Mario calls 1991 reunion event 'a great time'
Jiri Hrdina flew in from the Czech Republic.
Grant Jennings did likewise from Alaska.
And another member of the Penguins' first Stanley Cup championship team logged a full day of driving from Montreal in time to attend the group's 20-year reunion the past two days.
"Wouldn't miss it," Mario Lemieux said just before he and his old teammates hit the links for the annual golf outing at Valley Brook Country Club in McMurray. "This has been a great time, just like it was back then. It was fun to see almost everybody back."
Twenty players showed up, including five Hall of Famers: Lemieux, Bryan Trottier, Joey Mullen, Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy. They swapped stories, laughed, embraced and, by all accounts, never lost a trace of their old chemistry.
"It's amazing," Peter Taglianetti said. "But when we met up in this one room, it was just instant. No hesitation. We're poking fun at each other, having laughs."
"The laughter never goes away, and neither does the bond after you win the Cup," another old defenseman, Randy Hillier, said. "Our hairlines are a little thinner, the waistlines a little bigger, but that's still there."
Not all of the waistlines were bigger. Coffey still looked as if he could rush up the right side of the ice for that trademark backhand dish. Jay Caufield looked as if he could still drop the gloves. And Mark Recchi was fresh off his bookend Stanley Cup title with the Boston Bruins this past spring.
On Monday, these Penguins met at Consol Energy Center, where about 10 of the champions who live outside Pittsburgh were taken on a tour, including the current players' locker room. Hrdina filmed the tour to share it with Czech TV upon his return. Afterward, there was a dinner at the arena's Lexus Club.
Most of the reminiscing was done at that dinner, and most of that was centered, naturally, on the evening of May 25, 1991, in Bloomington, Minn., where the scoreboard showed Penguins 8, North Stars 0, and the franchise finally had shaken decades of malaise.
"You grow up playing hockey and dreaming about lifting that Cup at center ice," Lemieux said. "To do it after all those years of training and hard work, it was amazing."
Lemieux was the Penguins' No. 1 overall draft pick in 1984.
"I knew it was going to take four, five, six years before we could put a great team together," he said. "When you're in last place, it's not going to happen overnight. We had some tough years, even my first couple years. But I gave myself a chance to get some great players around me, stuck with Pittsburgh, and it paid off. We had a great team, a great bunch of guys close. We stuck together and went all the way."
The only players not attending were Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Tom Barrasso, Ulf Samuelsson, Barry Pederson, Frank Pietrangelo and Wendell Young. Jagr rejected the Penguins' free-agent offer this summer to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers, but his invitation to this event stood. Samuelsson wanted to attend, but he recently became head coach of Modo in the Swedish Elite League and that team's opener was Tuesday.
Players from the 1991 Stanley Cup champions who attended the Penguins' alumni golf outing Tuesday: