Chats with Duper, Geno, Flower and Max plus some words for readers



Sorry for the few days between updates. Perhaps over the course of the summer I will detail the days of a beat reporter to provide readers a clearer view of my schedule. A peek at the past few days, however, would show that I spent a lot of time updating phone numbers of players, composing year-end and look-ahead analysis pieces to the Trib, and trying to get an early idea of what the next few months might look like in Penguins Land.

I expect them to be interesting, and in Sunday’s print product you can read my three suggestions for getting the former champs back on that Stanley Cup track.

Anyway, some give-and-takes I shared with players at getaway day on Friday. Please note these aren’t news items, just a personal touch or two for those of you that like that stuff:

— LW Pascal Dupuis and I discussed a before-the-season list of goal projections I made for every player. I’d handed the list to head coach Dan Bylsma, and based off some jabs I took from players over the season, I can only presume the list found its way to them.

Anyway, while chatting with Dupuis about his off-season plans, this exchange occurred:

PD: Hey, do you remember how many goals you had me down for?

RR: Oh, yeah – that list. Let me guess, I had you down for 10. (Pause) Actually, I thought you were going to have a bounce-back year, right? I’ll say 15.

PD: Eighteen.

RR: Wow.

PD: Yeah, you got it exactly right.

RR: Well, you’re a free agent after next season, so maybe I should forecast 26 for next year.

PD: That’d be great. I’ll see what I can do.

— C Evgeni Malkin, who donned a mask-like creation while clowning around with teammates, finally let me in on a joke that was a week old. During an off-day in Montreal I had told Malkin how impressed I was with his willingness to speak English to the French Canadian press, and I also complimented his rapid improvement with the language. His response was to tell me that he was using a new stick during the playoffs and that I should keep it a secret.

I caught Malkin on Friday before his meeting with Bylsma, and this exchange occurred:

RR: Geno, I’ve got to ask…

EM: My stick. Did you keep it a secret?

RR: Was that true? I thought you were joking.

EM: (Smiling) Maybe. You never know.

RR: Well, if you get a new stick next season will you tell me – like, for real?

EM: Maybe I won’t be here.

RR: Oh, God; not you, too.

EM: Trade me. That is what everybody says. You will say it.

RR: Yep, trade you for some sticks.

EM: (Smiling) New ones.

— G Marc-Andre Fleury looked exhausted with gray spots beneath his eyes and that usual smile half-forced. I suggested he’d heard much of the criticism that has come his way, so I shared some e-mails from dear readers who felt fine criticizing me because I refused to blame him for the Penguins’ playoff shortcoming.

That led to this exchange:

MF: Well, at least I can get everybody to like me again by playing better, you know.

RR: That’s fair. And you get to go home to Montreal to get away from it. I’ll be here all summer, mostly.

MF: Montreal? No, that won’t be any better for me.

RR: Good point. So you can spend the summer on a real vacation.

MF: I like the resorts, but some guys are going to Africa.

RR: Africa?

MF: Yeah, a safari.

RR: Marc, I’ve seen you stick handle; I’m fairly confident shooting a guy isn’t in your best interests.

MF: Me shoot a gun? No, no. I’ll be in the back of the jeep, ducking down with my hands over my ears. It will be fun, right?

RR: Probably not for the intended targets.

MF: Oh yeah. Well, fun for us. Relaxing. I think. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just go swimming instead.

— C Max Talbot carried a hockey bag over his left shoulder and a garbage bag filled with random items on his right hand as he headed to his car. He stopped to chat with several members of the Pittsburgh media before finally catching up with the beat reporters.

That led to this exchange between us:

RR: Um, tell your agent to work another bag into your next contract.

MT: I know, right? Look what I do to save the Penguins money.

RR: I’d think a guy who scored the only two goals in a Game 7 victory to win the Cup would at least get a garbage bag with strings.

MT: It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, right?

RR: True, and you guys are done, so…

MT: Wow, Rob. (Smiles) You really are a beauty.

RR: I’m just trying to match your standard, sunshine.

MT: Yeah? Well then you’re doing a good job.


OK, so I asked for some pregame rituals, and not surprisingly the dear readers obliged. Here are some of the best from the e-mails. Thanks to everybody for reading. We should try this back-and-forth more often.

MIKE PHILLIPS of Forest Hills

“It’s all about the mini-burgers at Bettis’.  I have season tickets and when the girlfriend can’t make the game, I have a list of co-workers more than willing to step in.  Usually the pre-game meal is at Bettis’.  Last year, every time I got the mini-burgers, they won.  Once, we went elsewhere and they lost.  What more proof do you need?  This year, I’m on a diet (perhaps too many mini-burgers?) and have yet to have mini-burgers as my pregame meal.  Except for tonight.  This game is too important for me to worry about something like my health.”

Rossi: Once, while dining with “Uncle Scotty” Burnside of, I took a dare and ordered the deep-fried burger at Bettis Grille on the North Shore. I finished three bites before acknowledging defeat, though it was as delicious as anything I’ve ever tasted. Said Scotty: “Robert, you may not make it to Round 2 if you finish that burger; but everybody will know you went down swinging, I promise.”

RYAN ALEXANDER of Morgantown, W.Va.

“The Pens game ritual consists of putting on a Pens whiteout shirt underneath my ’05-’06 Talbot jersey (I was a Talbot fan when he played on a line with Chris Thorburn before he became “Superstar”).  I crack open a Labatt Blue Light, transfer it into an icy mug from my alma mater and sit in my chair.  The remote and my cell phone must be parallel to one another, facing the TV.  Then hope for the best.”

Rossi: I was with you through the alma mater mug, but mostly because I’m presuming we share the same alma mater. I must say, Ryan, that remote/cell phone parallel bit is, well, Crosby-esque in terms of superstitions.

GEOFF JONES of Jupiter, Fla.

“The following practice does not apply during the first game of any playoff round, but since the Pens invariably lose those games, the ritual must apply to critical playoff games.  I watch the game but I cannot speak by telephone (or, these days, text) before or during the game with my Pens-fan bud who also lives in Jupiter, Florida (Pete Lascheid – yes, Vince Lascheid’s nephew, WVU-’82).  We can only do a post-mortem post-game.  Whenever this rule has been violated, the Pens lose; it was broken in Game 7 in ’93 (watched it together) and in ’96 (in Key West for a wedding – had to watch with all Panthers fans – but spoke with Pete via telephone).  When complied with (last year against the Caps and Wings), Pens win.  Since these rules will be complied with for Game 7 against the Habs, Pens in 7.”

Rossi: Well, Geoff, it was a good plan. Certainly better than ABC bringing back “Scrubs” for a ninth season. That said, same results, with neither the Pens nor that show making it to the third week of May.

OK, folks; I’m taking next week off unless something big happens. Thanks for reading during the playoffs, and enjoy the warm weather while trying to find a rooting interest in the Eastern Conference final. I can’t imagine either option – Flyers or Habs – is one Penguins fans will enjoy.