Winter Classic alumni game sparks memories of camaraderie
At some point, perhaps spawned by political correctness, old-timers' games gave way to "alumni" games.
Former Penguins goalie Frank Pietrangelo, who will play against the Washington Capitals' alumni at 9:30 a.m. today at Heinz Field, failed to get the memo.
"We're old (guys) here," he said by phone from his home outside of Toronto. Of course, he used a more colorful word than guys. "It's not like we're in shape. It's not like we've been doing this daily."
The former players will relive the past, share a few laughs and try not to hurt themselves in front of 10,000 fans who scarfed up tickets at $25 apiece a few weeks ago. The alumni game is the marquee event prior to the Winter Classic, set for 1 p.m. Saturday unless forecasted rain causes a delay.
Ex-Penguins forward Bryan Trottier plans to "overachieve," he said, "if I don't receive mouth-to-mouth in front of 10,000 people."
Fighting a nagging back injury, Trottier, 54, said he has "no hands, no wind and no legs."
Other than that, he said, he'll be fine.
Pietrangelo, Trottier and other past Penguins, along with their Capitals counterparts, will test the ice for the Classic. Afterward, the current Penguins will practice.
Many of the Penguins who won one or both of the back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and '92 will play. The big name, of course, is co-owner and hockey legend Mario Lemieux. But others include fellow Hall of Famers Trottier, Larry Murphy, Paul Coffey and Ron Francis. Eddie Johnston, Randy Hillier and Pierre Larouche will coach the squad.
Likely Hall of Famer and 500-goal scorer Peter Bondra will lead the Capitals' alumni.
"It's funny," said ex-Penguins defenseman Peter "Tags" Taglianetti, explaining the game's appeal. "A mailman doesn't go for a walk on his day off. A lot of guys don't play hockey after they're finished. But when they get together with the guys they played with, it's fun. And this is a major event for the city. It's a show. It's entertainment."
A defenseman who joined the Penguins during the 1990-91 season -- and played for the Capitals in the 1980s -- Murphy described the allure as "the reunion aspect of the game, the Winter Classic, the opportunity to play outside. It's too good of an opportunity to pass up."
Murphy, 49, who broadcasts Detroit Red Wings games on Fox Sports Net and also works for the NHL Network, said he occasionally plays in charity events. He practiced about two weeks ago.
"I was outstanding," he said, barely muting the sarcasm. "I've been on the ice twice this year. Boy, I should be sharp."
Asked when he last played competitive hockey outdoors, he thought awhile. "Back when I was a little boy," he finally said. "Scarborough, Ontario, McGregor Park. It's where I learned to play."
Trottier was a longtime star with the New York Islanders before adding veteran leadership to the Penguins in 1990 toward the end of his career. "In New York I was the head of the train, and here I was the caboose," he said. A speaking engagement two years ago took him to the western Arctic, where he played hockey outside next to the Beaufort Sea.
"The puck slid from the edge of the ice to the sea," he said. "I'm thinking, 'This is scary.' "
Penguins radio broadcaster and former forward Phil Bourque last played outdoors about 10 years ago in Germany in a night-time exhibition. It also was his last pro game.
"It was weird," said Bourque, 48. "The sound, that's what got me the most. Blades against ice, puck against the boards. Everything seemed so foreign to me. It took me the first period to get my equilibrium."
Several of the former Penguins, even those who later played for other teams, remained in Western Pennsylvania after they retired. To many, winning a Stanley Cup, or two, was a powerful influence.
"When I first came here, we were a bad team, plain and simple," said Pietrangelo, 46, a 1983 draftee whose golden moment known as "The Save" during a '91 playoff game marked his career as a valuable backup goaltender. "Then I was playing with all these Hall of Famers. They're hockey. They're names that will be here forever, and we were all part of that."
Many said the opportunity to play together again sparks memories of camaraderie, chemistry and championships, of how Lemieux's arrival in '84 "kick-started" the city's pro hockey fervor, as Taglianetti put it.
They also will remember "Badger" Bob Johnson, the revered coach who died of cancer six months after leading the Penguins to their first Cup in '91.
"When I think of Pittsburgh it's impossible not to think of (Johnson)," said Coffey, 49, a high-scoring defenseman who played with the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers dynasty in the '80s before coming to Pittsburgh in '87. "It was almost not real how positive he was until you saw him day in and day out."
"It was such a sad time (when he died)," Murphy said. "You talk about a shock. He was such a great man."
Rob Rossi contributed to this story.
alumni game rosters
Former Penguins and Capitals square off at 9:30 a.m. today at Heinz Field. They will play two, 20-minute periods.
Mario Lemieux, C
Paul Coffey, D
Ron Francis, C
Larry Murphy, D
Bryan Trottier, C
Rod Buskas, D
Gary Roberts, LW
Greg Malone, C
Bob Errey, LW
Bill Guerin, RW
Jay Caufield, RW
Craig Simpson, LW
Francois Leroux, D
Gary Rissling, LW
Troy Loney, LW
Kevin Stevens, LW
Gilles Meloche, G
Phil Bourque, LW
Dave Hannan, C
Peter Taglianetti, D
Warren Young, C
Frank Pietrangelo, G
Rob Brown, RW
Rick Tocchet, RW
Peter Bondra, RW
Dino Ciccarelli, RW
Michal Pivonka, C
Sylvain Cote, D
Don Beaupre, G
Pat Ribble, D
Ken Sabourin, D
Yvon Labre, D
Mark Lofthouse, RW/C
Nick Kypreos, LW
Alan Hangsleben, D
Dean Evason, C
Errol Rausse, LW
Alan May, RW
Craig Laughlin, RW
John Druce, RW
Dennis Maruk, C
Greg Adams, LW
Blair Stewart, C
Gord Lane, D
Robert Picard, D
Paul Mulvey, LW
J.R. Reich, G
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