Molinari On The Penguins: Building the Penguins ... brains not included

Weekly look inside the team, the issues & the questions

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Noah Welch, the former Penguins prospect who was sent to Florida in the Gary Roberts trade, is the kind of guy who figured out long ago that his head is more than just a convenient place to store a helmet.

Even though hockey was a big part of the reason he opted to attend Harvard, Welch worked on more than just outlet passes during his four years there. Not long after his playing eligibility ended, he completed work on a degree in government.

Clearly, this is someone who isn't afraid to use his brain.

Or, it turns out, to let someone else use it. Eventually, anyway.

Welch, 26, has agreed to donate his brain to the Sports Legacy Institute, a Massachusetts-based non-profit devoted to studying the effects of concussions and other sports-related brain injuries.

He reportedly is one of 19 professional athletes to make such a donation, albeit the only one of those still active in his or her sport.

And, if an unscientific survey of Welch's former Penguins teammates provides an accurate barometer, the Institute shouldn't be bracing for a surge of donations anytime soon.

Sidney Crosby said, "I'd have to think about it," but for most of the Penguins, maintaining possession of that particular organ, even after they no longer have a use for it, is a no-brainer, so to speak.

"I don't really see the point in that," defenseman Mark Eaton said. "I can see donating organs for other people's use, but I don't know that I see [the point] of a brain to science. My brain, anyway."

Marc-Andre Fleury offered a novel rationale for declining. "I would be scared that they'd unplug me right away [and] take my brain out [before I actually died]," he said.

Ryan Whitney volunteered that donating a brain is "just weird," but most players couched their lack of interest in self-deprecating terms.

"I don't know if I would do it," Rob Scuderi said. "I don't know if it would help anyone."

Even though most players had no interest in donating their brains to science, they had no qualms about identifying teammates' body parts that should be offered up for scientific study. A sampling:

Mark Eaton: "It would be a toss-up between [Tyler Kennedy's] brain or -- you don't even wait until he's dead -- donate (Kris) Letang's tongue now so he can quit asking so many questions."

Max Talbot: "Pascal Dupuis' eyebrows, maybe."

Fleury: "Maybe Ryan Whitney's calves. I have small calves, but he's 6 foot 4 and has smaller calves. Toothpick calves."

Scuderi: "I would probably give Sidney Crosby's rear end, because I'd like to see how in God's name it got that big."

Crosby: "I would like to see Dupuis' calves, because there aren't too many athletes who have calves that small and who are that quick. It doesn't make sense to me."

Dupuis: "[Letang] is pretty young. I can give him my brain. It wouldn't hurt him."

Jordan Staal: "I think I'd donate [Talbot's] moustache, probably."

Whitney: "I would definitely give Letang's brain. I would love to know what goes on in his head to make him say the things he does and ask the questions he does."

Always be prepared

Darryl Sydor has done a lot of things since breaking into the NHL with Los Angeles during the 1991-92 season.

He has, for example, won a couple of Stanley Cups and competed in two all-star games.

But until recently, Sydor never had served as a spare part, which is pretty much the role he's filling for the Penguins these days. He's the No. 7 defenseman on their depth chart, and he's that high only because Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney are recovering from long-term injuries.

Nonetheless, Sydor has developed a strategy for keeping himself ready to play when called upon, as he was Thursday when Hal Gill was out with an unspecified injury, and it involves more than working hard in practice and the weight room.

"When I'm out, I try so stay close to the ice to watch games, have a feel for the speed," he said. "It's not the same [in the press box]. It's easy [from up there]."

It looks that way, at least. Far easier, to be sure, than it is for Sydor to embrace the idea of being, at least on this team, primarily an insurance policy in case guys in front of him are hurt.

"I guess some guys get used to it," he said. "It's not somewhere I want to be, but it is what it is, so I just have to be ready at any time."


Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .


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