Penguins vs. Flyers: Rookie Minard has taken long, strange trip to NHL

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With the Penguins starting to get healthy, rookie winger Chris Minard might be lucky to get tapped for a few shifts today against Philadelphia.

Or he might be lucky just to make it into a couple frames of the national television coverage.

That's how it is when you are usually a team's 18th skater.

"I'm sure he's not complaining," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.

Far from it.

Minard, 26, seemed an unlikely candidate to crack the NHL four or five years ago.


Today
  • Game: Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers.
  • When: 12:08 p.m.
  • Where: Mellon Arena.
  • TV: WPXI.

Now he's sitting on his first goal with the Penguins. It came Wednesday on a one-timer from Jordan Staal, the team's sixth in a 7-3 win against Buffalo.

"Unbelievable," Minard said.

He made his NHL debut Jan. 21 during a brief promotion from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and has dressed for 10 consecutive games in his most recent call-up.

He has averaged six shifts and 3 minutes, 31 seconds of ice time, and that's skewed higher by the 16 shifts and 8:14 he played Feb. 26, when the Penguins were shorthanded playing the night of the trade deadline.

In a 3-2 shootout win against Atlanta March 2, he never made it off the bench, and he has gotten five or fewer shifts in five other games. He has also been a healthy scratch for five games.

"I'm not really worried about the [ice] time," Minard said. "Just watching the players in this room -- a lot of them are world-class -- you get to watch and learn every day. From the bench, you get to watch what they do to get the puck out of their own end, protect the puck, stuff like that."

Minard, who signed with the Penguins as a free agent last summer, developed into a decent goal-scorer in the minor leagues, but it was a circuitous route.

He played five seasons of junior -- starting with his hometown team in Owen Sound, Ontario -- before he moved to the hockey hotbed of Pensacola, Fla., and the East Coast Hockey League in 2002-03. Hotbed as far as the weather, anyway.

He was 20 years old, undrafted, a Canadian enamored with the idea of playing hockey in the Florida panhandle as a first-year pro.

"That was more just to go enjoy life for a little bit," Minard said. "We had condos right on the beach. Obviously, you wanted to work to improve your hockey, but I wasn't really a great player."

Not that he altogether ignored the hockey side. He had 15 goals, 32 points in 72 games.

Still, his aspirations were modest.

"I never thought I was going to be in the NHL," he said.

After a one-year detour to Texas, playing for San Angelo of the Central Hockey League, Minard spent 2004-05 with the Alaska Aces of the ECHL. One of his linemates there was Scott Gomez, who was an established NHL player with New Jersey but was playing in his home state during the league's lockout season. Gomez now is with the New York Rangers, who play host to the Penguins Tuesday.

"He told me, 'You can do it. You're not that far away,' " Minard said of Gomez. "That gave me the first idea that maybe I could make it.

"That's when I learned a lot about being a goal-scorer, playing with a guy like that who can pass the puck. It was a pretty cool experience."

Minard split 2005-06 between the ECHL and the AHL, then stuck in the AHL last season.

With the Penguins, Minard has a goal and an assist, a plus-minus rating of minus-one, six shots and no penalties in a total of 35:18 of ice time.

That would be a satisfying first couple NHL games for a lot of players. For Minard, it is several weeks' work.

Today, he could notch his second goal at the Flyers' expense -- he needed only five shifts against Buffalo to score. Or he could be thankful for his padded hockey pants if he ends up sitting the entire game.

He'll be happy either way.

"You're playing in the National Hockey League," Minard said. "You just want to help the team win and contribute in any way."


Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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