PITTSBURGH — The trade between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers was announced around 1 p.m. Then came the phone call from Penguins GM Jim Rutherford to his newly acquired forwards Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann. Rutherford needed them to play, immediately. And so a race from the Miami suburbs to Pittsburgh began like a scene out of the Smokey and the Bandit, including a police car.
It probably helps to envision all of this if you hum “Eastbound and Down” (or are old enough to have seen the classic movie).
“We didn’t have much time. We’ll always remember that–sitting on the plane wondering if we’ll make it,” said Bjugstad who with McCann delivered the Coors, er, arrived just before puck drop. Literally, they hit the ice for the first time during the national anthems. Fortunately, there were two anthems Friday night as the Penguins played the Ottawa Senators.
The pair were on the first plane to Pittsburgh and nervously watching the time. When they realized they may make it for the game, they began to stretch–on the plane. Here’s hoping the Penguins sprung for the extra legroom seats for the 6-foot-6 Bjugstad.
“We were looking at each other like ‘Are we really playing?’ We got to the point, we better start stretching and doing something.”
Things moved quickly after they landed. They were whisked into a car and through Pittsburgh rush hour in bad weather. And you think grandma in the left lane doing 45 through the tunnels is frustrating? Imagine having an entire organization and 18,618 fans waiting for you.
“We had a police escort and our driver was pretty good, too. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have made it.”
Given Bjugstad’s size, and Jared McCann is 6-foot-1, 198 pounds, there probably wasn’t room for Fred.
“We put our gear on and ran out there. (We) basically made it for the anthem,” said McCann. “I’ve had dreams every once in a while where I’m late for a game and that’s kind of what it felt like.”
At least they didn’t show up in their underwear.
“I don’t know…It’s just a whole…,” Bjugstad laughed in a loss for words over the situation. “We had our Florida Panthers bags. It’s just…You can’t make this up. It was important to get the win, but I think I’ll remember that moment the rest of my life.”
It does sound like the kind of tale the old players tell over a few beers, doesn’t it?
The coaches didn’t even have a chance to speak to the new players. The bench seems an awkward place for introductions–Hi, nice to meet you, now get out there with Phil Kessel.
“They didn’t even have time to say anything. It was just the anthem and a few things said on the bench,” Bjugstad chuckled. “Just keep it simple and that’s what we did.”
Bjugstad logged over 16 minutes as the Penguins second line center. Oh by the way, he had to fill in for superstar Evgeni Malkin who was out with an upper-body injury and was immediately tossed onto a line with Phil Kessel. The trio including Bryan Rust clicked. Rust had two goals and Bjugstad earned his first Penguins point in the first period with a terrific pass to Kessel which set up Rust’s first goal.
Perhaps Bjugstad and McCann will go double or nothing on Clam Chowder from Boston in 28 hours, next week.