Outside of Hall of Famer Joe Mullen, not a lot of NHL talent comes from the Big Apple, much less from a Junior B team in Brooklyn called Apple Core.
"No college coaches were coming there," Penguins defenseman and Apple Core alum Rob Scuderi said yesterday.
Scuderi and fellow Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton were exceptions. As teenagers with Apple Core, they got recruited during road trips to Massachusetts, with Eaton moving on to Notre Dame and Scuderi to Boston College.
Although Eaton left college after his freshman year to sign with the Flyers and broke into the NHL in 1999-2000, Scuderi took a longer route.
"I was a late bloomer," Scuderi, 28, said.
Late, perhaps, but not too late. He became a top-six defenseman last season and, after some question about whether he would be back this season or in what capacity, he has resumed that role.
General manager Ray Shero said after last season he was pondering whether to re-sign Scuderi and defenseman Josef Melichar. Scuderi is back. Melichar isn't.
Still, with the addition of free-agent veteran Darryl Sydor and an expectation that Kris Letang, 20, would make the team, Scuderi was staring at possibly a reduced role and limited ice time. Letang, though, did not shine in training camp and is playing with affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, while Scuderi had a solid preseason.
Not that Scuderi, a quiet, laid-back type, was wringing his hands.
"Everyone's confident in their own ability, the ability to play in this league," he said. "I was never worried about that. But sometimes, certainly, you don't know where you fit into the team, as far as what they're thinking. We have a nice balance. Hopefully, I fit in and fill a niche that the team needs every night."
Scuderi isn't steeped in ego and superstition.
Consider that he switched to uniform No. 4 so Sydor, his defense partner, could wear No. 5, and swears no favors or money changed hands.
And consider that, through two games going into a home date tomorrow night against Montreal, Scuderi not only is without a point, but also is the only Penguins player without a shot on goal.
"That doesn't surprise me," he said. "It doesn't bother me one bit."
Since he left junior, Scuderi has been a defensive defenseman. He has two goals, 18 points in 150 NHL games. At Boston College, where he helped the Eagles win the 2001 NCAA championship, he had seven goals, 67 points in four seasons. He called the latter numbers a fluke.
"I had some points, but I think it was mostly on transition," he said.
Scuderi is trying to open up some in his second full season in the NHL, partly because he's more comfortable and partly because of a shift in the coaches' philosophy.
"Last year, I was trying to be real defensive, real conservative," he said. "This year, I'm trying to take some more chances, skate with the puck, just try to do a few more things and try to learn a little bit.
"The coaches have been telling us as a defensive group to skate with the puck a little more, to have a little more confidence in ourselves. Every guy's got, maybe not end-to-end skill, but certainly the ability to skate with the puck and break out of our own zone."
Adjusting his style isn't a chore. It's a pleasure for a guy who comes from Long Island, where lacrosse, not hockey, is the big sport to play. Where you get invited to play for Apple Core, not a big-time Junior A club. And where going to college is the goal and playing in the NHL is mostly a pipe dream.
"I never really thought of it," Scuderi said of playing pro hockey. "I just tried to keep getting better."
He was a scoring machine for Apple Core, with 42 goals, 112 points his final season, 1996-97, the winter he turned 18.
Scuderi went undrafted as an 18-year-old before being picked by the Penguins in the fifth round in 1998 after his freshman year at Boston College. He is the Penguins player with the longest continuous relationship with the organization.
He returned to Boston College for his final three seasons, then played in Wilkes-Barre for 2 1/2 seasons before making his NHL debut Feb. 12, 2004 -- more than 5 1/2 years after he was drafted.
"I was always going to be a [later-]round pick," Scuderi said. "Some of these guys played some serious hockey and by 15, 16, they were already looked at. But no one was looking at New York."
Shelly Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1721.