So, the final day of 2013 was lousy for local fans, with a United States’ loss to Canada at the WJC preceding a Penguins’ loss at New Jersey. On the brighter side… a new year is just a day away.
There are things to which we call can look forward. However, looking back, these are the scenes that I will remember from a happening year that was:
>> YOU GOT THE SILVER GOLD
This was a prefect Saturday morning in January for anybody who grew up defending his “hockey guy” status as a Pittsburgher:
Watching from bed as on the TV a Team USA that featured four Western Pennsylvanians won gold at the World Junior Championship, and later catching a reflection of your grinning face as you write the story of that triumph for your Pittsburgh newspaper.
We don’t get to be fans in this business, but…
>> AN EARLY-AM CALL FROM JOSH YOHE…
“I don’t know if you saw, but it’s over,” he said.
The time was somewhere around 4 a.m. I had seen, maybe five minutes prior, a text from a source that beautifully read:
“Agreement. Lockout over. Hockey is back.”
This would not be the last way-too-early hockey morning of my year.
>> SHANNY AND UNCLE CHARLIE
In late January, NHL Player Safety was kind enough to let the Trib peek first behind the curtain of its review room at the league’s Manhattan offices. This was quite an informing night, one that changed my perspective of the entire discipline process.
The story readers did not get, however, involved the first-impression looks that Brendan Shanahan cast over Trib sports photographer Chaz “Uncle Charlie” Palla, who could find work as an extra on “Sons of Anarchy.”
Uncle Charlie is a goodly soul and a true Trib treasure, but he is physically imposing and he knows it. He uses that to his advantage, too.
From inside the video review room, Shanahan sized him up as Uncle Charlie tried to do that photographer’s trick of becoming invisible for the sake of shooting subjects in their element. Shanahan, perhaps channeling his Hall-of-Fame playing days, seemed set on protecting his house.
At one point, I noticed each man – both of whom could crush me like a bug – taking each other in, and I thought, “I’ve known Chaz for years, but I need Shanny for the story – who do I back if they throw down?”
Indeed, I’m the last guy you want on your side in a dark alley.
Later, I laughed about that observation while conversing privately with both men.
Notice I didn’t say they laughed.
>> “ROSSI, WHAT DID YOU WRITE?”
James Neal asked that question in late-March several days after an article about the Penguins’ revised defensive-zone positioning of their “F3.” I would use this pace to explain, but I still get the “F3” wrong – as Neal informed then I had in the story.
He did this from his dressing-room stall at Consol Energy Center. Neal sits next to Evgeni Malkin, who overheard the conversation and joined in.
So, what was Neal quietly explaining the error of my ways, became him and Malkin having a lot of fun at my expense. A beaten beat man, I sat between them and began an exasperated defense of myself.
This only served to enthuse their zest for tag-team torture of me.
All ended well, with smiles among us, theirs perhaps more laughing at me than with me. Several days later, in his annual “Trade Deadline Video,” the Trib’s Justin LaBar showed a porting of that exchange to the world.
As always, world, your enjoyment of my anguish is appreciated.
>> AN EARLY-AM CALL FROM RAY SHERO…
“Rob Rossi,” he said, sounding equally excited and exhausted.
I said hello.
It was around 2:30 a.m.
Around two hours prior, I had returned home from a date. While texting her – a post-date no-no, I am told – my work cell pinged. A source had advised I not go to bed.
The text read: “Your GM is about to make a move.”
This I had suspected.
About a week earlier, Shero had acquired Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray. The night after he dealt for Murray, I ran into a team source at Consol Energy Center, and that source passionately dissuaded me from following a lead that Shero was “still in on Jarome Iginla.”
That, of course, meant Shero WAS still in on Iginla.
Back to my date night, which now was a super-early work morning.
Shero snagged Iginla in the NHL trade of last season, and decided to do his local beat scribes the favor of phoning right away.
Hey, everybody was up anyway.
“Rob Rossi,” Shero said. “It’s trade-deadline season; there’s no sleeping this time of year.”
Well played, though mine was better.
“Ray, if I closed as well as you, no way I would have picked up the phone just now.”
>> PENGUINS-SENATORS, GAME 3
Let this serve as due apologies to Daniel Alfredsson and every Penguins player on the ice – all of them about whom I screamed unkindly words as a game story was blown to pieces in late May.
Every time you see a last-minute goal that sends a playoff game to overtime, a beat reporter dies.
At least, a beat reporter is wishing for death in that moment.
>> OF GREEN MONSTERS AND FRIED DOUGH
The Eastern Conference final was a blur, over far too quickly for all that Yohe and I had been through dating to the start of the NHL lockout. Between Games 3 and 4 at Boston, we decided to take a night off and take in a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.
We enjoyed the sights, sounds and fried dough. We took terrible pictures. We walked to the bar that inspired the greatest sitcom of all-time, stopping only for Yohe to buy a Jaromir Jagr-themed T-shirt that, at the time, seemed hilarious.
These are the very good days on a beat, and because there seem to be fewer every season, this one sticks out.
Also, credit Yohe for this great call as he checked out NL Central scores:
“I don’t think our Buccos are going to collapse this year,” he said.
>> MIDNIGHT IN JUNE
My phone rang.
“Rossi,” Pascal Dupuis said. “It’s done. I told you it would get done, buddy.”
About an hour before, Dupuis had agreed to a four-year contract worth $15 million – a deal that 24 hours earlier seemed quite unlikely based off what I had been hearing, a deal that prevented Dupuis from leaving the city his family had grown to love.
So, around midnight, with the NHL barreling toward free agency, a casual-turned-deep conversation about life, family and what really is important was had between a reporter and player – each of whom, for only a little while, were just two guys talking.
None of that conversation has ever made it into print, nor will it.
That conversation was all I could think about while tying to get home to my family on Christmas Eve, when Dupuis learned his season was likely done because of a torn right ACL.
As Pittsburgh readied itself for playoff baseball, the Penguins made good on a pledge to their city’s upstart ballclub.
Doing their Stanley Cup playoffs, Pirates player had donned Penguins jerseys for batting practice. The Penguins wanted to do something, but were unsure what, for the Pirates during their September run.
Coach Dan Bylsma, confident there would be a Pirates playoff game, waited out the baseball regular season – and on the October morning of the Pirates-Reds wild card game at PNC Park, the Penguins staged a Wiffle ball game on the ice after a practice at Consol Energy Center.
Players donned Pirates t-shirts – plans for hockey jerseys with the Pirates’ “P” were ruined by the copyright gods – and caps. A positively puzzled Olli Maatta had no idea what to think as he stepped onto the ice.
Perhaps neither did Malkin, but he was very much into the makeshift game.
As he walked from the dressing room to the ice, Malkin spotted me leaning against an aisle wall.
“Let’s go, Rossi; play baseball,” he said.
Then, astonishingly, I watched Malkin strike out on five pitches.
The guy on the mound was a thoroughly pleased with himself Sidney Crosby.
>> DR. FEELGOOD
A guy walks into a physician’s office for a hernia examination on a cold November morning. This guy leaves with a story, the details of which cannot be printed for various reasons.
One detail – and isn’t this always the way with any story a guy tells? – is the girl, who was not a receptionist but rather a physician assistant, much to the horrified look of the guy as he was getting examined.
Very pretty this girl, and funny, and a Penguins fan.
You can guess where this is going.
If you guessed guy not scoring the girl’s digits…
“Why not?” Marc-Andre Fleury said a few weeks later.
The guy shrugged his shoulders before retelling the story.
“Oh, that was bad,” Fleury said. “But, you know, here is what you could do, right?”
Fleury, bless him, formulated a plan on the spot.
“You know, it might work out for you,” Fleury said. “If not, get sick again and go see her. But try this. Maybe, right?”
Thank you, Marc.
Thank you, everybody, for reading.
I never say that enough.
Be EXCELLENT to each other in 2014,