Archive | NHL RSS feed for this section

I Remember Petr Nedved (and Keith Primeau, too.)

3 Jun

Migrated from ESPN.com blog on Feb. 2, 2011

Originally published June 3, 2008
Last night started out innocently enough. I donned the Mario Lemieux jersey that’s been in my possession since I was nine years old, poured myself a glass of wine, and sat down to watch game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

I figured this one was going to be a doozy, considering the Pens were backed into a “do or die” situation. I expected an evening of heavy hits, scuffles, rocket shots, and goalies doing moves most gymnasts would envy.

With the Pens up 2-1 at the end of the second period, I was just praying they could hang on to the lead and force a game 6 back in Pittsburgh. I barely blinked and suddenly it was 3-2 Detroit.

But it wasn’t those goals that made this game such a jaw-dropping affair. It was what happened with barely 30 seconds left in the game. By then, I was preparing to accept the celebration that would be happening soon. I flinched when I thought about Detroit raising the cup, but I couldn’t argue that they hadn’t fought hard for it. And out of the corner of my eye, I saw Max Talbot. There he was, on the left side of Chris Osgood, shuffling his feet almost nervously and watching for any sign of the puck. It finally arrived. “Shoot it! Shoot it!” I screamed, while my dog looked at me with a confused expression. The first attempt bounced back at him and my heart sank. In the very same second, Talbot batted it past the line and into the left corner of Chris Osgood’s goal. I think I almost blacked out.

Overtime.

Would it be the happy 1996 game vs. the Capitals where Petr Nedved put it to bed in quadruple overtime? Would it be the demoralizing 2000 game vs. the Flyers where Keith Primeau made a shot in quintuple overtime? I didn’t even consider the thought of it being short. Neither team was ready to give up a goal. It took 49 minutes and 57 seconds. By that time, the red on the Red Wings’ jerseys was bleeding into the white, Fleury and Osgood looked as though they were in trances, the bruise Ryan Malone sustained from a shot to the face during the third period was rainbow colored, and the legs of most of the players were jiggling with exhaustion. I can only imagine that they were running on pure adrenaline.

It was a different Petr who was the hero this time. This was the Petr Sykora that said jokingly to the NBC broadcasters in between overtime periods, “Guys, I’m just going to get one, so just don’t worry about the game. I’m going to get a goal.” With that final shot, Sykora sent the Cup back to it’s case and the series back home to the Mellon Arena. Intense. Incredible. And I absolutely cannot wait for Wednesday night. Go Pens!!!

A Moment of Nostalgia

19 May

Migrated from ESPN.com blog February 2, 2011

Originally published May 19, 2008

I usually try to keep this blog tied to current events in sports, but this may stray from that a bit. Yesterday the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 6-0 (ouch) to move on to the Stanley Cup Finals. I’m reading the local free paper on the Washington D.C. Metro this morning and see a picture of an elated Pascal Dupuis celebrating after his second goal of the evening. I can barely sit still. It’s the same maddening feeling I had two years ago when I realized that the Steelers were going to Super Bowl XL.

I was living in Boston and had to have had the most beaming smile on my face for the whole week before (and then after!) the Super Bowl. What’s so maddening about this feeling? Well, there’s no one to share it with when you live in a different city. In Pittsburgh, I know they must be bubbling over with nervous excitement. That is when I suddenly feel nostalgic and long for home.

In the Spring of 1992, I was almost seven years old. Every day my dad would get the paper and after he read it, I would take the sports section and clip out the latest article about the dominating Penguins. I had a binder full of those, along with trading cards for all of my favorite players. Like most Pittsburghers, I was a die-hard Lemieux fan. At such a young age, I didn’t completely understand all of the terminology, but I knew enough to understand that Lemieux was the best player I’d ever seen on skates and that the Pens had a chance to be back to back champions. I understood that the games the Pens were playing at that time were really important. I knew that they had to win them or get eliminated from having a chance to be the champions.

Looking back on it now, I can barely remember specifics about those final games sweeping the Blackhawks. The only thing that remains crystal clear is the image of Super Mario hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head to the sounds of deafening cheers.

…Then suddenly, I’m back on the D.C. Metro, wishing I could wear the Lemieux jersey I’ve loved since I was nine to work. (I’m ever grateful to my parents who bought it in an adult size that I can still wear at age 22!) I’m wishing I could be in Pittsburgh, hearing the Strip District buzzing with excitement, eating over-filled sandwiches at Primanti’s over game highlights, and home in that town full of black and gold.

Two stops later, a gentleman gets on the train wearing a Penguins ball cap. Shortly before I get off at my stop, I tell him that I like his hat and ask if he is excited for the upcoming finals. He answers with an elated “yes!” Not surprisingly, we are both transplants to the area from fairly close parts of Pittsburgh. As I exit the train and begin walking toward the escalator, I catch a glance of him through the train window. His smile is beaming, and I wonder if he’s back home for a moment too…

Go Pens!

Thoughts on Pittsburgh, PA as the True Titletown

2 May

Migrated from ESPN.com blog February 2, 2011.

Originally published on my ESPN.com blog on May 2, 2008

Also¬† published by ESPN.com as part of their “Titletown” series on June 18, 2008 at: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/titletown/news/story?id=3448538

 

I grew up in a city more devoted to it’s sports teams than perhaps anything else. Until I was 18 years old, I never lived anywhere else and just assumed that everywhere was like Pittsburgh. I just assumed that people, no matter who they were, loved their local sports team. Ask anyone in Pittsburgh if they love the black and gold, and I can nearly guarantee that you will hear a resounding “yes!”

When I moved away to college, I met people from all over the United States. Every time I met someone, I would consider the sports teams in the vicinity of their hometown and ask, “So, you’re from (city), I guess you’re a (insert local team) fan, right?”

And for the first time, I heard “No, not really.”

Really?

Back home, I remembered the jubilance of an entire city after back to back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992, the entire section in the paper devoted to Mario Lemieux following his first retirement, the stories of the legendary men that were the Steelers of the 1970s, the tears following Super Bowl XXX, and the sense of nostalgia the day they tore down Three Rivers Stadium. The whole city had this one thing in common, this complete solidarity no matter what. Two years ago, when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL, I was watching from my apartment in Boston, MA. After the game, tears were streaming down my face. I was overwhelmed with happiness to see the team I loved so much win the big game, but there was a distinct sadness too. There was nothing I wished more than that I could be in Pittsburgh, because I knew it had to be an incredible sight.

I have heard the argument that “no town without the big four should even be considered for Titletown,” but I challenge you to find fans more dispersed throughout the world who maintain their loyalty. It doesn’t disappear when they transplant to a different city, it doesn’t so much as shake. I’ve found fans in Boston, MA and even so far as the Netherlands. To those who would still argue that fandom doesn’t make a Titletown, I say that Pittsburgh has grown athletes like Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Joe Namath, Johnny Unitas, and Ken Griffey, Jr. who have brought admiration to their respective franchises. It’s been the hometown of respected coaches like Marvin Lewis, Marty Schottenheimer, Terry Francona, and Dick Nolan. What’s more, that’s just a fraction of the talent to come out of Pittsburgh. Consider then, what Pittsburgh athletes have contributed to teams across the nation.

I live in Washington, DC now, and for the first time in a long time, I’m close enough to make the drive home every so often. Each time, I love to walk through Pittsburgh’s Strip District and watch the endless sea of black and gold caps, with a blue and gold thrown in here and there to salute the Pitt Panthers. They’re all there, remembering the 5 World Series, 5 Super Bowls, 2 Stanley Cups, and countless number of titles from the University of Pittsburgh’s sports programs. It’s the “City of Champions,” the “Cradle of Quarterbacks,” and it is most assuredly Titletown, USA.