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Gorman: Talbot's talk makes for tough ticket

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Before Pittsburgh's political and sporting dignitaries could congratulate each other on bringing the Winter Classic to Heinz Field, Max Talbot pre-empted the party.

And all but assured a sellout.

If Talbot can't live off scoring two Game 7 goals to clinch the 2009 Stanley Cup championship, the Penguins forward might have a future in talk radio.

While expressing his "hate" for Alexander Ovechkin on Tuesday on the 105.9 The X Morning Show, Talbot used a word not fit for print to describe the Washington Capitals star and two-time NHL Most Valuable Player.

With that insult, Talbot intensified the league's most spirited rivalry and did more to sell Winter Classic tickets than anything NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Steelers chairman Art Rooney II, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato said combined.

Bettman did nothing to detract from it, calling the Penguins and Capitals teams who "genuinely don't like each other." Capitals president Dick Patrick added that he respects the Penguins and their accomplishments, but "that doesn't mean we don't really dislike them on the ice and want to beat them."

Especially, now, on New Year's Day.

No matter what anybody says, this is no longer about the novelty of playing an outdoor hockey game in a football stadium, nor about the Steelers and Penguins forming a partnership to bring a big-time event to the city. It's become, to borrow a Bettman phrase, a "must-see moment."

"I'm sure after (yesterday), that will be the first quote everyone sees before the outdoor game," Capitals center David Steckel said. "But I don't think you need to build up the rivalry any more than it already is. It's great for the NHL. It's great for the City of Pittsburgh. And it's great for the two teams playing in it. Any more hype we can get to make this a bigger event, a bigger success, we're all for it."

Maybe not at the expense of their captain, but you get the point.

The Capitals haven't been shy about criticizing the Penguins - and captain Sidney Crosby, in particular - but Ovechkin has always seemed to revel in playing the role of villain. Now he gets to play the victim.

That it was Talbot who fired the salvo and not Penguins superstars Crosby or Evgeni Malkin doesn't matter to the Capitals.

"It's going to mean as much as if either one of those guys said it, at least in our locker room," Steckel said. "It's bulletin-board material in July. I'm sure there will be other stuff said, too. It'll play out."

While the Penguins can't be pleased with Talbot's timing, on behalf of the Pittsburgh media I'd like to suggest they give him a contract extension - if not for their sake, then ours. The guy is a peach.

Apparently, his distaste for Ovechkin dates back more than a year. Talbot accompanied Malkin, along with the Stanley Cup, to the 2009 NHL Awards Show, where he received a rude response when introduced to Ovechkin for the first time. So Talbot was only too happy that Ovechkin wasn't among the players to attend yesterday's news conference.

"Everyone's got their opinions of 'Ovie,'" Steckel said. "Even though he's Russian, he tries to adapt to North America. He plays with his heart on his sleeve, which most guys don't. Either you like it or you don't."

The Penguins obviously don't.

Nor do they care for the Capitals.

That makes for a great rivalry, and should make for a great Winter Classic.

"The spotlight is on these two teams every time they play," Crosby said. "This will add to it. This will be another storyline and another event with the two teams. I can't see it being more intense than it already is. If it is, then great. People are going to see a great hockey game."

One that, thanks to Talbot, is now the toughest ticket in town.

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