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Barrasso's demeanor may have hurt legacy

| Monday, May 25, 2009

RALEIGH, N.C. — The name of a man to whom he is often compared popped into Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury's mind, admittedly a good while after it should have, given that man's accomplishments in the NHL.

"Maybe he's not one of the guys I'd say off the top of my head," Fleury said Saturday of former Penguins goalie Tom Barrasso, "but if you think of the really good goalies from those days, he's up there.

"It's just, you don't hear people talk about him much — even in Pittsburgh, where he's one of the greatest players ever."

That's the story of the Hurricanes' goaltending coach — a man identified as "one of the most important figures in Penguins history" by Ed Johnston, who recently celebrated his 30th year of service with the organization.

"I'd put him right behind Mario (Lemieux) and (Jaromir) Jagr in terms of what he meant to the franchise," Johnston said of Barrasso. "Maybe (current stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) will be up there when they're done, but Tommy will still be in that mix."

Barrasso left such a distinguished imprint on the organization that the Penguins plan to induct him into their Hall of Fame next season along with former team captain Ron Francis, also a current Carolina assistant coach.

The Penguins would prefer to honor each man with his own ceremonial evening, but they're not certain Barrasso would show up. Inducting Barrasso and Francis prior to a home game against the Hurricanes should eliminate that risk, or so the Penguins hope.

Johnston, who coached Barrasso from 1993-97, shook his head upon hearing those details Saturday night during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final between the Penguins and Hurricanes.

"He should get his own moment, because there aren't too many guys from his era that were better than Tommy — especially in big games," Johnston said, in the next sentence adding that Barrasso's sour demeanor "with the media probably has hurt him a lot."

"I wish he was appreciated a lot more in the game, and especially in Pittsburgh — but he rubbed some people in the media the wrong way, and that's that."

Except that it isn't.

Barrasso also has his detractors among teammates with whom he won the Stanley Cup in 1991 and 1992 — even a former Penguins player who insisted Barrasso deserved to be named playoff MVP in the second championship season.

Many of Barrasso's former Penguins teammates chose not to comment for this story. One declined by half-joking he was instructed by his mother "not to say anything at all if you can't say at least one thing nice about somebody."

After the Penguins scored late in the opening period Saturday to take a 3-1 lead into the first intermission, another former Penguins teammate wrote in a text message: "Barrassos (sic) fault ha."

Barrasso's thoughts on disharmony with his former teammates — though not the Penguins franchise, which is co-owned by his close friend Lemieux, captain of those Cup-winning clubs — remain a mystery.

He also declined comment for this story.

Actually, somebody with the Hurricanes did that for him. Barrasso, who once went an entire Penguins season in the late 1990s without granting an interview, has not spoken to the Pittsburgh media since he was hired by the Hurricanes last season.

Resolve, one teammate said, always was a Barrasso's strength.

It steered him to 369 regular-season wins — second most by an American-born goalie — and 61 playoff victories in an 18-year career that started in 1983 with Barrasso making a direct leap from high school and, as the fifth overall pick by Buffalo, earning the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie and Vezina Trophy as its best goaltender.

Resolve also steered him and daughter Ashley through her battle with an aggressive form of childhood cancer, neuroblastoma.

Ashley Barrasso was given a 10-percent chance to live more than two years in 1989. She can now often be found at RBC Center, watching from the stands as her father helps conduct Hurricanes practices.

The disengaging Tom Barrasso that played with the Penguins from 1988-2000 is nothing like the assistant coach working countless hours to mentor goalies, Hurricanes backup Michael Leighton said Saturday.

"He might have got a bad reputation when he was playing, but sometimes you need that edge," Leighton said. "When you're playing against other teams, you want people to think you're a (expletive).

"That's the way he was back then, but he's not that way now. He's been a great guy, easy to deal with."

If he is a little easier with folks outside Carolina's Triangle region, Barrasso might just gain the recognition his former club's current franchise goalie believes is deserved.

"Everything he did as a player — that's pretty awesome, and it tells you he must have been very good," Fleury said. "He won two Stanley Cups in a row. When you think of the Penguins' best teams, it's always 'The Big Three': Lemieux, Jagr and Barrasso.

"At least it should be."

Tom terrific

Former Penguins goaltender Tom Barrasso went 226-153-53 for Pittsburgh from 1988-2000, winning the Stanley Cup in 1991 and 1992. Some notable statistics from his 18-year NHL career:

• Won Calder Trophy (top rookie) and Vezina Trophy (top goalie) as an 18-year-old rookie with Buffalo in 1983-84; was first goalie to jump directly from high school to NHL.

• First U.S.-born goalie to win 300 games; 369 victories rank second all-time among American-born goalies.

• All-time leader among NHL goalies with 48 points, all assists.

• Most consecutive Stanley Cup playoff victories with 14, including 11 to finish 1992 postseason.

• Played for 2002 U.S. Olympic men's team silver-medal team.

Source: NHL Guide & Record Book

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