To be a Pittsburgh Penguins fan or player is to know pain, joy and tremendous highs and lows. The Pens over the past 5-10 seasons, from year-to-year, have either been one of the healthier teams in the league, or one of the most injured. This year, it was the latter.
But hockey is a contact sport, get 40 guys out there chasing a hard puck with blades on their feet and sticks in their hands and chaos is bound to ensue. With this latest pandemic break putting everyone on hold (very weird in and of itself!) why not look back at some of the strangest injuries or maladies the Pens have had to endure.
Sidney Crosby and the mumps
The COVID-19 problems aren’t the first time recently the Pens and around the NHL have had to deal with a virus. The mumps spread around the league late in 2014. From the CBC:
Crosby was able to skate with the team on Friday morning but was pulled from the lineup for Friday night’s game against Calgary after his condition worsened. He underwent further tests that revealed the presence of the disease. He is currently in isolation but should be through the infectious stage by Monday, though the team has already ruled him out on Monday night when Pittsburgh hosts the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Crosby received a booster shot against the virus before travelling to Russia for the Winter Olympics in February and initial tests done a couple of weeks ago indicated Crosby was not in any danger.
”It came as a bit of a surprise,” team doctor Dharmesh Vyas said. “Every indication was that he was well protected against the disease.”
The NHL is dealing with a widespread outbreak of the virus. Crosby is the 14th NHL player to get the mumps, joining Corey Perry, Francois Beauchemin, Clayton Stoner and Emerson Etem of the Anaheim Ducks, Ryan Suter, Keith Ballard, Marco Scandella, Jonas Brodin and Christian Folin of the Minnesota Wild, Derick Brassard and Tanner Glass of the New York Rangers and Travis Zajac and Adam Larsson of the New Jersey Devils.
The worst thing for Crosby was when he felt fine, practiced and did a media session — all the while the side of his face started swelling out with a telltale sign that he was infected.
how i legitimately look and feel rn pic.twitter.com/1LyXMUWXNP— Kristen (@inhinzsight) November 8, 2017
Just everything, Beau Bennett
Our sweet prince of the 2010 first round got dealt a bum hand. Well, really it was a significant wrist injury that first struck at the University of Denver and sidelined Bennett. From there, he just never got on track. Bennett suffered knee and shoulder injuries in his career. Like Crosby, Bennett had the mumps too. Twice Bennett was injured in practice getting cut by teammates’ skates, somehow. It was a long, strange and sad road for Beau.
What takes the cake is the time Bennett injured himself celebrating a goal in 2015...Seriously.
“I hurt myself celebrating a goal, unfortunately,” Bennett told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “That’s just unlucky. But I’ve learned to keep my arms down and celebrate less, I guess.”
And, the weirdest thing, it wasn’t even a high-intensity celebration as he barely bumps into the boards at a slow pace:
That did only keep him out a game, but still just put the icing on the cake.
Bennett though kept a really great outlook, often tweeting self-deprecating and lighthearted memes about himself. From SI:
“It’s all perspective, right?” he said Thursday morning. “I’m still able to play in the NHL. Honestly, the stuff other people deal with.… I went to the children’s hospital a lot in Pittsburgh, and saw little kids battling for their lives. They can’t even leave the hospital, and I’m supposed to be upset because I’m in a locker room with some of the great hockey players of our time? It’s not hard to be a good person. It’s not hard to put a smile on your face.”
Martin Straka’s dreadful stretch from 2001-02
Poor Marty Straka. The speedy Czech winger finished fourth in the league in scoring in 2000-01 with 95 points, a career-highlight. The next year was an absolute lowlight. Just look at this:
- November 1st 2001 : Broken right leg on a fairly routine check where his leg got caught in the ice while getting knocked over
- February 27th, 2002: Comes back from that only to have his orbital bone around eye broken (in his SECOND SHIFT back!) by goalie Johan Hedberg’s accidental high stick
- March 7th, 2002: Comes back from that only to break his right leg a second time only SIX SHIFTS into his comeback from the eye injury
All of that would be enough. More than enough. But that’s not all!
To cap it off, Straka suffered an accident in the gym in the July 2002 that caused him to be hospitalized with cracked vertebra and torn ligaments in his back (and he temporarily lost feeling in his extremities.) From the PG:
The accident occurred early Monday morning at a Plzen gym, where Straka and Penguins teammate Milan Kraft went to work out. Straka was lifting weights on a machine — without accompaniment — when the apparatus slid on a carpet and fell on him, trapping him and preventing him from breathing.
”It was one of those big machines, and the weight was something like 300 pounds,” Straka said. “I didn’t have time to move. I was doing squats, and then it just started sliding, and then I’m underneath it. The whole thing came down on me.”
Kraft and another gym patron rushed to his aid, lifting the machine and keeping him immobile while someone else called an ambulance.
Good grief. Poor, poor Marty. Luckily Straka was able to return for five more NHL seasons and then played mostly healthy for Plzen in the Czech league until the age of 41, so at least he got to finish his playing days out from there.
Evgeni Malkin missing a game in Florida due to a sunburn?
This one is kind of a minor urban legend, did Evgeni Malkin catch too many rays on the beach in Florida to the point where he missed a game? Well, maybe. Actually — no, he didn’t really — but dammit that’s just not a good enough story.
The whole incident happened in April 2013, the Pens were on a traditional road trip playing in Tampa and then in Miami. With a lot of down time, NHL players tend to soak in the rays on the off days between those games in the nice and sunny Florida climate. Who can blame them? But did Malkin go too far?
Malkin did absorb a big hit against Tampa (as our buddy Adam Gretz pointed out) so the team officially labeled him as missing the game against the Panthers due to an “upper body injury”. But Malkin showed up (and skated) at the morning skate visibly sunburnt to the media.
Malkin did participate in the morning skate. Other than a bad sun burn, seemed fine.— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_PGH) April 13, 2013
There seems to be a very real chance that Malkin will be held out of tonight's game because of severe sunburn. Warmups could be revealing.— Dave Molinari (@MolinariPGH) April 13, 2013
The Pens officially called it a “minor shoulder injury” and said Malkin would have played if it were the playoffs. Malkin did end up missing the next three games, not returning until 12 days after the Florida trip.
So was it a sunburn that kept Malkin out of the lineup for almost two weeks? No, but it still sounds like a better story than a minor shoulder injury, so that one has sort of lingered over the years, even if it’s not really true.
James Neal hurting himself playing wiffle ball
However, Malkin isn’t the only urban legend type of weird injury. A lot of the Dan Bylsma practices were marked by zany activities. Frequent shootouts requiring the loser to grow a mustache. Wiffle ball on ice. Wait, what? From CBS Sports back in October 2013:
The Penguins were playing wiffle ball as part of a tribute to the Pittsburgh Pirates for making it into the postseason. It appeared that most, if not all of the Penguins were participating in the spirited game that was documented by the team’s video portal.
After Neal left the season opener last Thursday, Bylsma told reporters that Neal’s injury was an “aggravation” of the same issue that kept him out of last Wednesday’s practice and the team’s morning skate that day.
David Todd and Sean Gentille both reported that they were told the root of Neal’s injury was that ill-fated wiffle ball game.
Just heard from someone else that Neal indeed hurt himself playing wiffle ball.— Sean Gentille (@seangentille) October 8, 2013
However, officially and formally the Pens pushed back on this, with even then-general manager Ray Shero feeling strongly enough to issue a public comment to strongly deny the reports of Neal’s injury.
Were the Pens in cover-up mode from here to downplay an embarrassing and avoidable injury to a key player? Or simply giving the truth. That remains more open-ended than the Malkin sunburn issue and is up for more debate and drama.
Either way, the franchise has had to endure some difficult and crazy times, so if any team can handle a quarantine and a global pandemic, perhaps the Pens won’t be the worst to weather these current times and come out stronger when it ends.