If Bill Guerin knows you then you have a Bill Guerin story.
On this great day for Guerin – when he is justifiably recognized as a Real American Hockey Legend with induction into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame – I share two that best showcase the man behind the remarkable hockey player.
A night before, the Penguins had failed to wrap Round 1 of an opening playoff series against the Flyers, losing Game 5 at Mellon Arena.
I recall that night for Guerin twice turning my questions about the defeat into an opportunity to deliver his own message through the media. Frustrated – shocking, right? – I had bailed form his scrum to find other players that might provide me a better quote, or at least an answer with less spin.
Apparently, my frustration was visible.
This was a new day, however; and, anyway, there were no hard feelings.
Of course, I began thinking there were hard feelings when Guerin approached me from the other end of the lounge area inside the Penguins dressing room.
Our conversation began pleasant enough, him asking, as he always does, “What’s up, buddy?”
I inquired if he had better answers for me today.
“C’mon, my answers are always awesome,” Guerin said.
It is entirely possible I rolled my eyes.
Guerin moved closer.
It is entirely possible I thought this might turn ugly.
Guerin, plainly and calmly and in a near whisper, explained his reactions to my questions from the night before.
“I know what you were looking for,” he said, “and you should know that I’m not going to give it to you.”
I let him continue. I asked him to speak up.
I fear my hearing has not improved.
“This is probably my last chance,” he said. “Ray (Shero) brought me here to help these guys win the Cup. I know what it takes to win the Cup. I know there can’t be any distractions. I’m not going to be the guy that is a distraction, especially when we are still winning this series.”
It is entirely possible I attempted to argue that truthfully answering a question from a local beat scribe might not become the distraction that Guerin seemingly presumed it would.
“You’re not stupid, buddy,” Guerin. “It absolutely would become a distraction – and, again, I’m just not going to be that guy. You can keep trying, but I’m not going to help you out.
“Any other way I can help, though…”
That implication confused me, so I asked Guerin if we were OK.
“OK? Dude, I loved those questions,” he said. “If I were you, I would have asked the same questions. It was great the way you came back a second time. Those were the right questions. I just wasn’t going to answer them; but, yeah, we’re OK. Plus, you like ‘The Boss,’ so you can’t be all bad.”
Almost five full years later, I have no idea what questions I asked Guerin the night the Penguins lost Game 5 against the Flyers in Round 1 of their eventual march to the Stanley Cup.
I hope to never forget the exchange Guerin and I shared a day later.
Guerin, recently retired, recognized me among a group of reporters near the stage at Soliders and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, where Bruce Springsteen has joined Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers for a concert to celebrate the wonderful album “American Babylon.” We chat on and off throughout the concert.
Near its end, Guerin finds me and asks of my post-concert plans.
I have none.
“There is a party,” Guerin said. “You should come.”
I shamelessly asked for his help in landing an invite.
“Dude, you’re with me, you’re good,” Guerin said.
The part started backstage, where I heaped deserved praise on the Houserockers, and carried onto Diesel, on the South Side. There, Guerin and I celebrate his birthday with a small dose of … well, let’s call it Kool-Aid.
What felt like a few minutes passed. I caught Guerin catching me looking around the dark room.
“He’s here,” Guerin said.
I smiled, nodded and offered a high five.
“You know what, let’s go say hi,” Guerin said.
It is entirely probable I froze.
Up some steps we walked, then through a door. Inside the room we entered was a circle of people, all sipping … let’s call it Kool-Aid.
“Just let me do the talking,” Guerin said.
Within minutes, Guerin was recognized.
“Hockey player, right?” Springsteen said, pointing at Guerin.
Guerin smiled. Springsteen stood. They did that handshake/hug thing most guys have tried – and failed – to master.
“New Jersey Devils,” Springsteen said, after sitting down.
“Actually, I just retired,” Guerin said.
Springsteen made a joke.
I would share, but I don’t remember. One dares not inaccurately tell a joke told by “The Boss.”
“I finished with Pittsburgh,” Guerin said. “That’s how I know Joe.”
Springsteen looked at Grushecky, his longtime friend. Grushecky blessed Guerin with an approving eye glance/nod combo.
(It is worth nothing right now that Grushecky is criminally underappreciated in his own town; and “Babylon” is one of 10 best rock and roll albums of the 1990s; and Grushecky and the Houserockers deserve your support.)
Springsteen informed Grushecky that Guerin played for the Devils’ first Stanley Cup team. That is when they met, Guerin told me later.
Though, at this point on this evening, all I remember is what felt like a glare in my direction from Springsteen.
Guerin noticed it, too.
“He’s with me,” Guerin said. “He is a writer. He wrote about me when I played with Pittsburgh.”
Springsteen grumbled something about “the media.”
It is absolutely a sure thing that I gulped.
“He’s a good guy,” Guerin said.
See, NOW I appreciated Guerin’s willingness to spin a response.
With that, Springsteen’s attention turned elsewhere. Guerin and Grushecky began talking. A few minutes later, somebody from the circle, which now included Guerin, screams “Hey!”
I turned to from where the sound came.
“Hey writer, media,” Springsteen said. “You want something?”
Springsteen pointed to a silver container of… let’s call it Kool-Aid bottles.
He stood, grabbed one and handed it to me.
“Have one,” Springsteen said. “I’m the boss.”
I don’t remember anything after that.
Several days later, a text from Guerin popped onto my phone screen.
“So, how many people have you told about meeting Bruce,” Guerin said.
Three years later, and I’m telling everybody.
Those are my Bill Guerin Stories, and they felt necessary to share on this special day of his.
>> The group Guerin will join: http://www.ushockeyhall.com/enshrinees.cfm
>> Evgeni Malkin was the NHL’s No. 1 star for last week. It is his second award for November, for which he will probably be the overall No. 1 star. But he’s not among the best players in the world, right? Whatever.
>> Josh Yohe’s examination of newfound emotional maturity by these Penguins: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5139730-74/penguins-season-penalty
>> Chris Adamski, the latest addition to Team #TribHKY, has the club and all the news you need. Follow him @cadamski_Trib.
>> I will hit yinz up from Long Island, which is where I’m headed now.
Be EXCELLENT to each other,