Rossi: Catching up with 'Moose' that saved Pittsburgh
Ten years later seemed like the perfect time to ask former Penguins goalie Johan Hedberg what he remembered from those few springtime months in 2001 when he went from little-known trade acquisition to the best playoff performer on a surprise Eastern Conference finalist.
Yes, it's been a decade since "Moose" mania ran wild in Pittsburgh, since a smallish goalie with a bright blue mask became the most unlikely cult hero in Penguins history.
"It was as much fun as I've ever had playing hockey," Hedberg said Thursday from New Jersey, where he's the Devils' backup to Martin Brodeur — ironically, the club and goalie who prevented Hedberg's Penguins from reaching the 2001 Stanley Cup Final.
He had never played an NHL game before joining the Penguins from the Manitoba Moose of the IHL late during Mario Lemieux's comeback season. At the time of his arrival, the Penguins — loaded with offensive superstars such as Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Alex Kovalev, Martin Straka and Robert Lang — were begging for any goalie to grip the No. 1 spot with the playoff approaching.
Hedberg did by going 7-1-1 with a 2.64 goals-against average and .905 save percentage down the stretch.
Those numbers were nothing compared to what he produced through three postseason rounds. He split 18 games and recorded a 2.30 GAA and .911 save percentage in head-to-head series showdowns with elite goalies Olaf Kolzig (Washington), Dominik Hasek (Buffalo) and Brodeur.
Fans arrived at Civic Arena donning antler-shaped head gear and screaming "MOOOOOOOOSE!" during the games — a play off his famous mask, which featured a cartoon moose and stood out because of its color.
With all due respect to Gary Roberts and Bill Guerin, those cult heroes had nothing on Hedberg regarding the inspiration of instant insanity from Penguins fans.
Hedberg said his mom kept a lot of mementos (including the mask) from that magical spring, but his recollection of the Penguins' dressing room remain fresh.
"I was kind of quiet at first, trying to feel it out to see where I fit in," he said. "But guys were great. (Defenseman) Andy Ference helped me out a lot.
"You could tell when Mario entered the room that he had this aura about him. Guys really looked up to him, including Jagr. I mean, Jagr was Jagr — sometimes he'd do different things from the rest of us, but he was an unbelievable player.
"I think (Jagr and Lemieux) had fun that year."
The fun didn't last for anybody.
The following months would bring a trade of Jagr, the firing of late coach Ivan Hlinka and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Each of those events was unexpected, just like Hedberg's star turn 10 years ago.
1. Sidney Crosby (Penguins)
2. Steven Stamkos (Lightning)
3. Brad Richards (Stars)
4. Nicklas Lidstrom (Red Wings)
5. Eric Staal (Hurricanes)
1. Nicklas Lidstrom (Red Wings)
2. Kris Letang (Penguins)
3. Shea Weber (Predators)
4. Zdeno Chara (Bruins)
5. Dustin Byfuglien (Thrashers)
Selke (defensive forward)
1. Ryan Kesler (Canucks)
2. Jonathan Toews (Blackhawks)
3. Mike Richards (Flyers)
4. Pavel Datsyuk (Red Wings)
5. Sidney Crosby (Penguins)
1. Sergei Bobrovsky (Flyers)
2. Jeff Skinner (Hurricanes)
3. Logan Couture (Sharks)
4. Tyler Ennis (Sabres)
5. Taylor Hall (Oilers)
Q&A with Devils G Martin Brodeur
RR: What is your fondest memory from your first All-Star Game?
MB: I didn't get scored on in the first period, and that was the only game that happened, too. It was fun. It was in Boston, and I was really impressed because I got to meet all these great players. I remember Ray Bourque's kids were shooting on me (during a family skate), and now, they're shooting on me in the NHL, so that's pretty neat. I don't know what it says about me, though.
RR: What is your favorite aspect of the individual skills competition?
MB: Oh, for (goalies) it's the breakaway. I loved the one year in Tampa. They let the goalies try to score, and Dominik Hasek won that. I couldn't even get the puck on the other side of him. The breakaway is fun. It's challenging because you know the players and the setting. These days, because of the shootout, the moves are a lot more spectacular because the shooters have had practice. Back in the day it was just skill vs. skill.
RR: Which shooter's skill would you most like a crack at denying?
MB: Probably Sidney (Crosby) or (Alex) Ovechkin — any of those top players where the focus is on them.
ALL-STAR GAME CAPTAINS PICKED
The selection of veteran Nicklas Lidstrom was a fitting tribute, and underappreciated star Eric Staal deserves to wear a 'C' with the event in his NHL hometown.
FLYERS EXTEND GM PAUL HOLMGREN
Look at their roster, as deep as any in the NHL, with young players consistently emerging. This three-year deal was a no-brainer in Philadelphia.
ANOTHER LOOK AT COACH'S CHALLENGE
With the technology available, some GMs are making noise that coaches should be allowed to challenge at least one call per game. Fans should hope that noise grows louder.