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Penguins' alternate threads evolve

| Sunday, Nov. 16, 2008

Had he known better - well, Jack Riley still would have dressed the Penguins in light blue, dark blue and white.

"Not being from Pittsburgh I didn't really know about the Steelers and Pirates," Riley said. "The hockey team was going to be the Penguins, not the Hornets, and when (ownership) talked about the colors, I asked, 'What about double blue and white?'

"The owners said OK, and those were our colors."

That changed on Jan. 30, 1980. The Penguins donned black and gold uniforms for the first time that day. That switch was the brainchild of former executive Paul Martha, who believed the hockey club needed to hop aboard the goodwill train carrying fans that were wild for the reigning world champion Steelers (NFL) and Pirates (MLB).

Just like that, each of Pittsburgh's three professional sports teams shared the same color scheme. It remains the only city in North America with all of its pro teams looking alike.

How long Pittsburgh will hold that honor is in the hands of current Penguins officials, some of whom favor a permanent return to Riley's "double blue and white" color design, which he said was influenced by the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts.

Riley thought those colors looked good on the Penguins last New Year's Day at the NHL Winter Classic just outside of Buffalo.

Retro-themed apparel soon became all the rage at Mellon Arena, and the Penguins adopted the Winter Classic uniform as their official alternate threads.

The new alternates were worn Saturday at home for the first time, again against the Sabres. The Penguins will wear their alternates in 10 additional regular-season home games.

That number suits team president David Morehouse just fine - for now.

"At this point, we're not considering a permanent switch, but we're never closed to anything," Morehouse said. "I don't think it's extremely important that all three teams in Pittsburgh maintain the same colors."

Neither does the buying public. Sales of the retro-themed replica sweaters were "phenomenal" after the Winter Classic, Morehouse said.

"That doesn't surprise me," said Cynthia Nellis, a fashion journalist for the Web site "Blues of all colors have been especially popular the past year.

"The light blue color signifies something fresh, a rebirth."

Chris Smith of Cape Coral, Fla., is an admitted "hockey jersey geek" whose Web site,, has developed a cult following. He believes the Penguins' new alternate sweaters will have a lasting appeal because "they look like hockey jerseys."

"I love it," he said. "When they introduced it last year, I was in awe. It's something different. I know Pittsburgh fans might revolt, but I could easily see this as the team's primary (color scheme) and uniform."

Local fashion expert Linda Bucci, who owns a popular boutique in Shadyside, admitted the Penguins' new old colors "give them a little kick."

"But I would hate to see them change to that completely," Bucci said. "I don't think the alternates look like Pittsburgh. We look at black and gold, and we know those are our colors."

Riley, who at 89 remains a regular at Penguins games, never did buy into that local logic.

"I just think everybody should have their own identity," he said. "The double blue and white was ours."

Face off

What should become of the Penguins' alternate uniforms?

Columnist Joe Starkey and beat reporter Rob Rossi are in the circle and ready to debate ...

Starkey says ...

Let's get one thing straight, Rossi: I love those powder-blue jerseys and always have. It's the best color in sports, as the San Diego Chargers and Denver Nuggets have readily proved. But, instead of wearing them every game and waving goodbye to the black-and-gold, how about a little bit of both, plus a third jersey• I'm all for variety. Geez, the Penguins have thrown up a banner for everything but Hans Jonsson's first NHL goal (did Hans Jonsson ever score a goal?), so why can't they have a bunch of jerseys, too?

Rossi rants ...

Joe, you might remember each of Hans Jonsson's 10 goals with the Penguins from 1999-2003 had he scored any of them while wearing HOCKEY'S BEST UNIFORM. The Penguins' alternate threads are exactly that. They should become permanent - if not next season then surely when the new arena opens in 2010. Black-and-gold has always been something borrowed; to solidify this marriage with a new generation of fans, the Penguins should go with something old, something blue. Color schemes are like banners, a franchise should only have (hang) one. The Penguins belong in blue.

Puck speak

Team Trib talked with 21 members of the Penguins organization about their favorite NHL sweaters. A numerical breakdown of their answers:

Jordan Staal: vintage Penguins (light blue)

Pascal Dupuis: 1980s Quebec Nordiques (light blue)

Sidney Crosby: 1990s Montreal Canadiens (white)

Mike Zigomanis: classic Toronto Maple Leafs (dark blue)

Michel Therrien: vintage Original Six

Matt Cooke: classic Chicago Blackhawks (red)

Max Talbot: 1980s Quebec Nordiques (light blue)

Hal Gill: heritage Toronto Maple Leafs (dark blue, no sleeve stripes)

Rob Scuderi: classic Toronto Maple Leafs (dark blue, with string)

Ryan Whitney: classic Chicago Blackhawks (red)

Darryl Sydor: 1980s Edmonton Oilers (light blue)

Brooks Orpik: 1930s Chicago Blackhawks (barbershop pole design)

Marc-Andre Fleury: 1980s Edmonton Oilers (light blue)

Mark Eaton: classic Boston Bruins (black)

Alex Goligoski: 1980s Minnesota North Stars (green)

Eric Godard: 1980s Vancouver Canucks (V design)

Tyler Kennedy: 1990s Toronto Maple Leafs (white)

Dany Sabourin: 1990s Hartford Whalers (dark blue)

Paul Bissonnette: 1980s All-Star (orange)

Kris Letang: 1970s Vancouver Canucks (light blue)

Andre Savard: vintage Original Six (dark)

Hat trick

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

No more Staaling

C Jordan Staal's representatives and the Penguins are now cautiously optimistic of reaching a tentative agreement on a contract extension for the center, who can become a restricted free agent on July 1, 2009. Friends of Staal say he has conveyed to his agents a strong desire to sign a long-term deal - preferably soon. Staal's agent is scheduled to be in Pittsburgh on routine business this week.

Home Cooke-ing

LW Matt Cooke believes he is starting to find his way. A short training camp and a four-game absence due to injured ribs prevented Cooke from getting a feel for his new teammates and coaches. Cooke, who joined the club as a free agent over the summer, says he now feels comfortable with coach Michel Therrien's system.

Sid sticks straight

Don't expect C Sidney Crosby to alter his stick blade despite a career-worst goal-scoring start. Crosby prefers a flat blade, insisting it gives him more control for passing, especially on the backhand. He is not against using a slight left-handed curve, which he admits would help his shot. However, Crosby says he would not make an in-season switch.

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 by e-mail

Stock up

Ben Lovejoy

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) · Defenseman

6-foot-2 · 214 pounds

If injuries continue to strike the Penguins on the blue line, Ben Lovejoy could very well be the next defenseman up. An undrafted second-year pro out of Dartmouth, Lovejoy led the Baby Pens with a plus-16 rating last season. He's up to the same tricks this year, ranking second among AHL defensemen at plus-11. He has a little offensive pop to his game, too, posting a goal and four assists in his past nine games heading into this weekend.

Pulling teeth

Baby Pens defenseman Danny Richmond missed a practice this week because he had to have a wisdom tooth extracted.

That's nothing unusual. Plenty of 24-year-olds have the same procedure done every day. What is unusual are the precautions Richmond had to take before having his tooth pulled.

"Any time I go in for any dental work or anything like that, I have to take antibiotics a week before," he said. "Big risk of infection with your mouth."

Richmond has to be careful because he doesn't have a spleen.

He lacerated the internal organ and had to have it removed after colliding with 6-foot-7, 230-pound Atlanta Thrashers prospect Boris Valabik during a game in February.

Richmond, who has completely recovered from the spleen surgery, is known at the AHL level for his combination of offensive ability and grit. Playing for the Norfolk Admirals two years ago, he was one of only two defensemen in the league to hit double digits in goals and fighting majors.

But through 11 games with the Baby Pens this season, he had yet to record a single point.

He broke out of the slump in a dramatic way last Saturday night, turning in three highlight-reel assists to lead the Baby Pens to a 4-3 win over Hershey.

"It's been a long time coming," Richmond said. "It's been difficult trying to adapt to the system, but I think I've got it pretty much down."

Stock down

Captain Dave Gove is in a deep scoring slump, having posted one goal and no assists in the first 12 games of the season. The drought is surprising because the 30-year-old scored 15 goals in 36 games after he was traded from the Carolina Hurricanes organization for winger Joe Jensen midway through last season.

"I know it's going to turn around for me," Gove said. "It's a period I know I'll look back and kind of laugh at. But right now, it's kind of frustrating."

Tough division

Having won seven of their first 12 games, the Baby Pens took a .625 winning percentage into this weekend. That would have been good enough for an East Division title last year, but a month into this season, it has them in fifth place, one spot out of a playoff berth.

What's on deck

The week ahead for the Penguins:


Penguins vs. Wild

7 p.m.

TV: Versus


Penguins at Thrashers

7 p.m.

TV: FSN Pittsburgh


Penguins vs. Canucks

2 p.m.

TV: FSN Pittsburgh


Blackhawks at Stars

Thursday · 8:30 p.m.

Two teams that started poorly are going in different directions. The young Blackhawks are riding high under new coach Joel Quenneville; the aging Stars are flickering after an inspired playoff run last season.

Additional Information:

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