Coffey: Penguins Hall huge honor, a privilege

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This is when someone realizes he has been out of the game for a while.

A couple months ago, Paul Coffey's 4-year-old son, Christian, declared he had a favorite hockey player -- Penguins center Sidney Crosby.

"That's great," Coffey told his son. "I can live with that."

Christian Coffey went on to tell his dad he had an all-time favorite Edmonton Oiler, too.

"Great. Who's that?" Coffey asked.

"Wayne Gretzky," the youngster said.

Coffey yesterday laughed at the exchange. He couldn't be disappointed his son didn't realize his dad was a star for Edmonton and the Penguins and is a member of the Hall of Fame. He retired before his son was born.

"I don't think he even knew I played hockey," Coffey said.

Fans who are a bit older than Christian Coffey remember the older Coffey as a lightning-fast skater who set an unparalleled pace as an offensive defenseman and who spent more than four years with the Penguins at the height of his career. He helped them win their first Stanley Cup in 1991.

Those fans offered several rousing cheers and a standing ovation for Coffey, 46, last night at Mellon Arena when he was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame before the Penguins played the New York Islanders.

Coffey had 108 goals and 440 points in 331 games with the Penguins.

Also inducted posthumously was Frank Scuilli, a longtime locker room assistant.

"It's a huge honor, a privilege," Coffey said. "I've been lucky since I've retired to get in the Hall of Fame and have my jersey retired in Edmonton. This is tied for first with those things."

It was 20 years ago this month that Coffey, whose relationship with Edmonton management had soured, was part of a seven-player trade that brought him to the Penguins.

"About a week into being here, I thought, 'Man, what have you got yourself into?' " Coffey said. "There was a lot of work that needed to be done."

It got done behind a handful of future Hall of Famers, including Mario Lemieux. In 1991 Coffey was part of the Penguins' first Stanley Cup championship team after having won three with Edmonton. He was with the Penguins through February of '92 before being traded to Los Angeles a few months before the Penguins won their second Cup.

"Probably the most exciting year I had a chance to participate in was [1988-]89 when Mario had 199 points -- and that's not taking anything away from Wayne [Gretzky] when he had 212 and 215, but it's looking at it from a pure talent point of view and taking the team on his shoulder."

Coffey retired after playing 18 games with Boston, his ninth NHL team, in 2000-01. He had 396 goals and 1,531 points in 1,409 games and holds several NHL records for defensemen.

"He just kind of glided by people," said Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney, one of several members of the current team eager to meet Coffey during his visit to the morning skate. "He totally changed the game, like Bobby Orr did. He would be the fourth man in an attack, lead rushes, and then get back [on defense]."

Although the NHL isn't as free-wheeling as in his early days, Coffey likes the post-lockout era with a new infusion of skill and scoring. He's especially effusive about Crosby, the 20-year-old center who already has a league scoring title and MVP on his resume.

"I've heard the kid speak on numerous occasions," Coffey said. "He respects the game, respects the players before him.

"He's a couple years in the league and has done everything expected of him. If he continues to improve, and I'm sure he will, the sky's the limit. He's in a class with Wayne and Mario."


NOTES -- The Penguins recalled rookie forward Tyler Kennedy yesterday, less than 48 hours after he was sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He got two assists in a Baby Penguins win Wednesday afternoon against the Philadelphia Phantoms and was in the NHL Penguins' lineup against the Islanders. ... The Penguins have nine players, six builders and three off-ice members in their club Hall of Fame.


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


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