Richard Park had been gone for a while.
OK, perhaps a bit longer than that.
He left the Penguins payroll March 18, 1997, when he was traded to Anaheim for the eminently forgettable Roman Oksiuta, and didn't return until Sept. 8, when he signed with the Penguins as a 35-year-old free agent.
In the interim, he played 626 NHL games for the Mighty Ducks, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Vancouver and the New York Islanders, spent some quality time in the American and International leagues and had two stints in Switzerland.
Despite all those winters spent laboring for all of those teams, Park remembers a lot about his first time around here.
Especially the season-opener in 1995-96, when Park, playing in just his second NHL game, scored a sensational goal -- short-handed, no less -- and set up another in an 8-3 Penguins victory against Toronto.
That hardly is his only recollection of the full season and parts of two others he put in with the Penguins after being a second-round draft choice in 1994, however.
Which, Park figures, is the way it should be.
"I had such great memories that it's really tough to isolate on one single moment," he said. "Anything you do for the first time in your life, any first moment, is very memorable.
"There's a place in your heart, always, for those moments, and Pittsburgh will always have a place in my heart because of that. The team that drafted me, first game, first everything.
"It will always be special and it always has been special, even when I came in as a visitor, those feelings arose."
Although Park isn't a kid anymore, he didn't accept a contract from the Penguins earlier this month simply because he hoped to rekindle a few memories.
He is intent on re-establishing himself as an NHL player after spending the 2010-11 season in Switzerland.
He had been with the Islanders the previous four years, but joined HC Geneve-Servette for last season after his contract on Long Island expired.
Park was fairly productive -- he had 15 goals and 19 assists in 47 games -- and says his time in Europe "was a good experience," but doesn't try to conceal his excitement about coming back to North America.
"I definitely realized how much I missed the game back here," he said.
He acknowledged having to make some adjustments because of the larger ice surface and style of play on the far side of the Atlantic, but said the changes won't have a lasting impact on his game.
"I don't think you're really going to change your game at 33 or 34," he said, laughing. "I got to play a lot, so that was a lot of fun. It was different, experiencing a different league and style of play.
"I look forward to seeing how the game is going to feel for me, coming back. I was here for 15 years, so this is what I know. Not the other way around."
Park, who is an effective penalty-killer and versatile enough to play all three forward positions, figures to contend for a spot on the fourth line, although he probably could fill in on one of the other three, if needed.
He had signed a multiyear deal in Switzerland, but the balance of the contract was voided -- whether that happened before or after his agent contacted the Penguins to gauge their interest in him isn't clear -- and he didn't hesitate to accept the two-way contract they proposed.
"It was a little unorthodox, how it came about," Park said, declining to elaborate.
"[When] some things came about and this opportunity [to sign here] came into the picture, I didn't even want to explore anything else.
"As an older player who has been around, everything about it was too good to pass up."
NOTES -- Pascal Dupuis and Marl Letestu scored during a three-round shootout to give Black a 2-1 victory against White in Sunday's training camp scrimmage. Zach Sill (Black) and Eric Tangradi (White) had gotten the goals in regulation. The Penguins will hold an intrasquad scrimmage at 7 p.m. today in Wilkes-Barre.
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published September 19, 2011 4:00 AM