My time covering the NHL goes back to its days of the Original 17. Cleveland had just exited the Adams Division, and hightailed it out of the NHL entirely. Four WHA refugees were still a year away from being adopted under John Ziegler’s orange-and-black shield.
With that kind of time on the job, wouldn’t you think Globe owner John Henry would have made me his Fenway Sports Group’s first consult in the days leading up to its proposed purchase of the Pittsburgh Penguins?
Or at least asked me to run and get everyone something at Dunkin’?
Nope. Not even the courtesy of a phone call Tuesday morning, when the news of the proposed purchase broke in the Wall Street Journal. Not so much as a text, “Hey, Dupes, think Crosby’s got any gas left in the tank?”
My boss and his FSG pals, LeBron James et al, are about to shell out, what, something like $900 million for the Penguins, and here I am feeling as left behind as a flightless bird.
Look — did I mention no one asked me? — for those new to the vulcanized rubber business, here is just a smattering of the hockey-specific points of intersection between Pittsburgh and Boston:
(Warning: Though I solemnly promise there will be no analytics, some of the content you are about to read could trigger the urge to commit violence, all the while screaming, “Ulf!”)
▪ Boston-based ownership is nothing new to the Penguins. In 1997, EMC co-founder Roger Marino, a Revere guy, bought the franchise from Morris Belzberg and Howard Baldwin. “That was sort of the beginning of the end, really,” Baldwin, now a moviemaker in Los Angeles, recalled on Thursday.
Boston’s Bob Caporale and partner, ex-Patriot Randy Vataha, directors of Game Plan LLC, brokered the sale to Marino.
Marino, who bought in for less than $40 million (including assumed debt), soon felt he had no choice but to take the Penguins into bankruptcy, noted Baldwin, which in turn led to the 1999 rescue sale to Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle.
“Well, you know, what can I say? You’re right about that,” said Baldwin, when I noted that Marino couldn’t wait to unload the franchise. “He came in, it just didn’t work out for him, and that was that.”
▪ In January 1980, over the feisty objection of Bruins general manager Harry Sinden, the NHL agreed to allow the Penguins to adopt black and gold as their franchise colors. Give ‘em Hell Harry was wilder than a Bobby Schmautz slapper that they filched the colors the Bruins had worn for decades.
The Penguins, who entered the league in 1967, at the time were not much more than expansion fodder. They dumped their original frosty blues in hopes that taking on the hues of the Steelers and Pirates would: 1. Change their image; 2. Change their luck.
The Penguins went on and won their first of five Stanley Cup titles in 1991. The Bruins, meanwhile, have won one since Grand Theft Textile.
▪ Eddie Johnston, the affable goalie who saw the Bruins through many of their lean years in the early ’60s, was but a year on the job as Penguins GM in 1984 when he made Lemieux the No. 1 pick in the draft.
In the 1-2-3-4 discussion of naming the best NHL players of all time, the mix includes Mario Magnifique, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, and Wayne Gretzky. In Pittsburgh, EJ remains a one-man Rushmore for not dealing the pick.
▪ Game 3 of the 1991 Eastern Conference finals, with Walpole’s Mike Milbury behind the Boston bench at the Igloo, future Hall of Fame winger Cam Neely had years clipped off his career.
Some 6 feet past his defensive blue line, the 25-year-old Neely was felled by a knee-to-knee check by Penguins defenseman Ulf Samuelsson, leaving Neely crumpled in the neutral zone. No call by referee Kerry Fraser. Milbury went nutty, hammering a stick on the boards and glass to get Fraser’s attention, to no avail.
A diminished Neely made it through the series, the Bruins losing Games 3, 4, 5, and 6. Any guesses why?
The hit left Neely with a boney mass in his right thigh — myositis ossificans — limiting his play to 22 games over next two seasons. He lasted until age 30, even scored 50 goals in 49 games in 1993-94, but it was the Samuelsson hit that brought down the curtain years before the play should have folded.
▪ It was Penguins winger Matt Cooke who truncated Marc Savard’s career, and also forced the NHL to amend the rulebook regarding hits to the head.
Cooke delivered a deliberate, ugly shoulder-to-head check on Savard in Pittsburgh on March 7, 2010, leaving with the Bruins center with a severe concussion, the maddening symptoms of which remained with him for years. Savard played only 25 games the following season, was not part of the 2011 Cup run, and was all done at age 33.
▪ One of Pittsburgh’s few early good lines, before their black-and-gold days, was the Schock-Schinkel-Shack trio. Ron Schock and Eddie Shack had previously been with the Bruins. Ken Schinkel was best known for his Ranger days.
The Penguins, by the way, traded with Buffalo to get Shack. Going the other way? Rene Robert, who promptly joined Gilbert Perreault and Richard Martin to form the Sabres’ famed French Connection Line.
▪ Current Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan grew up on the South Shore, played four seasons at Boston University, and steered the Penguins to Cup wins in 2016 and ‘17. He was two years on the job in the Hub upon Peter Chiarelli’s arrival as GM in 2006. Chiarelli promptly canned Sullivan and hired Dave Lewis.
▪ Jarome Iginla was headed to Boston from Calgary at the 2013 trade deadline. The deal was made, only to have Iginla nix it and force a trade to Pittsburgh, where he and most everyone felt a Cup win would be a fait accompli. But the Bruins erased the Penguins in a conference finals sweep and then fell to the Blackhawks in the Cup Final.
▪ Milbury’s last game as Bruins coach was Game 6 of that 1991 Eastern Conference finals against the Penguins. He was replaced by Rick Bowness, whose last day behind the Bruins’ bench was only a year later when the Penguins swept the Bruins in the conference finals. Sinden ditched Bowness in hopes that Brian Sutter’s sterner approach would get the job done. The Bruins didn’t reach the Cup semis again until 2011.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.