We had a little scare this weekend here at EB.com. Our expert hockey correspondent, former Robert Morris standout Brian Panucci went MIA after the Penguins won the Stanley Cup. We were getting pretty worried but finally got a call from Panucci to bail him out of jail. I guess streaking down the streets of downtown Pittsburgh with your wang painted silver and calling it “Lord Stanley’s lil cup” and asking ladies to “drink from the cup” is illegal….
Don’t worry folks, we bailed him out, sobered him up and gave him plenty of fluids and now he is ready to deliver some expert analysis and give folks an idea of what this meant to the city of Pittsburgh. Take it away Panuch!
2009 is a very good year to be a Pittsburgh sports fan. I know this because the local news broadcast just announced that the new Stanley Cup champion Penguins would be using “the usual victory parade route”. That is the same route the Steelers used in February to celebrate their NFL leading 6th Super Bowl victory. While it may seem like I am bragging, I’m really just reminding myself that being a sports fan is not always an embarrassment of riches like this. Good thing I have friends in places like Cleveland, Phoenix, Orlando, and even Philadelphia to remind me via text message in case I were to forget. To fans of the black and vegas gold, this series was the greatest sequel since “Godfather 2″. I’m not sure I could have taken another loss to the Red Wings. Those feelings are not out of hatred for the Red Wings but more related to being owned by the same team twice. The teams have players in common with guys like Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy winning past Stanley Cups with each side. The Penguins even employ the daughter of Detroit and Red Army legend Igor Larionov as web TV host (this is a poorly done excuse to post a picture of Alyonka Larionov). The biggest beef between Detroit and Pittsburgh involved two time Stanley Cup Finals loser Marian Hossa (read here) if you don’t know the Hossa situation) and even that had the correct karmic ending. However, like a UCLA football trophy presentation a second consecutive Penguins finals loss need not be considered.
The funny thing is that last weekend, there was a collective suicide watch among Pittsburgh sports fans. The Penguins were just destroyed by the Detroit Red Wings 5-0 and on the brink of elimination being down 3-2 in the series. All sports fans can relate to that feeling of inevitability that your team is about to lose yet the true fans hold out hope even when that defies logic. The young Penguins showed character and won the next two games to capture the Stanley Cup in a turn that went against every statistical model known to man. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni “Geno” Malkin are the two players you know from the Pens and in those two victories, they had only one point combined. In fact, Sidney was relegated to the role of head cheerleader (Flyers and Rangers fans will have fun with that) in Game 7 following a violent collision with Johan Franzen. Marc-Andre Fleury went from Dane Cook’s stand-up level spastic performances in goal to viable championship goalie. Then Max Talbot put on his best David Tyree act and took over Game 7 by scoring Pittsburgh’s only two goals. In a game filled with stars, Talbot is the scrapper and team jester who is known more for this and this than his shot. Even linemate and playoff MVP Malkin describes Talbot as having “bad hands (hockeyspeak for not handling the puck well or possessing scoring ability) that need work over the summer”. While some thought of Evgeni as a choker (including a certain Oklahoma Sooners fan who ate crow via text message), he not only was comfortable on the ice but off it where his English is getting better and his profanity is almost perfect as was on display in a post game interview. However Geno is still adapting as he showed by going to the Pens official team store the day after winning the Stanley Cup to buy his own jerseys and championship hats to take to Mother Russia all while being mobbed by the fans there to buy championship memorabilia. The guy even has a Penguins #71 flag on his own car and two days after the Cup clinching win was still carrying his MVP trophy around town.
More national fans took notice of this NHL Finals which gives me hope that hockey might someday gain a bigger USA following. It was huge in Pittsburgh but I know my city has a much different sports landscape than most cities. Mario Lemieux may be the cities most famous athlete (although he would be second to the Rooney family in terms of owners) and the Penguins are easily the #2 team in town behind the Steelers while local sports radio personalities have openly bemoaned having to cover only the Pirates between the hockey victory parade and Steelers training camp. Even the the University of Pittsburgh football and basketball teams receive tepid support and only when they are good. The celebration was not as crazy as the Steelers win but I know my group of friends enjoyed a night on the town with this great investment, a replica Stanley Cup from NHL.com and a few glasses of Crown Royal. My final dream would be that Sports Illustrated would again acknowledge hockey as a sport (if ESPN did, anything is possible) and re-create this cover by naming Ben Roethlisberger and Evgeni Malkin co-Sportsmen of the Year with their respective trophies. You could substitute “face of the league” Sidney Crosby but Malkin did win the regular season scoring title, playoff scoring title, playoff MVP, and is up for the regular season MVP which is awarded later this week. That would just be the cherry on top of this sundae that has been 2009 in Pittsburgh sports. Heck maybe even the Pirates will get in on the act……then again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.