Penguins Notebook: Is Ottawa possible foe in Prague?

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The Hockey News reported yesterday that the Penguins will play Ottawa, not Tampa Bay, in a two-game trip to Prague, Czech Republic, to open the 2008-09 NHL season.

The Penguins are aware of the NHL's interest.

"We've been approached by the league, but nothing's been confirmed," vice president for communications Tom McMillan said.

The magazine also reported that next season will start a week later than usual, Oct. 9 or 10, with the early part of the schedule compressed to make up for the lost week.

History lesson

With as many bankruptcies as Stanley Cup championships in their history -- two each -- and several threats of leaving Pittsburgh, the Penguins perhaps are lucky to have lasted 40 years in the same city and the same building.

They have persevered, with plans for a new arena to open in 2010 and a multidecade lease.

The Penguins were hatched long before the Mario Lemieux era, a couple generations before the Sidney Crosby era.

It was 40 years ago tonight -- Oct. 11, 1967 -- that the Penguins played their first game, a 2-1 loss to Montreal -- the same opponent they faced last night.

The Canadiens took a 2-0 lead in that game on a first-period, short-handed goal by Gilles Tremblay and a second-period goal by Jean Beliveau (the 400th of his career) before Andy Bathgate scored the first goal in Penguins' history at 7:06 of the third period against goaltender Rogie Vachon.

Attendance was 9,307 in an arena that did not yet have balconies and whose roof could still open, but did not for hockey games.

Do you believe in ghosts?

There's something about Mellon Arena, or at least this city's hockey teams, and goaltenders.

On Oct. 10, 2003, Marc-Andre Fleury made his NHL debut for the Penguins, just months after being selected first overall in the entry draft. He and the Penguins lost, 3-0, to Los Angeles.

Going back to the same date in 1985, Patrick Roy, now a Hall of Famer, made his first NHL start for Montreal at what was then called the Civic Arena. The Canadiens beat the Penguins, 5-3.

Last night, another Oct. 10 game at the Arena, Carey Price made his NHL debut for the Canadiens.

Bob Grove, of the Penguins' radio network, dug a little deeper and found the connection is even stronger.

Hall of Fame goaltender Georges Vezina, namesake of the annual trophy that goes to the NHL's top goaltender, played his final game Nov. 28, 1925, in Montreal against the Pittsburgh Pirates -- the second game in the Pirates' history.

Vezina, suffering from tuberculosis, was pulled after the first period of the Pirates' 1-0 victory and died five months later.

On March 14, 1971, Ken Dryden, another Hall of Fame member, made his NHL debut at Civic Arena and defeated the Penguins, 5-1. Dryden made 35 saves, allowing only a second-period goal by John Stewart, and, two months later, led the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup.

Penguins coach Michel Therrien was asked if perhaps Montreal has some friendly ghosts in Mellon Arena where Canadiens goaltenders are concerned.

After a laugh, the coach said, "There's nothing you can do about the past. You can only control now."

Slap shots

Several members of the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, have dyed a pink streak in their hair in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, according to The Citizens Voice newspaper of Wilkes-Barre. ... Several Penguins employees and media members began a tradition of playing a pickup-type game at Mellon Arena on afternoons of weekday home games. General manager Ray Shero scored the first goal of the first game. ... Penguins scratches were defenseman Alain Nasreddine and winger Jarkko Ruutu. Montreal scratches were defenseman Patrice Brisebois and forwards Mikhail Grabovski and Garth Murray.


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


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