The Pittsburgh Penguins have their first big game of the season, tonight. It should be classic Pens vs. Caps, and statement games are an important measure of Stanley Cup champions, so says Scotty Bowman.
One of the great moments which I wasn’t permitted to write about last season (because I was on the radio station media credential) was a chat with the legendary head coach and renowned hockey guru, Bowman. I wanted his insight on the challenges of attempting to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
As part of Pittsburgh Penguins 50th-anniversary celebration, the 1992 Stanley Cup championship team was honored and Bowman took part. Bowman sat in the seats watching the morning skate.
As dignitaries and media passed by to say hello or get a quick comment, I lurked and lingered for what seemed like an eternity. I was able to have a full conversation with Jock Callander, who is part of the Cleveland Monsters AHL organization. I selfishly pumped Callander for information about a couple Monsters goalies then under contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets (Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg) for use in my fantasy keeper league.
I’m not above getting insider information to win my hockey pool. While we chatted, I also got to meet the rest of that Muskegon line (Mike Needham, Dave Michayluk) which unexpectedly rose to the moment during that 1992 run to the Stanley Cup.
15-year-old me had a total geek moment with that trio, but I really wanted to talk to Scotty Bowman…
Chat with Scotty Bowman
Then, 40-year-old me got his geek moment. My opening icebreaker to Mr. Bowman wasn’t the greatest… “Do you like your Apple Watch? I’ve been considering one,” I blathered.
In classic fashion, Bowman, 84, broke down and analyzed the features for me. But, then I got to the pressing issue with the man who won nine Stanley Cups, including four straight with the Montreal Canadiens, 1976-1979, and back-to-back Cups with Detroit in 1997-1998.
How difficult is it to avoid the tired legs and mental exhaustion, a season after winning a Cup?
His message was simple–It’s the statement games that matter. “If you can get up for those games, you’re fine,” he said. Bowman admitted the seemingly endless and pointless regular season, for a team like the Penguins, and the challenge it presents to a coach who wants to maintain good habits.
Our chat lasted less than five minutes, but his detail and clarity left little need for more. Teams which have the ability to get motivated for a statement game retain the ability to hit the “on” switch.
In the big picture, the Penguins 10-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks last week will have a positive effect. The game served as a wake-up call. And, sometimes the hard lessons are more easily learned.
All About Effort
The Penguins raised their game for the Stanley Cup final rematch against Nashville, Saturday. That bruising battle for the Cup, last June, which culminated in Patric Hornqvist’s chip shot off Pekka Rinne was not forgotten. The Penguins, after one of the worst losses in franchise history, rebounded with a 4-0 win.
Mark Lazerus, of the Chicago Sun-Times, just published a book about the Blackhawks amazing five-year run. “If These Walls Could Talk” included several brutally honest stories from players, including Patrick Sharp, who discussed the chores of the regular season when only the hockey which matters begins in April. The book is a remarkable behind the scenes read–available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon (Seriously, buy it. Great read).
The Penguins result tonight will matter less than the effort. The roster appears to have a couple large holes, which PHN and our writers will detail over the coming days. Fortunately, there remains plenty of time to fix roster problems. The first test of 3-Peat will be the Penguins heart.
And if the Penguins can show up in a statement game against their longtime rival and closest competitor, the Washington Capitals…in the words of Scotty Bowman, “they’ll be fine.”
Even if their roster is not.