GLENDALE, Ariz. -- He played with Mario Lemieux, helped the Penguins win two Stanley Cup titles and became a fan favorite wrapped in his own slogan, "Cry Ulf."
Last night, Ulf Samuelsson was behind the next bench over from his old club, rubbing elbows with the other hockey icon from the era of his playing days. Samuelsson is in his third season as associate coach to Wayne Gretzky with the Phoenix Coyotes, who played host to the Penguins in a late game at Jobing.com Arena.
"From one legend to the other legend," Samuelsson said after the Coyotes' morning skate. "It's really been a unique partnership with Wayne here the last couple years, to be able to get involved in so many things."
Samuelsson works with the Phoenix defense, special teams and practice preparation.
When he was with the Penguins, things were more streamlined -- he hit, hit harder, played solid defense, and hit some more.
He was part of a famous trade with Hartford, March 4, 1991, when then-general manager Craig Patrick bolstered the Penguins' lineup with center Ron Francis and Samuelsson. The Penguins then won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.
"It was tremendous," Samuelsson said. "We were plugging away in Hartford and then all of a sudden we got that call and that trade. A couple days later I remember playing Vancouver in Pittsburgh. I was hitting people like I always did, and people started to love it. It's something special in Pittsburgh and the way they like physical play in combination with good defense. So it was an incredible ride."
The one he's on now -- one he hopes will lead to a head coaching job in the NHL -- started small.
Samuelsson, 44, began his coaching career as an assistant at Avon Old Farms, a boys' school in Connecticut. He was with the New York Rangers' top minor league club in Hartford as an assistant for one season before Gretzky called.
One thing about the game baffles Samuelsson, who retired in the 1999-2000 season after playing with the Rangers, Red Wings and Flyers.
He dished out all those hits, often open-ice crunches, and absorbed them with no real ill effects. Now, athletes in contact sports seem especially vulnerable to concussions and lingering effects of big hits.
"Something has changed with concussions," Samuelsson said. "I had concussions. It was basically, 'Here's the sniffer. Can you see it's two fingers? You're all right. Go out and play.'
"Now, it seems like the effects are so different. They can miss months of time. I'm not sure what it is, if there's harder padding or if players are stronger now or if the skull is weaker somehow."
Penguins centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal spend time during the morning skate taking faceoffs against teammate Mike Zigmonis, who is something of a draw specialist.
So was Penguins director of player development Tom Fitzgerald, a two-way winger over a long NHL career. Fitzgerald was on the ice dropping the puck for Zigomanis and the other centers.
Crosby said Fitzgerald is the team staffer who scouts opponents for faceoff tendencies.
"There's things he sees," Crosby said. "He's there just to kind of make us aware of everything."
The Penguins and Coyotes are in different places financially, according to this year's ranking of club values by Forbes magazine.
The Penguins are ranked No. 18 at $195 million. That's a 26 percent jump from a year ago, the largest gain of any of the 30 teams. Phoenix is last at $142 million. The magazine listed the average value of teams at $220 million, up 10 percent. Average revenue is $92 million, up 13 percent, which the publication attributed to higher ticket costs and a stronger Canadian dollar last year.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1721.