Hi there. Remember me? It’s your friendly neighborhood WBS Penguins writer here, seventeen days removed from listening to my favorite hockey team lose Game 7 in overtime of the second round of the AHL playoffs to their heated rivals, the Hershey Bears. Those rivals are still alive, by the way, opening the Calder Cup Finals against the Lake Erie Monsters on the hunt for their 12th AHL championship, and I’m here on my couch, once again watching the parent team of my favorite hockey team continue their playoffs beyond the end point of the WBS season.
Only this time, it’s so much different. It’s different because, for the first time in 7 years, I’m watching a Pittsburgh Penguins team that has been transformed, not just enhanced, as a result of promotions from WBS.
Rather than watch Bryan Rust Power Moves in the Calder Cup Final, I’m watching Rust set an all-time Pittsburgh rookie record for goals in a single postseason.
Rather than watch Conor Sheary dangle, pass, and snipe his way through Providence, Hershey, Toronto, Lake Erie, or whoever else might be in his way, I’m watching the ebbs and flows of his first postseason in the NHL, clapping and screaming like crazy from my couch as he picked a corner on Memorial Day evening to put his NHL team up 2 goals in Game 1 of the Final AND snipe the winner in Game 2.
Rather than watch Tom Kuhnhackl smash and crash his way through the bottom lines of his opponents at the Mohegan Sun Arena, I’m watching him put opposing defenders and forwards on their heels and wallets in the black and Pittsburgh gold, serving an oh-so-valuable purpose in allowing the best players in the world and the line known affectionately as HBK some critical moments to rest.
Rather than watch Matt Murray stonewall everything that came his way, as he did in his rookie season for WBS with 12 shutouts in 40 appearances, just over a goal and a half allowed per game, and stopping over 94 percent of the shots he faced on the way to Rookie and Goalie of the Year honors, I’m watching him do exactly what I and everybody else on this side of the Penguins fandom knew he was capable of doing (though not without some bumps) as he has the NHL Penguins within breathing distance of their fourth Stanley Cup.
But perhaps most importantly of all…
Rather than watch Mike Sullivan inspire, develop, and (in the case of Kuhnhackl on his last night as coach in the WB) restrain his players on the way to the best start in the AHL this season, I’ve watched him completely transform the Pittsburgh Penguins from a star-studded anomaly to a devastating hockey team capable of making any other team on the planet look pedestrian by comparison. Just as I did seven years ago, when Dan Bylsma was taken from our midst in mid-February 2009 to supercharge those Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup.
And you know what?
I’m OK with all of this.
If you include the Black Ace scratches, there are currently thirteen players from WBS either available to play or already playing for Pittsburgh. Rust, Kuhnhackl, Sheary, Murray, Josh Archibald, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Tim Erixon, Tristan Jarry, Kael Mouillerat, Steve Oleksy, Derrick Pouliot, Dominik Simon, Oskar Sundqvist. Include the injured Scott Wilson and Kevin Porter, and you’re two forwards and three defenders away from a full roster of WBS players currently available for Pittsburgh, plus a coach.
As much as it hurt me as a WBS fan to see them all depart the farm for the greener pastures of the big show (and believe me, it hurt a lot), this is the payoff…to see them all contribute this much to Pittsburgh’s current run.
It would be a dream come true to one day watch my favorite hockey team lift the Calder Cup. But it’s been one helluva consolation prize to watch my parent team lift one Stanley Cup in 2009 and stand this close to winning it again. Pittsburgh winning the Cup this season thanks in part to a coach, a goalie, and so many other callups from the team I love the most would be almost as good as WBS winning itself.