in 2009.
The guys who remain
Players: Phil Bourque (1983-84, 1985-1992); Bob Errey (1983-93); Pierre Larouche (1974-77); Gilles Meloche (1985-88); Kevin Stevens (1987-95, 2001). Staff: Eddie Johnston (1980-88, 1993-97).
Bourque and Errey are radio and TV broadcasters, respectively. Larouche is employed as a corporate sales liaison. Meloche is the goaltending coach. Stevens is a pro scout. Johnson, who drafted and coached Lemieux, is an alumni liaison.
The Cup crew
Players: Jay Caufield (1988-93); Troy Loney (1983-93); Randy Hillier (1984-91); Greg Malone (1976-83); Frank Pietrangelo (1987-92); Rick Tocchet (1992-94).
Caufield and Loney were regulars on the 1991 and 1992 Cup champions. Hillier played on the first Cup squad. Malone was three years into his 18-year run as a scout at the start of those Cup runs. Pietrangelo made "The Save" that extended Round 1 against New Jersey in 1991 to a Game 7. Tocchet arrived the next year to help retain the title.
The family ties
Players: Rob Brown (1987-91, 1997-2000); Rob Buskas (1982-89, 1990); Dave Hannan (1981-88, 1988-89); Francois Leroux (1995-97); Gary Rissling (1981-85); Craig Simpson (1985-88); Warren Young (1983-85, 1986-88). Staff: Jack Riley (1967-70, 1972-74).
Brown and Young starred as Lemieux's goal-getting linemates during their first stays. Buskas and Hannan lost a lot and were moved before the Cup runs. Leroux was a fan favorite during the final years before Lemieux's first retirement. Simpson arrived just as Rissling stopped racking up penalty minutes for nonplayoff teams. Riley was the original general manager, and he remains a fixture at home games.
Many of the former Capitals players were part of teams that couldn't close out the Penguins in the playoffs, blowing two-game leads in 1992, 1995 and 1996. "We were always in the middle of it because they had some really good teams," the Penguins' Ron Francis said. "If you wanted to get through to the conference final, you had to pass through the Capitals." Still, if the Capitals alumni take an early lead ... "Well, given our history against them, I like our chances," Francis said. The Capitals' roster includes: Greg Adams (1983-88); Don Beaupre (1988-94); Peter Bondra (1991-2004); Sylvain Cote (1991-98, 2000-03); Alan Hangsleben (1979-82); Nick Kypreos (1989-92); Yvon Labre (1974-77, 1978-81); Gord Lane (1976-80); Craig Laughlin (1982-87, 1987-88); Mark Lofthouse (1978-81); Dennis Maruk (1987-82); Alan May (1989-94); Paul Mulvey (1978-80); Robert Picard (1977-80); Michal Pivonka (1986-99); Errol Rausse (1979-82); Pat Ribble (1979-82); Ken Sabourin (1990-92); Blair Stewart (1974-79); Scott Walker (2009-10).
Sources: Pittsburgh Penguins media relations; NHL.com; HockeyDB.com