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Euro players welcome change in America

| Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008

His is a classic American tale, not unlike the stories of many of his European-born NHL brethren: An immigrant choosing to make a new life here with his family.

"I've been here so long," Czech Republic-born Penguins' right wing Petr Sykora said of the U.S., which he first visited as a 17-year-old. "I don't have it on my passport, but I am American. This is where I want to live. This is where I want to stay. Our son is American. We want him to grow up in the United Sates.

"Coming from where I'm coming from - people don't realize how good they have it here."

What Americans realize is up for debate. Here's what isn't: More Americans are expected to vote in the upcoming presidential election than any in the country's history.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said recently his league consists of 30 percent Europeans playing hockey in the U.S., home to 24 of the league's 30 teams.

Many of those Europeans - including Sykora, who "is for (Republican presidential nominee John) McCain" - believe the anticipated high turnout for the election is an indicator America is changing for the better.

"I came in 1990, and it was pretty laid back," Russian-born Washington Capitals center Sergei Fedorov said. "People were happier because things were available as far as prices. Americans used to be happy campers. They aren't anymore. That's what I've noticed."

Fedorov, who was raised under a communistic regime in Russia, said Americans "should be embarrassed" by a collective greed. He believes the so-called American Way is corrupt.

"They see opportunity, and they try to get as much of it as possible," Fedorov said of Americans. "That they should be embarrassed about.

"But they're struggling, too, and not just because of their own mistakes. They're paying for the mistakes of their leaders, and that's nothing to be embarrassed about. That's scary.

"Americans are scared they are losing all their money. That's why you hear a lot of Americans looking to change things."

A movement for change - a word both the Democratic and Republican nominees for president have embraced - is viewed by Finish-born Boston Bruins center Petteri Nokelainen as a sign of Americans' growing global awareness.

The high cost of fuel, Nokelainen said, is not the only aspect of European life coming to America.

"There is a sense in Europe that America hasn't been going in the right way for a while now," Nokelainen said. "But the people in America are realizing that there is a lot they can do better, keeping their influence on the rest of the world in mind.

"We can do better in Europe, too. But it feels like we are going to have a partner in America for the first time in a long time, and it's encouraging."

Contrary to a perception he called "unfortunate," Slovak Republic-born Penguins winger Miroslav Satan said Europeans "do not believe everything (they) hear about America."

Said Satan: "People are the same everywhere in the world; they all want the same thing. It doesn't matter where you live or where you're from. You want a good life, a safe life, for yourself and your family. That's what is coming up in this election."

Hat trick

Rob Rossi's thoughts and observations as the Penguins beat writer:

Stop the Gabin

Pay no attention to rampant Internet speculation that the Penguins are interested in trading for Minnesota left wing Marian Gaborik. His injury history is a major concern. His asking price, at least $9 million annually, is a deal-breaker. The Penguins are not sure the salary cap will rise beyond next season, meaning a third high-priced forward on a long-term deal is unlikely.

Not a demotion

Miroslav Satan wasn't "demoted" to a third line. Coach Michel Therrien made the switch - which included reuniting centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on a top line and returning Jordan Staal to his natural pivot position on a second line - because he was unhappy with limited scoring chances created by the previous third line that consisted of center Max Talbot and forwards Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke.

Waiting on Whitney

Defenseman Darryl Sydor, who returned to the lineup this past week due to Hal Gill's injury, has asked the Penguins for a trade. Sydor knows substantial ice-time won't come with the Penguins, especially when injured defenseman Ryan Whitney returns in December from a foot injury. The Penguins will be more willing to move Sydor upon Whitney's return.

The future

The Penguins' minor-league report is written by Jonathan Bombulie, who has covered the Baby Pens for The Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre since the team's inception in 1999. He can be reached at

Stock up

Chris Minard

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) - Left wing

6-foot-1 - 200 pounds

Chris Minard is off to a sizzling start to the season. Playing on the right side of a line with center Jeff Taffe and left wing Janne Pesonen, Minard has six goals in his first five games, tied for the league lead. Since the start of the 2006-07 season, only six players have scored more AHL goals than Minard's 63.

If Minard keeps this up, the Penguins might have to consider giving him a trial run not on a fourth line but on the left wing with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. It's not like anyone currently on the NHL roster has taken that ball and run with it.

Baby Pens coach Dan Bylsma doesn't think it's a ridiculous notion.

"He has a National Hockey League talent for shooting and getting open and scoring goals," he said.

Ace in the hole

Minard has played with an elite center before. During the NHL lockout in 2004-05, New York Rangers center Scott Gomez returned to his home state to play for the ECHL's Alaska Aces. Minard scored 49 goals in 69 games on Gomez's wing.

"I have to thank him for what he taught me that year," Minard said. "He made me a lot better than what I was."

The Case against Minard

Minard has good size and his skating is decent, but it remains to be seen whether he can get his shot off against bigger, stronger, faster NHL defensemen. Plus, he's 26 and lacks NHL pedigree. He went undrafted and worked his way up through the lower minor leagues.

"Everyone has their challenges," Bylsma said. "Chris' challenge is to break into that spot coming out of nowhere."

Stock down

No Penguins prospect needed a bounceback year more than winger Jonathan Filewich. He's not getting it so far. Filewich is a minus-6 through five games and his lone point came when he scored on a 5-on-3 power play with eight tenths of a second left in an 8-4 blowout loss to Hershey in the season opener.


Veteran center Dave Gove was named the 14th captain in Baby Pens history after a vote of his teammates last week. Gove, 30, is the team's oldest player. He has two career NHL games with Carolina on his resume and skated on the Hurricanes' taxi squad when they won the Stanley Cup in 2006. Wingers Ryan Stone and Connor James are the alternate captains. Defenseman Deryk Engelland will fill in if any of the other three are injured or called up.

Trib 5

Here's a list of the European-born players who have made the greatest impact on the Penguins, as ranked by Rob Rossi:

1. Jaromir Jagr, right winger -- Five scoring titles, two Stanley Cup titles, an MVP and an all-time mullet. Special props to his babysitter, Jiri Hrdina.

2. Ulf Samuelsson, defenseman -- Helped pave road to the Penguins' first Stanely Cup run that went through Boston and winger Cam Neely.

3. Anders Hakansson, left winger -- An Eddie Johnston special: Hakansson goes to Los Angeles in September 1983 for the rights to Kevin Stevens.

4. Darius Kasparaitis, defenseman -- Huge hits and a Game 7 overtime winner in 2001 East semifinals made up for his role in helping the Islanders upset the record-setting Pens in 1993.

5. Marian Hossa, right winger -- Made such an impact over three months in Pittsburgh that fans may talk of his stunning departure for the next three years.

Where they at?

The Trib is keeping tabs on former Penguins:

This week: Right winger Jaromir Jagr

Currently: Omsk Avangard (Continental Hockey League); 12 goals, 13 assists, 25 points in 18 games through Thursday

Pittsburgh past: 1990-2001; 439 goals, 640 assists, 1,079 points in 806 regular-season games

Notable: Five-time scoring champion (1994-95, 1997-98 to 2000-01), MVP (1998-99), team captain (1998-2001).

Jagr's point production over the years:

With Penguins

1990-91: 57

1991-92: 69

1992-93: 94

1993-94: 99

1994-95: 70*

1995-96: 149

1996-97: 95

1997-98: 102*

1998-99: 127*

1999-2000: 96*

2000-01: 121*

With Capitals

2001-02: 79

2002-03: 77

With Capitals/Rangers

2003-04: 74

With Rangers

2005-06: 123

2006-07: 94

2007-08: 71

What's on deck

The week ahead for the Penguins:


Penguins at Sharks

10:30 p.m.

TV: FSN Pittsburgh (HD)


Penguins at Coyotes

10 p.m.

TV: FSN Pittsburgh (HD)


Penguins at Blues

8:30 p.m.

TV: FSN Pittsburgh (HD)


Thursday · 10:30 p.m.

Red Wings at Sharks

· Is this an early Western Conference final preview• The Sharks want what the Red Wings own, the Stanley Cup.

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