My first beat when I arrived as a sports reporter at WTAE in 1995 was covering the Penguins “quest” for the Stanley Cup. The team was made up of veterans like Ron Francis and Larry Murphy and I would travel with the team as undertook that grueling ordeal known as the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Players and analysts would tell me this quest for hockey’s Holy Grail was the most difficult journey in all of sports. You played one night, traveled the next and hit the ice for some sort of skate every single day. Of course, you never shaved during the deal. That was part of the tradition, the so-called “play-off beard”.
With that as a prelude, could someone tell me why a group of kids barely old enough to shave are sweeping their way through this most difficult of gauntlets with relative ease? I mean think about it: the Penguins are one win away from going to the Stanley Cup Finals and have lost just once in 12 post-season games.
This entry is not to analyze the Pens path to the finals nor to break down the series. That’s why we have a knowledgeable sports department. What I am marveling at is perhaps the greatest turnaround in recent sports history. I can remember sitting in bankruptcy court not that long ago as Mario Lemieux tried to save the team – and more to the point the $27M he was owed by the franchise. I can remember that even when they won the draft lottery and landed Sidney Crosby how bad the club was his first year in black and gold.
I can also remember the strike and how I thought hockey was sunk in this country as one of the big four sports ( baseball, basketball and football being the others ). Well, hockey never regained its hold nationally, but here in Pittsburgh a hockey renaissance is taking place powered by a nuch of kids barely old enough to drive.
Best of all, it has brought out a new generation of sports fans in this town. A section of fans who may have grown up with the Steeler tradition, but wanted something they could call their own. Now they have it. They wear their powder-blue Pens jerseys with as much pride as they sport their black and gold gear.
Will the Pens win the Stanley Cup? I hope so, but I’m sure it won’t be a four-game cakewalk to the cup. Then again, these kids are too young to know that this is not the way it’s supposed to be. I guess they just figure a sweep is the shortest way to reach their goal … and get the summer off to enjoy it.