|They are tough, talented, and a pain to play against|
Grit is somewhat of a double edged sword. It can keep a team in the game and energize a hum-drum bench. Too much grit can also lead to a teams undoing (see WCOH Team USA for the prime example). It takes the right balance of skill, speed and hard-nosed strength to make a team successful.
The Penguins have always had at least one grit player on their roster. At times they would have as many as three or four. Each man knew his role and wanted nothing more than to give their all in hopes to seeing his team raise the Cup.
While the list could be as deep as 20-25 players (and even more if you go into the entire 50 year history of the team), here are some of the most notable and memorable "grit-style" players that have worn a Penguins sweater over the past 17 years*.
I am going to start with the obvious. When thinking of a player with pure grit, Gary Roberts is one of the first names that comes to mind. He was not the flashiest or fastest of players but he held his own scoring wise. If he couldn't hit the net then he would make his mark in a different way...literally. Roberts could always be counted upon for that BOOM-ing hit that made your bones hurt by just watching it. Signs sporting "What Would Gary Roberts Do?" filled the arena game after game and his brutal checking style (along with a hot temper) earned him the nickname "Scary Gary".
Who could ever forget Max Talbot? The man was an agitating machine. His favorite target...the Philadelphia Flyers. Now playing in Russia, Talbot is a gritty grinder in every sense of the word. He could give a hit and take a hit within seconds of each other then come back for more. He played the same on home ice as he did on the road: hard. His legacy in Pittsburgh is cemented not only for his infamous "SHHHHHHH" (see video below) but for being the hero of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2009.
He isn't in the movie "Goon" for nothing. I would go out on a limb as to say Laraque was one of the last of the true enforcers left in the NHL before the winds of change blew in. Over his 695 career games, he would amass 1126 penalty minutes. Most of those minutes came from his 142 fights over his 11 years in the NHL. While he only spent two seasons as a Penguin, his star protection was needed during a time when Sid was still just a kid.
Another rugged defenseman for the list is Hall Gill. His long arms were an asset for getting into another players space to break up a play without actually using his body. Those arms also loved taking advantage of a time where you could basically toss opponents away from the net. When he did play the body, he utilized a hip check that was like (brutal) poetry in motion. His style of play helped carry the load in 2008-09 and earned him a Stanley Cup Championship ring.
From the late 90s to the early years of the 2000s, the name that everyone loved to hate was Darius Kasparaitis. In his six seasons with the Penguins Kasparaitis amassed 577 penalty minutes. He possessed the ability to knock the opposition into next week with a solid body check. As a defenseman, he wasn't big in the goal totals but he made up for it in hits. He lives on in hockey history as one of the most punishing players in the NHL (and Pittsburgh loved him for it).