Tuesday, April 15, 2008


The March of the Penguins

Just two years ago, Jordan Staal sat quietly at a dinner table on the ice surface of the Quinte Sports Centre in Belleville. He was there for the Ontario Hockey League All Star Game. We spoke briefly during dinner. He was a kid of few words. Since that time he has learned the “hockey speak” that all players adopt when they face the cameras at the conclusion of their NHL games.

Facing the media hoard has become second hat for the lad from Thunder Bay, the second of the Staal clan to hit the rinks in the NHL. Older brother Eric has been with the Carolina Hurricanes for the past four years. On Monday night, Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins towered over the hoard of reporters in his six feet four inches on skates, and shared a few tidbits for their readers.

The game was well played and hard fought for two periods. If you are a Sens fan, it only took you twelve seconds into the third period to realize that the end was near. That Crosby kid from the Maritimes slid the puck past Martin Gerber, and that was that.

Most observers felt that after the second period, tied at ones, it was anybody’s ball game. Jordan Staal told me a different story: “We felt we had momentum going into the third period. We were fully confident after two periods. But we knew we had to take advantage of any opportunity they gave us because this is a loud rink, and it is tough to calm the storm here” (once the Sens get rolling).

When asked about the prospects of a sweep, he added: “The fourth game is the hardest game to win any time. But we came here to win every game.” Staal had a nick on his nose that was patched with quick tape. “That came off Heatley’s stick,” he said, referring to a critical four minute penalty that resulted in another Penguins’ marker in the third period.

Adam Hall hails from Kalamazoo, Michigan, but began a long hockey road with the Bramalea Blues of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League in 1996. He spent four years at Michigan State, was drafted by Nashville, and had stints with the Rangers and the Capitals before landing in Pittsburgh. The burly winger signed with the Pens as a free agent last October, and played his 350th NHL game this year.

In the role as a plugger and a digger, he has become yet another cog in the wheel for the Pens to roll towards the Stanley Cup. As he quietly removed his equipment in the crowded Pens dressing room following the game, he reflected on Crosby’s goal: “That goal solidified what he means to us.”

ScotiaBank Place was rocking from the moment they opened the doors to the sold-out crowd. Despite nagging injuries, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson dressed for the game, and played valiantly. Alfie is constantly greeted with roaring cheers, and that inspires his play.

The Senators suffered from a couple of other nemeses during the game that will drive any coach to distraction: dumb penalties, questionable refereeing, and somewhat shaky goaltending. It has been a tough go for the Ottawa crew for quite some time. There has been turmoil in the dressing room, some distractions outside the rink. All in all, not an easy couple of months for the Red Team on the Rideau.

But they will rebound, regroup, and play around with that fifty million dollar cap to start again next September.

And the Pens will reload for their next opponent along the road to Stanley’s Bowl.

James Hurst-sportslices.blogspot.com

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