SUNRISE, Fla — Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan couldn’t help himself. He laughed as he shared how Patric Hornqvist attacked water bottles on the bench with his stick. Sullivan even acted it out for the media. Captain Sidney Crosby chuckled and said he had too many great memories of playing with Hornqvist. Some he could share, and some he couldn’t.
The Florida Panthers are honoring Hornqvist during their game with the Penguins Friday night at American Bank Arena.
To a man, the Penguins adored the player and their friend who scored one of the most iconic goals in Penguins history when he chipped the puck off Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne in the final minutes of Game 6 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. The goal broke a scoreless tie and delivered a second consecutive Stanley Cup to the Penguins.
You can read PHN’s Penguins postgame story from the arena that night, as former Penguins defenseman Ian Cole told Pittsburgh Hockey Now, “(Hornqvist) is the craziest son of a gun — but in the best way possible.”
The red goal light flashed on behind the net with 1:35 remaining in the game. Hornqvist stood against the glass, both arms raised in victory as teammates raced to celebrate with him.
“The goal he scored in Nashville was vintage Patric Hornqvist. I remember it like it was yesterday,” Sullivan began. “It was a Justin Schultz wrist shot that went off the backboard, and (Hornqvist) was at the net like he always is — making it miserable for the goalie. And he bangs one in off the side of the net.
“And those are the types of goals that he scored. I think 98% of the goals he ever scored came within a foot and a half of the paint. That was the brilliance of his game … and to see the emotion on his face when he scored (the Cup-winning goal) was amazing. He’s an incredible person and just such a huge part of those teams.”
Teammates said that Hornqvist was so emotional after scoring the goal that he was unable to take another shift until Carl Hagelin scored an empty net goal moments later.
Hornqvist is a one-of-a-kind human being. He also had a near-perfect internal timer. He didn’t necessarily like dealing with the media but would dutifully chat after practices and often stood for teammates in bad times. At exactly 90 seconds, he would wrap up his answer with “Thanks, guys,” and leave.
It was 90 seconds. Every time (OK, sometimes, 88 or 89 seconds, but almost never 91).
Hornqvist would drop truths, uncomfortable or funny. He was blunt but true.
On the ice, Hornqvist was perhaps the greatest agitator to play the game in decades. He didn’t rely on “extra” legal or dirty plays to infuriate opponents. Instead, he drove them mad with constant and boundless physicality near the net. He was relentless.
“I kind of got a lot of (stories). I mean, just the amount of fun he brought every single day and night,” Crosby said. “Not anything specific, but there’s some I probably couldn’t really tell, or I don’t have time to tell — but you can tell by the way that everybody talks about him and the mark he’s left on every team that he’s played with. (You can tell) just kind the person that he is.”
Hornqvist was with the Panthers as a teammate but was unable to play during their extraordinary playoff run that concluded with a loss in the Stanley Cup Final last season. PHN had a chance to catch up with him during the Stanley Cup Final, and he was as energetic and engaged as ever.
Coach Paul Maurice and GM Bill Zito praised Hornqvist as one of the players who turned around the Panthers’ culture, promoting winning and accountability. After only two playoff appearances in the 21st century, the Panthers made the playoffs three straight seasons with Hornqvist, winning four series over the past two seasons.
“Just the energy that he brought, his work ethic. Obviously, he was tremendous for our team,” said Letang. “He brought such a different dimension, and he was the type of player that sacrificed his body and (went) in front and that’s not afraid of anything. And when things didn’t go our way, he would be a spark. He was good and off the ice. He was just a great guy who brought so much energy in the room, at the restaurant, on the bus, or the plane. So he’s always to be fun around.”
His five-year contract, originally signed with the Penguins, expired this summer, and the Panthers kept the player in the fold in a management capacity. Hornqvist is a scouting and development consultant.
What that means matters less than keeping Hornqvist around. For those stories that Crosby could tell and those that he couldn’t, the Panthers and Penguins are honoring Hornqvist Friday.
“That’s part of who he is as a person. You know, I just loved his passion for the game and his energy,” Sullivan said. “He would never accept anything but excellence from everybody. It always started with himself. And you know, he wasn’t afraid to stand up in the room when things didn’t go the right way or we didn’t live up to the standard that we all set for ourselves.
“He was one of those guys that carried that torch for us. I used to love his raw emotion.”