Penguins' Guerin not ready to quit

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Bill Guerin gets it.

Really, he does.

He understands that some athletes who have enjoyed long, productive runs might decide that winning a title is the perfect punctuation for their careers. That the opportunity to go out as a champion simply is too much to resist.

Just not for him.

Not now.

Walking away from the game this summer simply would not, by his reckoning, have made any sense.

"Why would I do that?" Guerin said. "I just had a successful season. I just played well. Why would I go out?

"I could see if I was in and out of the lineup and scored [only] a couple of goals, was grinding it out, but I'm still scoring goals, still playing on the power play, still contributing, still an effective player every night. Why would I stop playing?"

And so it is that, when the Penguins open defense of the franchise's third Stanley Cup against the New York Rangers at 7:38 p.m. tomorrow at Mellon Arena, Guerin will be back in the same places he could be found as they were claiming that championship this past spring in Detroit.

On Sidney Crosby's right side. On the No. 1 power play. In the locker room, where his experience and leadership is so highly valued.

When Guerin pulls on that No. 13 sweater, it doesn't matter much that he will turn 39 Nov. 9, or that he has been playing professional hockey since the days when some of his teammates were contemplating the wonders of their toes and navels.

But those guys respect him not only for all he has accomplished during his career -- his 408 career goals, the two Cups he has won, the international tournaments in which he has competed -- but for what they expect him to contribute during the coming winter.

"He can still skate, and he's got a great shot," Crosby said. "You can't teach going to those scoring areas and finding those areas. That's something you have to have a feel for. Being a goal-scorer isn't an easy job, and he's proven year after year that he can do it."

Guerin had five goals and seven assists in 17 regular-season games after being acquired from the New York Islanders at the trade deadline last season, then chipped in seven goals and eight assists in 24 playoff appearances.

Not quite like the numbers he put up when he was one of the game's premier power forwards -- like, say, his 41-goal effort with Boston in 2001-02 -- but convincing evidence that his touch and instincts have not deserted him.

Having quality linemates like Crosby and Chris Kunitz helps, of course, and Guerin has played alongside quite a few over the years. A sampling of the guys who have fed him pucks: Doug Weight, Joe Thornton, Jason Arnott and Jason Allison.

While he declines to discuss the relative merits of his centers -- "I don't want to say one's better than the other" -- Guerin describes Crosby as "just awesome."

Tough as leaving a linemate with Crosby's pedigree could be, it was not just a chance to pad his career stats that convinced Guerin to accept a pay cut and sign a one-year contract in July.

"I think he wants more," Crosby said. "I think he realizes we have a great group of guys here, a great team, and that he's a big part of it."

There is no reason to think that will change anytime soon. Or that he suddenly will become more concerned with the numbers on his birth certificate than those on his personal stat sheet and in the standings.

"Why would I just quit something that I'm good at, and something that I have fun doing, just because I'm a certain age?" Guerin said. "Obviously, I have great linemates and I'm playing on an awesome team in a great sports town. Why would I quit?"


Dave Molinari can be reached at dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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