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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Favorite Penguins: Beyond the Superstars

On a team with such historic names dotting the roster in a short time, names like Lemieux, Jagr, Crosby, Malkin, Francis, Robitaille, Zubov, Gonchar, and more, it's easy to see the big names and pick a favorite.

Instead, we at Pens Initiative wanted to take a moment to thank the lesser heroes, ones that aren't flashy but helped draw us closer to the game.  Let's all take a look at our favorites beyond the Hall of Famers that have donned the flightless bird crest.

Cassy Anders - Miroslav Satan

Contrary to what you might think, no one tops Miro the Hero on my list. Marc-Andre Fleury is a close second, but Satan is my all-time favorite. I have a story behind this. I wasn't always the shiver). Satan, at the time, was a New York Islander and I just loved watching him. How he skated, how he handled interviews, his personality...that killer unibrow. I couldn't tell you why, but he instantly became my favorite player as I started to watch and get into the sport of hockey. Around the beginning of the 2008-09 season was when Miroslav Satan signed his contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Being an 11 year old with no real sense of loyalty at the time, I decided: "Oh, Miroslav is a Penguin? I must be a Penguins fan too!" That is how I am a Penguins fan. Note: This was before the cup win and once more, I was 11 years old, so you may stuff the "bandwagon" notion. Anyway, Miro was sent down and called up a few times, but when he was called up in April to play against the Washington Capitals in the playoffs, he remained there and played pretty darn well. In the following series against the Carolina Hurricanes, Satan scored my favorite goal in NHL history! Here it is:
Pittsburgh Penguins fan/writer you know today.

Miroslav Satan is not only my favorite Pittsburgh Penguin of all time, but he just so happens to be my favorite player of all time. Why? Well...he just is! :) 

Joey Mullen isn't my all-time favorite Penguin (that distinction belongs to "Le Magnifique"), but "Slippery Rock Joe" was the player I tried to accrue stats with when playing Electronic Arts' NHL Hockey as a child.

Of course, in the original 1991 version, Mullen was only accessible via the Penguins' second power-
play unit, which meant that I had to willingly absorb lots of beatings in hopes of drawing the elusive instigator penalty to get #7 on the ice.  I then had to work the less-than-perfect passing system to make Mullen the hub of my offensive attack (this was also before the revelation of the EA one-timer, mind you), but every Mullen goal and assist was worth the effort.

As for why I loved Mullen- what's not to like?  The guy was small in stature (only 5'9"), went undrafted because of his size (...and because he was American), yet he still managed to collect 500 goals as a member of the St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, Boston Bruins, and YOUR PITTSBURGH PENGUINS!

Mullen's success was all the more remarkable given that he grew up in the throes of New York's "Hell's Kitchen," learning the game on roller skates while using a roll of electrical tape as a puck.  

Mullen simply had the knack of finding open ice at the same moment the puck found him, and he flourished at the NHL level without the physical prowess of Lemieux, a fact that endeared me to him and his style of play.

Brian Keenan - Marian Hossa

It's great to see the elite talent in a Pens sweater, and we as Pens fans have been so blessed with seeing the top offensive players in Pittsburgh that it can be easy to take for granted having a star player come through, if even only for a few months. Not only does Marian Hossa check that box, his acquisition was a turning point for this franchise. When the news broke that Ray Shero had pulled off
the shocking trade for Hossa, he took a group of young players and hurtled them on a crash course to the Stanley Cup Finals. It was an injection of talent and confidence that saw the team tear through the Eastern Conference, winning 12 game to only 2 losses, before ultimately falling in the Finals.

And Hossa was phenomenal as a Pittsburgh Penguin. A high-ankle sprain Sidney Crosby suffered earlier in the season meant that the Pens would enter the postseason with only a handful of games to get Hossa and Crosby comfortable with each other. But they clicked instantly in the playoffs, and Hossa scored 12 goals with 14 assists in 20 postseason games to go with Crosby's 6 goals and 21 assists. And when Shero wasn't able to sign Hossa longterm, and he spurned the Penguins to sign with that Detroit Red Wing team, the hatred and outrage was intense, proving only that the love had been outpouring in just that short amount of time. The Pens would get their revenge by besting Hossa for the Stanley Cup that season, and it would take until the next season, his 3rd straight in the SCF, before Hossa would win his own Cup, but as the Stanley Cup Championship and time have helped heal the pain of rejection felt in the 2008 offseason, it's hard to look back at that deal and not remember how exciting that season was and how great it felt to watch the Pens get vaulted back into the limelight after the dark days the franchise had gone through earlier in the decade.

Nicholas Case - Darius Kasparaitis

The old age of the NHL.  Big hits ruled the back end of play.  Defense was there to stop offense, with rare exceptions of guys who could play both ways.  Few in the league could line up a hit and deliver a blow quite like Darius Kasparaitis.

If you were to look on him now, there's no doubt it'd be hard for him to find a job.  Rarely able to handle a puck, not a great passer, constantly putting himself out of position to line up a big hit, he's a CORSI nightmare.  He's a puck possession nightmare.  His only redeeming quality is a legacy of big hits and getting in to opposing players minds.  And damn was he good at it, and everyone loved it.  Except for Eric Lindros.

Someone hated by the fans before his acquisition, he quickly became popular with the Steel Town crowd who possibly saw a guy that could play across the way for the Steelers.  Big defense, big hits, it was Caher Paher on ice.  The guy was so beloved in the city, and such a symbol of parts of that modern day NHL, he had his own pickles!

These days, this type of player is on the way out.  Versatility is the new thinking and big hitters are few and far between.  Kaspar is the kind of guy who would get a few cups of coffee, not be the marquee player a team builds advertising around.  His time may have come and gone, but his mark on the Penguins will always be remembered.  And he wasn't without his offensive talents.  He still scored one of the most unlikely goals in playoff history.

You know the look.

The look that says, "Oh son, you done f***ed up."

Everyone has received that look at some point in their life and no one, and I mean no one, has perfected that look like the unforgettable Gary Roberts.

I'm sorry Mr. Roberts... please don't eat my soul
When I was in college nearly 20 years ago, my old man would leave me angry answering machine messages because, well, I was in college and did dumb college things.  My dad has a voice that is kind of terrifying- low and raspy with just a twinge of disappointment.  He would be a good voice over guy for a cartoon villain if it wasn't for the incredibly thick yinzer accent.  Anyways, these messages left such an impact on one of my roommates that in 2010 he had a dream that my dad was Gary Roberts.  That's how intimidating the messages were.

Gary Roberts only played 57 games for the Penguins, but who cares.  He is still my all-time favorite Penguin, even more so than the usual suspects.  Why? Game 1 in 2008 against the Ottawa Senators.  At 41 years of age, Gary scored 2 goals and was ready to fight every Senator on the ice after refusing to leave the ice when he launched poor Cody Bass into the boards. Highlights of the game can be seen below.

Since retiring from the NHL, Gary has opened the Gary Roberts High Performance Centre because of course he did.  Located in Toronto, the official Facebook page description of the business reads as:
With the benefits of personal experience, research and expert consultations, Gary Roberts High Performance Training provides a regiment that blends advanced training techniques, proper sports nutrition and recovery strategies in a synergistic way to help elite athletes and executives achieve peak performance and longevity in sport and life.
It should read as:
Have you seen this guy?  Like you're gonna tell him no when he demands ten more push ups.  Absolutely guaranteed to get results.  Because if you don't do what Gary asks of you, he will quite simply just kick your ass.
Indeed FSN Pittsburgh, indeed

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