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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Penguins Need a New Cult Hero by @kjcmalakai

The Pittsburgh Penguins are loaded with top line talents that consistently compete for the Art Ross and Hart Memorial trophies, but are currently missing a certain type of player.  The kind of player that the city and it's fans rallies behind and cheers his name, not for his high scoring prowess, but for different reasons.  The kind of player that sacrifices himself for the good of the team or pushes the envelope against a bitter rival.  Pittsburgh needs a new hockey cult hero.

Looking back, there have been a few notable players that fit this ideal.


Whenever Jack Lambert says that you're his favorite player, you're sure to become a cult hero in the city of Pittsburgh.  For Samuelsson, however, it didn't start out that way.  In 1991, Ulf was part of an unpopular trade when he along with Ron Francis and Grant Jennings of the Whalers were traded to Pittsburgh in exchange for John Cullen, Jeff Parker, and Zarley Zalapski.  The Penguins team of the early 1990's had plenty of offensive talent, but sorely lacked in the defense and toughness department (sounds familiar).  Samuelsson definitely filled those needs and it wasn't long before the fans, looking for some defense to cheer for with the Chuck Noll era ending for the Steelers, found what they were looking for.  Samuelsson had a Stanley Cup Playoffs to remember as he is often credited for shortening the career of Boston's Cam Neely during the Conference Finals and for scoring the game winning goal in the Stanley Cup clinching 8-0 rout of the Minnesota North Stars securing his position as a cult hero.


Taking down the recognized fighting champion of the league is a sure fire way to earn cult hero status.  On March 26, 1996 Francois Leroux, a 6'8" (very) physical defenseman, took on Tony Twist, one of the leagues top enforcers, of the St. Louis Blues in a blow out game that saw Mario Lemieux score 4 goals.  Leroux landed a hard jab around the left eye of Twist knocking him to his knees which made Twist a bloody mess where the punch landed.  Twist attempted to continue the fight by removing his clothing like it was on fire to get away from the linesman holding him back. Leroux received a match penalty for having tape on his right hand and earned cult hero status in the process.


Steely eyed Gary Roberts had an injury plagued career with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he made every possible moment on the ice count when he was out there.  Leaving the ice on a broken leg without assistance is just one of the may ways that created Roberts' cult hero status.  After arriving via trade in 2007, Roberts added some much needed veteran leadership and helped lead the Penguins to their first playoff appearance in six years.  The following year, Roberts had a playoff series to remember against the Ottawa Senators becoming the oldest player to score two goals in a playoff game.  One of the most memorable moments of his time with the Penguins also occurred in this game.  It took the officials two minutes to remove Roberts from the ice after the Senators took exception to a check that Roberts delivered to a Senators' player sending him into the low boards toward the end of a 4-0 Penguins victory.  The 41 year old Roberts would have fought every Senator on the ice if the officials had not shoved him off of the ice and into the tunnel.  

Max Talbot

In the 2009 playoffs, Max Talbot did a very foolish thing.  In a game in which the Penguins had fallen behind 3-0 and looked very flat, Max Talbot took a gamble and picked a fight with Philadelphia's Dan Carcillo.  What resulted was Talbot's face getting in the way of Carcillo's fist.  While it has been debated on whether or not the fight was sparked the Penguins to score 5 unanswered goals, what started Talbot on the path to being a cult hero was the "shhhhh" of the Philadelphia crowd on his way to the penalty box.  Talbot sealed his status as a cult hero in game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup finals scoring both goals in a 2-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings.  Max further endeared himself to the fans with a series of pretty self-deprecating commercials for a local Pittsburgh auto dealership poking fun at his "super star" status.

Honorable Mentions go to Aaron Asham for the "Go to Sleep Fight", Brent Johnson for breaking Rick DiPietro, and Dennis Bonvie for fighting anything that moved.


What makes a cult hero a cult hero makes it next to impossible to predict who could gain that moniker.  Based on the Penguins current roster of players, I think Christian Ehrhoff is the front runner based on the news that Ehrhoff wears a Batman t-shirt under his equipment.  Imagine him getting in a fight and losing his jersey, only to see the bat symbol.  That is the kind of event that creates a cult hero.  No matter who (and if) it ends up being, cult heroes make teams more interesting and gives fans more to cheer about than just goals and stats.  Given that the Penguins appear to be one of the top teams in the East once again, a new cult hero would be icing on the cake.

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