Eric Tangradi at the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp in August, 2008.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
SUNRISE, Fla. -- One thought went through the minds of Eric Tangradi's family and friends when they heard his NHL rights had been traded.
"To be completely honest, a lot of people said, 'Oh, anyone but Pittsburgh,' " Tangradi said by phone this week.
"But I'm real excited for a fresh start."
His name perhaps has been somewhat lost in the rush of adrenaline over everything that has happened with the Penguins the past couple of weeks -- a five-game winning streak to climb back into the thick of the playoff race, a so-far perfect road trip that ends tomorrow afternoon in Washington, and transactions that added wingers Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz and Craig Adams to the lineup.
Tangradi is a strapping, 20-year-old junior hockey winger who was part of the Feb. 26 trade with Anaheim that also brought Kunitz to the Penguins in exchange for defenseman Ryan Whitney.
The twist to the story is that Tangradi (pronounced tan-GRAY-dee) is from Philadelphia, home of the Penguins' staunchest rivals. He played for the Junior Flyers before moving to northeastern Pennsylvania to attend and play for Wyoming Seminary, a prep school.
"My family was born and raised in Philly," Tangradi said. "We were huge Philly sports fans. For me, it was mostly the Flyers just because I was so into hockey.
"I was a huge fan of Keith Primeau. I'm sure the Pittsburgh fans don't have fond memories of him, but I try to model my game after him.
"Primeau was the complete package. He could score, pass, hit, fight."
Penguins fans might remember Primeau as the hulking center who scored the winner in the wee hours in the fifth overtime of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals May 5, 2000.
Tangradi was an impressionable 11-year-old then. At 6 feet 4, 225 pounds, he has grown up to have some of the same physical attributes as Primeau.
He had 38 goals, 50 assists in 65 games for Belleville of the Ontario Hockey League going into a game last night at Oshawa.
Tangradi, a second-round draft pick by the Ducks in 2007, will be too old for junior hockey after this season. He said he is ready to turn pro and has a keen idea of what he wants to show the Penguins in training camp in September.
"With my size, the way I'm going to generate offense is to play a real power game," he said. "I love to hit and play real gritty. That's the way my style has always been. I'm willing to work through a wall at times."
If people want to project him as a linemate for one of the Penguins' star centers, Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, that's OK with Tangradi.
"I could see it the future, but it's too early right now to talk about those things," he said. "It's motivation to go into the summer and work out hard, though. Come June and July, I'm going to be working real hard in the gym.
"I know I still have a lot of work to do. Whether I'm in Wilkes-Barre [of the American Hockey League] or the big club, it depends on how hard I'm willing to work. I'm ready for anything."
Even playing against the Flyers. And seeing the harsh reception Philadelphia fans give Crosby.
Tangradi hasn't been to Wachovia Center for a game when the Penguins were visiting.
"I've seen many great games [on TV], but I haven't been to one," he said. "I would imagine they aren't real friendly to him."
Even with his Philadelphia roots, Tangradi isn't worried about fitting in with the Penguins. He likens his situation to that of R.J. Umberger, the Plum native who spent three seasons with the Flyers before he was traded to Columbus before this season.
Besides, Tangradi said, one branch of his family lives in Allentown and roots for the Penguins and their Wilkes-Barre minor league team.
"I've seen the passion in them," he said.
Still, Tangradi's heart will always belong to Philadelphia because that's where the person largely responsible for his getting this far lives.
His father, Steven, is a postal worker who used to be a carrier before bad knees forced him into a desk job.
"My dad has been working the same 40-hour-a-week job since he was 18," Tangradi said. "The dedication he has put in to allow me to play ...
"As people know, equipment is not cheap. And I'm sure there are other things he would rather have done on the weekend than get up at 5 a.m. to take me to practice.
"But he told me, 'I don't ever want you to slouch. You have a gift.' He's my biggest inspiration."