Dave Molinari on the Penguins: Despite its nuisances, players would go back to nature again


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Playing an outdoor game that actually counted -- one that ended in a shootout, not with their moms calling them home for dinner -- was something new for nearly all of the Penguins.

Most seem to hope that it wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime experience, however.

A decidedly unscientific survey showed that a clear majority of players enjoyed their 2-1 victory against Buffalo at Ralph Wilson Stadium last Tuesday enough that they'd like the opportunity to compete in another outdoor game.

"I would love to do it [again]," right winger Petr Sykora said. "And it would be pretty good to play in a home stadium."

His response was somewhat surprising, considering that Sykora's most vivid recollection after the game seemed to focus on serious shivering.

"I did pretty good through a couple of periods. In the third, it got to me," he said.

The temperature didn't bother everyone, but most guys had at least one or two complaints -- some minor, some not -- afterward.

Sykora noted that the frequent stoppages to repair the ice and clear snow made it "hard to stay in the game," while Adam Hall cited vision problems caused by players getting snow in their eyes while skating. Nearly everyone mentioned trouble carrying and passing the puck on a bumpy, slow surface.

"The puck doesn't react the way you want it to," forward Erik Christensen pointed. He made it pretty clear he won't lobby for the Penguins to be involved in another such event anytime soon.

"Once is probably enough," he said.

Hall already has taken part in two -- he played for Michigan State in the "Cold War" against Michigan in 2001 -- and wouldn't object to making it a hat trick. Eventually.

"It's special because it's such a rare thing," he said. "If this happened every day, it would lose its luster a little bit. But every two or three years or so, it really is a fond memory that a lot of guys will have."

In this case, a Ty is good

The Penguins summoned goalie Ty Conklin from their farm team in Wilkes-Barre on emergency recall when Marc-Andre Fleury got a high ankle sprain a month ago.

He was brought up with the idea that he would serve as Dany Sabourin's backup, and would return to the Baby Penguins -- per emergency-recall regulations -- the moment Fleury went back on active duty.

Simple, standard stuff.

Conklin, though, has complicated things considerably by playing so well -- he had won six starts in a row before facing Florida yesterday -- and if that doesn't change, management will face some difficult decisions when Fleury is ready to resume playing. The options include:

1) Keeping three goalies, an arrangement that almost never works out to everyone's satisfaction, for the balance of the season. That would tie up one more roster spot than usually is set aside for goalies, at least until after the 23-man limit is discarded when the Feb. 26 trade deadline passes.

2) Keeping Conklin on the NHL roster for the rest of the season but sending Sabourin to Wilkes-Barre, which would entail Sabourin going through waivers.

3) Returning Conklin to the Baby Penguins before, or at the same time, Fleury is activated, which would not require Conklin to be put on waivers.

4) Assigning Conklin to Wilkes-Barre sometime after Fleury returns, in which case Conklin would have to go on waivers.

The Penguins are allowed to keep Conklin on the NHL roster when Fleury returns even though he didn't clear waivers on the way up (that's the point of an emergency recall) because he is exempt from the re-entry waivers that apply to most veteran players promoted from the American Hockey League. (Conklin did have to clear waivers when the Penguins demoted him before the season started.)

Conklin qualified for that exemption because he has a two-way contract in which his minor-league salary of $100,000 is at the threshold of eligibility for the exemption. That same provision covers defenseman Alain Nasreddine, who currently is in Wilkes-Barre.

One rink will have to do

Although construction of the city's new multi-purpose arena won't begin for a number of months, fine-tuning of plans continues.

One noteworthy concept that didn't make the final cut was having a secondary rink attached to the facility.

That idea has gained popularity in recent years -- Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio includes one -- and the Penguins certainly weren't opposed to having a rink that could have played host to their practices and other hockey- and skating-related activities.

Ultimately, though, it was determined that there could be construction complications with putting a second rink on site, and team executives concluded that it might not have been cost-effective, anyway. There is, after all, a $290 million ceiling on the project, so not everything that has gotten consideration will be part of the final plans.

The Penguins, by the way, have not ruled out placing a second ice surface in the general vicinity of the new arena.



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