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January 19, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Olympics turned Crosby iconic, hence his “C.”

At no point this season will Sidney Crosby not wear a “C.”

Crosby, the Penguins captain, will fill that role for Canada’s men’s ice hockey squad at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, next month. Hockey Canada announced Crosby’s captaincy Sunday morning.

Crosby, 26, scored the golden goal for Canada at its Vancouver Games four years ago, beating United States’ goalie Ryan Miller in overtime.

That might have counted for something on this topic.

Surely, though, Canada did not lack qualified candidates to captain its Olympic squad. That list probably started with Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, a two-time Stanley Cup captain for the Blackhawks and the consensus best player for Canada at the Vancouver Games.

However, and this is a not an objective view, Crosby most deserved the “C.”

Unlike, well, anybody, he has carried the flag for this sport over the last 10 years. It was his fresh face the NHL banked on after becoming the first league to lose an entire season (2004-05) because of a labor dispute.

The narrative in and around Pittsburgh is that Crosby’s arrival changed everything, including the Penguins’ push for new arena funding that was going nowhere. By his second season, he was on his way to a scoring title and MVP, the Penguins were headed for the playoffs, Mellon Arena was packed and TV ratings were up – heck, even former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell acknowledged that was a lot of momentum to argue against state and local financial help for a new hockey arena in Pittsburgh.

Consol Energy Center, as Mario Lemieux once said, should be considered “the House Sid Got Built.”

Crosby did not build the NHL, but he has played a significant role in getting it mainstream attention in the United States.

The Penguins were picked for the first Winter Classic for a reason.

Sidney Crosby.

The Penguins are playing in a third outdoors game for a reason.

Sidney Crosby.

The Penguins are regulars on NBC national broadcasts for a reason.

Sidney Crosby.

The Penguins are a huge story when they do not win the Stanley Cup for a reason.

Sidney Crosby.

The Penguins have highlights shown on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” for a reason.

Sidney Crosby.

Most hockey fans have a polarizing view of the Penguins for a reason.

Sidney Crosby.

Crosby is the biggest star in Penguins history.

He might be the biggest start in NHL history.

The league is more prominent now than ever because professional sports are a bigger business now compared to when Wayne Gretzky and Lemieux starred.

Crosby has been the face of NHL business for nine seasons.

How big is Crosby’s reach?

Well, do a Google search on his surname and “concussion,” but be prepared to spend weeks reading articles on that topic.

If all of this seems a bit over the top – well, ask a Canadian about Crosby. His name is the one among hockey players that a casual U.S. sports fan probably knows, but in his home and native land Crosby is part of popular culture.

In Canada, Crosby is Peyton Manning in terms of how he is marketed and his profile. (Hey, Canadians do not see cardboard cutouts of Drake at Tim Horton’s.)

Unlike Manning, who does not play an Olympic sport, Crosby produced a moment that will live forever for his country. He was a young, vibrant history maker on that day – and hi-def footage of that golden goal will forever keep Crosby looking that way to Canadian hockey fans.

The Olympics – that one moment – carried Crosby from “Kid” to icon.

It also guaranteed he would be captain for Canada’s next Olympic squad.

How could he not?

Think of hockey and Canada and what you know.

Sidney Crosby.

 

LINKS N’AT

>> Marc-Andre Fleury is different, though you wouldn’t know it by his regular-season play: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5410413-74/fleury-season-penguins#axzz2qm9ePK5b

>> Josh Yohe reports on a couple of Western Pennsylvania’s own who avoided serious injury in Florida: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5444729-74/antonio-san-trocheck#axzz2qm9ePK5b

>> Jonathan Bombulie’s Read-Always AHL Penguins notebook: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5410303-74/harrington-points-baby#axzz2qm9ePK5b

>> Columnist Joe Starkey includes hockey in his Hall-of-Fame thoughts: http://triblive.com/sports/joestarkey/5410406-74/hall-johnson-jimmy

>> Bob Cohn looks at Ryan Mill’s growth as the Penguins’ voice fella: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5405074-74/mill-barbero-penguins#axzz2qm9ePK5b

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

January 16, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Geno, Ovi and the good news for Russia.

Maybe they really have made nice?

Reasonable are the doubters who believe Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin have only put aside their longstanding feud because Russia needs them to be good with one another so they can be great at the Olympics to be staged next month in Sochi.

Malkin has never denied that he would go above and beyond to win gold at these particular Games. Neither has Ovechkin.

However, these eyes have observed a few scenes that would indicate Malkin and Ovechkin are getting along better than at any point in an oft-tumultuous past.

About a half-hour after his Capitals were humbled at home by the Penguins in November, Ovechkin sent somebody to the opposing dressing room to pull out Malkin so they could chat. Malkin did not hesitate to go.

The Capitals were not humbled on Wednesday night, though they did blow a third-period lead in a 4-3 loss to the Penguins at Consol Energy Center.

Malkin, who set up Olli Maatta’s winning goal with about two minutes left, spent about 15 minutes after the game chatting up Russian-born/American-raised Olympic gymnast Nastia Liukin.

(More on her here by our Jerry DiPaola: http://triblive.com/sports/nationworldsports/5410922-74/gymnastics-liukin-olympic#axzz2qX4ffJUr)

There was no indication that Malkin had any intention of halting his Russian chat with Liukin. Seriously, a gathering that included his teammates, coaches and bosses watched approvingly as he kept Liukin laughing.

These are the moments when one simply stays away and allows whatever will be to be.

Except that Dana Heinze, the Penguins head equipment manager, had a message:

Ovechkin was in the hallway outside the dressing room, and he wanted to talk before the Capitals boarded a charter bus.

Malkin cut off his conversation and headed to meet Ovechkin.

(Full disclosure: Liukin followed.)

This is, if nothing else, progress for the only Russians to go 1-2 in an NHL Entry Draft (2004).

Often entire seasons seemed to pass without pleasantries exchanged between Malkin and Ovechkin. Occasionally – OK, more than that – over Malkin’s first two seasons in the NHL, he and Ovechkin seemed intent on physically preventing one another from finishing Penguins-Capitals games.

All is good right now, Ovechkin said.

He might not be lying, either.

It was Ovechkin, back in November, who pulled me aside to ask how Malkin was doing during his season-opening slump. I had specifically pressed Ovechkin about that Malkin slump, and he had a message to deliver me away from a group of my fellow reporters.

“Tell Geno he will be fine,” Ovechkin said.

Relay that message I did, also telling Malkin that Ovechkin predicted Malkin would score two goals in that November game.

“Two?” Malkin said, his eyes widening.

“No, Alex (is) lying.”

A couple of weeks ago, Malkin confided that he expected to play on a line with Ovechkin at the Olympics. This was a new development, as previous Team Russian plans had those two on different five-man groups.

This conversation led to another one about Malkin’s post-slump surge – 9 goals, 20 assists in 17 games – and he did not hesitate to mention that Ovechkin, too, had slumped before ripping off what is now 57 goals in his past 68 games.

There have been times over the last eight years, whether we have talked for Trib articles or our book project, when Malkin would not mention Ovechkin’s name to me.

Malkin and I did not speak after this Penguins’ victory on Wednesday.

The good news, if you are and avid Russian hockey fan – or president Vladimir Putin – is that Malkin and I did not speak because he was having a long chat with Ovechkin.

And maybe Liukin, too.

Either way, Malkin probably chose wisely.

 

LINKS N’AT

>> Ovechkin believes he and Malkin will be a “good” line in Sochi. Uh, ya think? http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5422820-74/ovechkin-malkin-olympics#axzz2qX4ffJUr

 

>> Josh Yohe said nothing was wrong with the Penguins that really Maattaed. GAMER: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5410932-74/maatta-penguins-capitals#axzz2qX4ffJUr

 

>> James Neal did not play against the Capitals, but he has time to heal before the Penguins’ next game: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5410940-74/penguins-sutter-wing#axzz2qX4ffJUr

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

January 15, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Invitation to a hockey party.

It’s been a long time since we rocked and rolled.

Wait, I’m not even a Zep guy, and this is a Boss Day, no?

OK, so it has been a bit since I filed a blog entry, but I have a valid excuse. Josh Yohe was with the Penguins on their trek through Western Canada – and I was busy working on my Ron Burgundy look, much to the horror of lovely local lady hockey bloggers.

Actually, I did do some writing last week as part of Sean Conboy’s second Hockey Party Round Table for Pittsburgh Magazine’s online site.

Read here: http://www.pittsburghmagazine.com/Best-of-the-Burgh-Blogs/Pulling-No-Punches/January-2014/Mega-Roundtable-Part-III-Should-Ray-Shero-Wheel-and-Deal-at-the-Deadline/

Thanks to Sean – whom I still believe to be the finest young wordsmith to emerge from the local sports scribbling scene in some time – for his hard work in making that thing click.

Also, for not minding me ripping off his concept – kinda, sorta – for a story on Alex Ovechkin that will run Wednesday in the Tribune-Review.

Somebody one said imitation is a sincere form of flattery, but I like to think shameless stealing is even more flattering.

 

>> The Penguins’ fourth line at practice on Tuesday featured Simon Despres and Deryk Engelland as the wingers.

Yeah.

Then again, a year ago, the Penguins were still four days from playing their first game.

Yeah.

 

>> An interesting piece here from another good buddy, Pierre LeBrun, on the Olympic-break impact on the trade deadline: http://espn.go.com/blog/nhl/post/_/id/28775/olympic-break-creates-two-trade-deadlines

How much is this on Ray Shero’s mind?

He is not one to tip his hand. That said, when I brought up the Olympic-year dynamic a couple of weeks ago, Shero did say it changes things regarding the trade market.

Remember, he set the market last season by swinging deals for Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jarome Iginla in a span of about a week.

This season teams are dealing with a lower cap, but that has been slightly dealt with because of many teams being able to use LTI designations for players that have missed large chunks of time. (Apparently, cramming 48 games into about 100 days, playing a full postseason and then cramming more games into a season that includes the Olympics – well, apparently, this is not good for the human body, which still breaks down.)

Teams have less cap space than at any time in recent memory. Only a few clubs are not realistically in the playoff hunt. There are fewer rental players to be had because clubs mostly sign their better young players to longer-term deals.

All of those factors impact what should be an interesting three-week run to the Olympic break, and that last week before the trade deadline (March 5).

It’s that time of year where one should assume nothing other than expecting to be surprised.

Also, as Shero said to me the morning he acquired Iginla, “There’s no sleeping around the trade deadline.”

Sigh.

Grrr.

Argh.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

January 12, 2014
by Josh Yohe


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Yohe: Thoughts on Scuderi’s comments

Good evening, hockey fans.

I’ve received considerable feedback – some positive, some negative – regarding last night’s game story in Edmonton because of Rob Scuderi’s comments. Here’s the article: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5368876-74/penguins-game-malkin#axzz2q1LTFMO5
The veteran defenseman wasn’t impressed with his team’s play to the point that he compared them to the Harlem Globetrotters on two separate occasions.
Some have suggested that Scuderi should have remained silent, given that his recent play hasn’t been top notch.
Others think a veteran, critical voice is just what the Penguins need.
I’m with the latter.
Listen, Rob Scuderi is a good NHL defenseman. He and Brooks Orpik haven’t been great during the past couple of weeks, but history says they’ll find their respective games shortly.
The truth is, Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma brought Rob Scuderi in for times like these.
Make no mistake, the Penguins aren’t dealing with any serious adversity. In fact, they’re running away with the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference while finding themselves on the short list of Stanley Cup favorites. Nothing wrong with that.
But Scuderi is a smart man, and he knows good habits are developed during the regular season. He learned that during the Penguins’ 2009 Stanley Cup run, when they did things the hard way, using a hot stretch merely to qualify for the postseason before winning it all.
Scuderi also surely had his opinion on such matters sculpted in his time with the Los Angeles Kings, when he won a Stanley Cup while playing for a team that most certainly will never be compared to the Harlem Globetrotters. The Kings won with defense and mental toughness.
When I spotted Scuderi sitting by himself in the locker room, I was curious as to how he might respond to the Penguins’ performance against Edmonton. It was a brutal game for the Penguins, who turned the puck over seemingly at will, took foolish penalties and blew defensive assignments.
I loved Scuderi’s response. The look in his eye, which I can only describe because the interview wasn’t captured on video, was of an intense, angry hockey player. Although the Penguins don’t lose often, players like Scuderi don’t accept losing.
You have to appreciate that.
His tone was that of a concerned father. He knows, as well as anyone, how physically gifted the Penguins are. He knows teams with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang shouldn’t lose very often.
But, you see, Scuderi also knows that those players shouldn’t be content to win simply because of their talent alone. And while I assure you that Scuderi did not mention one player by name in our article, I certainly sensed his words were directed toward the Penguins best players.
Letang did not play a strong game and Malkin took a remarkably foolish penalty, one that clearly altered the game.
Scuderi saw this, and he didn’t think much of it. He signed with the Penguins to win a championship and believes that part of his responsibility is saying something when it needs to be said.
Nothing wrong with that.
Billy Guerin used to do it. Orpik still does.
There is nothing wrong with the Penguins leadership. Crosby is a good captain, and no one will ever question this team’s effort. Bylsma’s teams always, always play hard.
But last night, against one of the league’s worst teams, the Penguins put forth a horrendous performance. Scuderi thought the Penguins put the show before winning the game.
He has won two Stanley Cups and is an unquestioned veteran leader. If he believes there is a problem, maybe there is.
And maybe the time to fix it is now, not April.
So for everyone who is referencing Scuderi’s recent play, which hasn’t been terrific, consider this: One of the reasons Scuderi is with the Penguins is to be a leader. When he spoke up last night, he was being a leader.
Rob Scuderi knows how to win Stanley Cups. If Pittsburgh hosts a parade in June, moments like when Scuderi called out his teammates shouldn’t be overlooked.
The man knows how to win, after all. Many of the Penguins stars have won a Stanley Cup. But they haven’t won the Cup since Scuderi left town.
Perhaps that isn’t a coincidence. And perhaps that 2009 team learned a lesson or two from The Piece along the way, too.

January 6, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Last-minute cases for Neal, Kunitz.

There is one shopping day left for Hockey Canada, and a couple of can’t-miss wingers are still available for selection.

About a month ago, this space presented an essay about the relationship between reporters and the athletes they cover. Essentially, those words pointed out that reporters never really know these athletes as people.

Nothing has changed to that regard.

Still, every so often, reporters – especially those on a beat that brings us face-to-face with the athletes daily – are made aware, often on deep background, how an athlete feels about something specific.

So, on the eve of the unveiling of a Canadian Olympic roster that is guaranteed to spark debate within the hockey community let this stand as my only thought:

Chris Kunitz and James Neal REALLY want to play for their country next month in Sochi, Russia.

There is no doubt that any Canadian NHL player wants that, too.

However, Kunitz and Neal have never been Olympians, and this is probably the point in their respective careers when they are most deserving.

This is the place where a beat reporter stumps for players he covers, which is something people in my line of work do more often than we probably feel comfortable admitting:

 

>> For Neal, it can simply be about the numbers, and they are better than most people likely realize. He is 26, barreling toward a sixth consecutive 20-goal season to begin his NHL career, and he has scored 78 goals in 144 games since the Penguins switched his left-handed shot to the right side ­– and there is going to be a lot of room on the right side of that international rink in-play for the Olympic tournament.

Neal has 16 goals in 24 games this season, and only Sidney Crosby has averaged more points per game this season.

However, if Hockey Canada executive director Steve Yzerman really needed anecdotal evidence about Neal, he could find it from arguably the best goalie of all-time.

Last season, New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur had this to say about Neal.

“The stick technology has given everybody a good shot,” Brodeur said. “Everybody can fire the puck, and it was not that way when I was a younger goalie. Back then, you went against guys who could really shoot harder than other players, and you had guys with a quicker release than other players.

“The sticks that players use today – you do not need that hard shot as much. The puck flies off these sticks. It used to be that way with slap shots, but you do not really see those anymore. You do not need to crank it up to blast a shot.

“I look at a guy’s release. That is what I think about now as being a great shot. Neal has a great release, one of the best. He will shoot from bad angles, and that is tough because he can get the puck through traffic. He definitely is one of the best pure shooters right now.”

So, there’s that.

 

>> As for Kunitz – well, the Penguins made their case for his Olympic candidacy in a story that ran Sunday. Give it a look: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5332184-74/kunitz-crosby-canada#axzz2pRqXONtn

This quote from Crosby about his chemistry with Kunitz is particularly informative:

“Especially around the net, we read off one another pretty good,” Crosby said. “So, if he’s the one kind of attracting the scrum or loose pucks, I will try to be outside of that in an area where there’s not any guys and just kind of trying to get open.

“It’s a read. It’s not something you can really say, ‘Go here.’ When one of us is drawing attention, the other guy senses it and tries to get open.”

Everybody that plays with Kunitz mentions his fierce competitiveness and tenacity to compete for pucks. That was on display Sunday before Matt Niskanen scored the Penguins’ winning goal against Winnipeg.

Read THE GAMER for a brief description: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5335607-74/malkin-penguins-games#axzz2pRqXONtn

Also, consider this quote from Niskanen:

“Kuni did a good job helping on the (faceoff),” Niskanen said. “It wasn’t a clean win, so he goes in and gets it back to Olli (Maatta).

“That’s a small detail that maybe not everybody sees. Everybody talks about faceoff percentage and everything like that. Sid’s real good at it. He can snap them back clean better than anyone. But when your wingers help out like that – that makes all the difference.”

Kunitz helps out like that on every shift for Crosby, whom Canada will need to be himself, which is nothing short of the best hockey player going to the Olympics, if it wants to again win gold.

 

LINKS N’AT

>> Dejan Kovacevic wants readers to appreciate what the Penguins are doing: http://triblive.com/sports/dejankovacevic/dejancolumns/5335612-74/course-win-goals#axzz2pRqXONtn

>> Home is where the wins are for the Penguins, and other assorted notes: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5335611-74/penguins-games-crosby#axzz2pRqXONtn

 

>> If you’re outside in Western Pennsylvania, get inside, and soon. This blog was filed before 10 a.m., and it is already nasty out what with the falling temperatures freezing everything. Be smart. Be safe. Be warm. Hug somebody. Often, maybe. That is usually good advice, anyway, right?

 

>> Thank your postal carrier over the next few days. Offer him or her a hot chocolate. These cats, man, they’re just tougher than most of us.

 

>> Josh Yohe is in Vancouver, and he will have all the Penguins-related news on the club’s swing through Western Canada.

This does not necessarily mean I am taking the week off, though. More on that (maybe) later; but you may SEE me somewhere.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

January 4, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: The thing about Mario Lemieux…

Mario Lemieux is different. Eight years into covering his hockey club, that is the best I can come up.

He remains the largest larger-than-life presence in a region where the citizens have seen their share of athletic greatness on fields, courts and – certainly over the last 30 years – ice.

The thing about Lemieux is that he has not really been viewed as an athlete for two decades. Seriously, when was the last time somebody talked about something Lemieux did as a player… without also mentioning that he beat cancer, saved the Penguins or stayed to raise his family in Pittsburgh?

There is always all of that to go with any recollections of Lemieux’s on-ice achievements.

His legacy is not what he did as a player, even though he was perhaps the most gifted hockey player, one consistently in the conversations about the best hockey player.

No hockey player – maybe no athlete – ever has had what Lemieux has in this region, though.

Not adulation.

Impact.

Wayne Gretzky has statues of his likeness in Edmonton and Los Angeles.

Lemieux has one in Pittsburgh, but his name is also on 22 “playrooms” – areas in hospitals where children can hang out during hospital stays – throughout the region. The Mario Lemieux Foundation has awarded over $14 million in grants, mostly for cancer research, since its inception.

Lemieux and his wife, Nathalie, have personally donated over $600,000 to the foundation.

The statue?

Lemieux fought that for years, agreeing only at the urging of his ownership group’s investors.

A couple of years ago, while working on an investigative piece into athletes’ charities with Tribune-Review colleague Carl Prine, I spent months digging deep into the dealings of Lemieux’s foundation.

What struck me was how small it is given how big it seems. What stayed with me is how absolutely committed Lemieux is to it.

Reporters go into investigative projects looking for something big and juicy, always because there is anecdotal evidence of something nefarious. Prine and I found some less than honorable dealings by several athletes’ charities, including those directly linked to Cal Ripken and Lance Armstrong.

Regarding Lemieux’s foundation, the best we could dig up was that it had accepted $500,000 in federal and state grants since 2004.

Again, it has handed out over $14 million in grants, with well over 90 percent of that money staying local.

For all the “C” words that have been attached to Lemieux – captain, cancer, Cup – maybe the one that should always come first is commitment.

He came. He stayed. He remains.

He is absolutely committed to doing things on his own terms.

He is the rare person to buy a professional team so he could make his money.

He is the rare celebrity who shines despite avoiding the spotlight.

The question I get most – from readers, from colleagues, from everybody – is, “What does Mario think about…?”

My answer is always the same.

I have no idea.

Mario Lemieux rarely talks about anything in public. He will not grant interviews Saturday after taking to the ice for his foundation’s charity hockey camp.

I hear stories all the time from Penguins executives about Lemieux’s dealing with team matters. Those stories are short, because Lemieux really doesn’t deal with team matters.

Last June, Ray Shero tried to present him with a detailed presentation that supported extending the contracts of Dan Bylsma and his assistants. Shero had wasted his time, because all Lemieux needed to hear was Shero saying he believed in the coaching staff.

Eight years into covering his hockey club, I have come to realize this about Lemieux:

He is different, not because of what he doesn’t do, but because of what he still does.

That, of course, is to defy convention.

 

LINKS N’AT

>> Win No. 11 in a row at home was another case for Chris Kunitz to be at the Olympics: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5335554-74/penguins-rangers-season#axzz2pRqXONtn

>> Josh Yohe reports on the news Penguins, Tyler Pyatt: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5335560-74/penguins-pyatt-friday#axzz2pRqXONtn

>> The Team USA/Bobby Ryan saga, by Yohe: http://triblive.com/sports/nhl/5355123-74/ryan-burke-team#axzz2pRqXONtn

>> Finally – and MOST IMPORTANT – a happy 39th anniversary to Bob and Joanne Rossi. Theirs is the best story to which my name will ever be attached.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

 

January 2, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: USA’s Orpik still haunted by 2010 Olympic loss to Canada.

Brooks Orpik spent his Wednesday afternoon celebrating the New Year with a nice dinner and a viewing of the Rose Bowl game. This happened a few hours after a badly kept secret became official. Orpik is again an Olympian, joining Penguins teammate Paul Martin as a member of Team USA for the upcoming Sochi Games.

This is not the spot for roster analysis. Instead, let the offer be this Q&A with Orpik regarding the Olympics:

 

Q: Will having gone through this all for the 2010 Olympics make life easier on you a second time around?

 The time change in Russia is a lot different. I’m sure the food will be different. There will be some things to adjust to. But, yeah, experience is always helpful when you’re doing something like this. It’s always better if something isn’t brand new to you.

 

Q: You and Martin have played as a defense pairing for the Penguins the last two years. Do you think that factored into Team USA’s decision?

Well, I’d only be speculating. If you look at the roster – though we’re the only ones like this on defense ­– there are a lot of other guys that have played with one another and are or were teammates. That’s a huge advantage, I think.

We had one practice before our first game in Vancouver (2010 Games). There wasn’t a lot of familiarity. My familiarity with Paul and other guys’ familiarity with one another will be critical because this isn’t an 82-game season; you really can’t afford to lose one game in this tournament. You have to come together quick and there isn’t a lot of time.

So, yeah, I do think familiarity probably played a factor for Paul and me, but I’m only guessing on that.

 

Q: An Olympic gold medal is about the only thing you have not won. How important is that to you?

You know what it is? It is how we lost last time (3-2, in overtime of the gold-medal game to Canada). The silver medal seemed like a disappointment because we feel like we gave it to them, like we lost it more than anything else. So that is something you think about a lot.

 

>> Orpik, Martin and their Olympic opportunity: http://triblive.com/sports/nhl/5340438-74/martin-penguins-orpik#axzz2pAdwb7CA

 

>> A woman with local ties is going back to the Olympics: http://triblive.com/sports/olympics/moreolympics/5345095-74/games-mclaughlin-winter#axzz2pAdwb7CA

 

>> The Team USA men: http://olympics.usahockey.com/page/show/1067902-roster

>> And the women: http://olympics.usahockey.com/page/show/862508-2014-u-s-olympic-women-s-ice-hockey-team-roster

 

>> A couple of thorough inside look at the selection process.

Scott Burnside of ESPN: http://espn.go.com/olympics/hockey/story/_/id/10195703/how-us-hockey-team-bound-sochi-olympics-was-named

Kevin Allen of USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nhl/2014/01/01/how-olympic-hockey-team-was-picked/4279829/

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

 

January 1, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: On outdoor hockey and Olympic invites.

A Happy New Year to everybody.

The Penguins are not scheduled to practice Wednesday, and quite a few of them will be paying attention to the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium featuring Toronto and Detroit ­– potential first-round playoff opponents.

The Penguins have participated in two Classics, including the 2011 one at Heinz Field. They are also participating in a Stadium Series outdoor game at Chicago’s Solider Field on March 1.

Count on the NHL bringing another outdoor game to Pittsburgh in the new few years, though it may not be another Classic. Staging a game at PNC Park is something that intrigues NHL executives.

As for where the Classic is headed, this report by Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston has Toronto very much in the mix: http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/24-7/winter-classic-could-be-coming-to-toronto/

About the Classics, allow me this:

I have covered the Stanley Cup Final, Super Bowl, NCAA men’s basketball tournament, baseball All-Star games, and a bunch of other stuff I cannot recall because of the blur that has become of my past 18 years doing this professionally. The only thing left for me is an Olympics, really.

Nothing – not one event – has left a bigger impression, and changed my mind about something, as did the 2008 Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Outdoor hockey works in a big way, and I am not one of those people who believes you can have too much of it. For every city, for every fan base, a day like today is something to behold.

So, enjoy, Michigan. Then the Bronx, Los Angeles, Chicago and Vancouver.

 

>> The Classic is not the only big event for Day 1 of hockey’s 2014 calendar. Team USA will unveil its Olympic roster after the Classic, and you can watch it all on NBC (WPXI locally).

The Penguins have their share of ties to USA Hockey, and that group will be added to with Wednesday’s Olympic announcement. The first day of this New Year is going to be one to remember for Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin. At least, that is the expectation from within the organization, which has some in-the-know employees.

Is Friday too soon for “Operation: Shutdown” T-shirts with a No. 7 (Martin) and No. 44 (Orpik) on the back to be sold at Consol Energy Center?

 

>> The annual gift basket event staged by the Penguins Wives Association has one day remaining on its auction. Details are here: http://auction.nhl.com/iSynApp/showPage.action?sid=1100803&pageName=profilePage&pgmode1=penguins&pgmode3=timeleft_asc&navid=auctions-nav-dal

This is one of the cooler charity events – at least in the eyes of players – so if you feel generous as this holiday season ends, check it out.

 

LINKS N’AT

>> Josh Yohe was in Newark, N.J., for the “Groundhog Day” that is Penguins at Devils: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5332251-74/penguins-devils-bylsma#axzz2pAdwb7CA

>> Olli Maatta was given a rest, and other assorted Penguins notes: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5332254-74/penguins-martin-malkin#axzz2pAdwb7CA

>> Columnist Joe Starkey is predicting some Penguins-related stuff for 2014: http://triblive.com/sports/joestarkey/5332266-74/starkey-steelers-2014#axzz2pAdwb7CA

>> And, finally, a link to a New Year’s Eve blog about my lasting memories from 2013 coverage: http://blog.triblive.com/chipped-ice/2013/12/31/rossi-memories-from-the-year-2013/#axzz2p5rJ0JQO

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

December 31, 2013
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Memories from the year 2013.

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.

 

>> PLAYOFFS?!!!

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,

Rossi

 

December 30, 2013
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Zatkoff’s a keeper. Crosby, too. Obviously.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Blasted, Jeff Zatkoff!!!

He allowed three goals on Sunday night.

Three.

That meant three firings of the cannon at Nationwide Arena.

Maybe it takes some getting used to, and certainly the Blue Jackets’ previous placement in the Western Conference left few opportunities; but, still, that cannon going off is the beat reporter sonic equivalent of sharing a room with Spinal Tap.

Zatkoff won his seventh straight game, by the way – and it easily meant the most since his first one. That is because this was the first NHL game he has played in front of his dad, who could not make the Zatkoff’s shutout victory at Columbus on Nov. 2.

As Zatkoff explained, his dad lives in Kentucky, and was engaged in some of his company’s year-end requirements for that contest.

People keep asking about the Penguins’ interest in a veteran backup goalie for Marc-Andre Fleury.

Keep asking, folks.

GM Ray Shero is looking for some elements right now, but a new backup is not on his to-get list. There is no indication he is even looking for one.

This season, with this lower salary cap, a veteran backup is not a luxury the Penguins can really afford unless Tomas Vokoun comes back to play – and there is no indication of that, either.

 

>> So, the Penguins have played three games in this building, counting an exhibition game that Dan Bylsma recalled Sunday night.

“I’m not sure where or why I thought James (Neal) was going to have a breakout year – I’m not sure it would be a breakout year because he’s got 40 (before),” Bylsma said.

“The first time we saw him in preseason, in this building, it was, like, ‘It’s too bad it was a preseason game,’ because it was an unbelievable performance in what he can do with his shot, getting open and shooting the puck.”

Neal has a lot of awesome numbers this season, particularly with 14 goals in 21 games (a 55-goal pace over a full season).

This number speaks loudest: 12 goals in as many road contests.

 

>> Speaking of numbers, this is my vote for the best of any for the Penguins in their first 42 games:

0

That is how many games captain Sidney Crosby has missed.

However, if you really want to know why he might be the MVP of the first half, consider this:

The Penguins are 8-2-0 in games missed by Evgeni Malkin. They have dressed no fewer than three AHL forwards in each of those games. Crosby has four goals and 17 points in those contests.

 

>> Team USA will unveil its Olympic roster on Wednesday.

Bylsma said Sunday that since Christmas Eve, his attention has turned from player evaluation to preparing for the tournament that will take place in about six weeks in Sochi, Russia.

As for Wednesday’s selection:

“I better not be surprised by anything,” Bylsma said.

Indeed, THAT would be a story.

 

>> Great atmosphere in Columbus, where Penguins fans seemed to fill half the rink.

Jack Johnson, a potential Team USA defenseman, told the Columbus Dispatch that the Blue Jackets were prepared to “play a road game” on Sunday night.

It must have felt that way when Neal’s third goal made an ice clearing of caps necessary.

That was a first for me in eight seasons going into visiting arenas.

 

>> Rossi, you Tweet, give me a name? Somebody. Anybody. Who does Shero like?

Grr-argh.

OK, start here: http://www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8471217#&navid=nhl-search

He will cost the Penguins, though. He would cost like no player since Marian Hossa, who in 2008 required sending away two roster players, a top prospect and a future first-round pick – and there would be no next-in-line winger for Crosby thrown into a deal this time.

Also, really, how many captains can one GM acquire?

Still, in replacing Pascal Dupuis, it’s not just a potential top-line fit to play with Crosby. It’s the need for a top liner that can also contribute on the penalty kill and fill a leadership loss in the dressing room.

That would be one special, um, Ladd.

 

LINKS N’AT

>> Penguins 5, Blue Jackets 3, and the visitors had the power, so to speak: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5327337-74/penguins-neal-kunitz#axzz2osvy8rqF

>> The Piece finally played, but what’s up with Kris Letang? http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5327364-74/penguins-games-letang

>> ICYMI, the ever changing world of concussion treatment had Brooks Orpik playing video games on his cell phone: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5303060-74/concussion-orpik-treatment

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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