To all the Pens fans here in the United States, happy Thanksgiving! To everyone else, it's just a regular Thursday, but because it's a special holiday for us we'll do our Pens Points a bit differently today, and list some of the things we as Penguins fans feel grateful for.
First and foremost, we are grateful (and then some) for Mario Lemieux. A living legend and one of the greatest players in the history of the game, he has meant more to the Pittsburgh Penguins than any person who ever lived. Take some time during the 4-day holiday to read this fantastic tribute to Mario and his 30 years in Pittsburgh by PPG's Brady McCollough.
We are grateful for the life and memory of Badger Bob Johnson, the gentle man who coached the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup in 1991. He thought every day was a great day for hockey. No one championed hockey in the United States more than Badger Bob. He passed away 23 years ago yesterday, yet his spirit is alive and well not just in the Penguins organization but also in the extraordinary growth of USA hockey.
We sure as heck are grateful for Scotty Bowman. Not warm and fuzzy, the winningest head coach in the history of the game stepped in after Badger Bob's passing, rubbed more than a few guys the wrong way, shipped Paul Coffey out of town, and won one of his 9 Cups as a head coach with the Penguins in 1992. Now this is a serious ring collection. 13 Cups altogether, for a guy who hated that number.
If I'm honest, I'm grateful for BOTH Michel Therrien and Dan Bylsma. One took us to the '08 Cup finals, the other took over and went all the way in '09. Neither man was a perfect coach, but I'm thankful for their imprint on our franchise and hope that both continue to have long and prosperous careers as head coaches in the NHL, because they are good hockey people.
By the same token, I'm grateful for Craig Patrick and Ray Shero, who is one of my favorite Penguins people ever. Again, one could point to a contract that perhaps in hindsight shouldn't have been given, or a draft pick that hasn't panned out, but both men have left a lasting legacy on the Penguins.
Boy are we grateful for one Sidney Patrick Crosby. He arrived with much fanfare to try and lift a struggling franchise to its feet in 2005. He went from a hyped teenager everyone was jealous of to a standout captain everyone is jealous of (some things never change, do they?). In between all the concussions, shattered teeth, sprained wrists and ankles, media scrums and questioning every little thing that would surely drive a normal person insane, Sid remains a regular guy who leads his teammates by example, is still socially awkward in the sweetest way, still throws a hissy fit every now and then, just to remind us he is human after all.
We are ever so thankful for his trusted sidekick, Evgeni Vladimirovich Malkin, whose boyish exuberance is a thing of beauty both on the ice and off. If you've never read this, do yourself a favor and dig in. You will learn how differently Geno grew up and why, if we sometimes question his decisions or his passions, they are just as much a part of who he is as his deadly one-timer and his wicked slaloms through opponents on the way to the net.
This list could go on an on. Jaromir Jagr, Paul Coffey, Joe Mullen (my favorite Penguin of all time), Ron Francis, Rick Kehoe, Kevin Stevens, Jean Pronovost, Larry Murphy, Tom Barrasso, Ulf Samuelsson, Syl Apps, Ron Stackhouse, Marc Recchi, Les Binkley, Pierre Larouche, Dave Burrows, Randy Carlyle, Marty Straka, Rick Tocchet, Sergei Gonchar, Max Talbot, Jordan Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, I'm sure you guys could fill in the blanks with all the names I forgot to mention.
Hockey is a sport that is both beautiful and brutal, and that's part of its appeal. Last night Crosby registered his 800th point in his 10th NHL season, when he could instead be looking to approach point 1200 sometime this season, had injuries not taken their toll. Who's to say where Mario could have ended up had he been blessed with better health? No one can take anything for granted, so it's nice to take stock of how lucky we are to have this hockey organization that is the class of the NHL to cheer on.
We are also grateful for our Pensburgh community of fans here. Through wins and losses, shutouts and blowouts, we come together to talk and debate all things Penguins. Aside from my family and another 3 Pens fans I know in Philadelphia, without you here I wouldn't have anyone to talk to about my favorite team. Happy Thanksgiving to all at Pensburgh!