Penguins: Asham's work ethic tied to heritage


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Hard work is a cornerstone and a cliche in sports. It's also something else for Arron Asham.

It's intrinsic to a belief system he learned as part of his heritage.

"Just work ethic, being prepared. I just grew up learning to work hard, to have faith," the Penguins forward said Sunday after practice at Southpointe.

Asham, from Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, is Metis (may-TEE), one of many native Canadian nations.

"We have a lot of native culture there," Asham said. "My family, my brothers, believe in their heritage, and I try to model myself after that. It's just beliefs and that sort of stuff.

"We're not crazy into it, but my brother [Curtis] and my late uncle [Robert] were into it. My late uncle was a dancer and he was into the medicine man and all that sort of stuff. I should probably try to embrace it more than I do."


Today

Game: Penguins at Florida Panthers, 7:38 p.m. today, BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, Fla.

TV, radio, Internet: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9), www.penguins.nhl.com.

Probable goaltenders: Brent Johnson for Penguins. Tomas Vokoun for Panthers.

Penguins: Are 4-1 vs. Southeast Division. ... Sidney Crosby has 8-game points streak (8 goals, 10 assists). ... Are among NHL's best road penalty killers, 93.2 percent.

Panthers: Have won 3 home games in row. ... Are least-penalized team in league, 7.3 minutes a game. ... Have won past two games where opponent scores first after starting 0-7 in that situation.

Of note: Penguins among the worst road power plays and Panthers among the worst home power plays -- each 12.5 percent.


Asham, 32, hasn't exactly been a slacker. He is approaching 200 points, 900 penalty minutes and 700 games in an NHL career that dates to the 1998-99 season. Although he is best known for his toughness, Asham, 5 feet 11, 205 pounds, has reached at least 10 goals four times and has topped 20 points six times.

He signed with the Penguins, his fifth team, late in the offseason, and they think enough of him that he has played on the right wing of the second line centered by Evgeni Malkin the past several games. Matt Cooke has been playing on the left side.

That might seem like a surprising combination, perhaps not enough skill on the wings -- by contrast, the preseason line of Cooke and Asham flanking Max Talbot presented a gritty third-line-from-hell for opponents before Asham got a shoulder injury -- but it's been fairly productive.

"It seems like we've had a little bit of chemistry," Asham said. "I'm just happy to, hopefully, be in the lineup every day."

It's hard to say where Asham will be playing tonight in the Penguins' game at Florida. Malkin did not practice Sunday, and Asham dropped to the fourth line in a reconfigured practice lineup without the second-line center.

Asham missed the first nine games of the season because of his injury and had just one point, an assist, in his first five games with the Penguins. Since then, as he has recovered and adjusted better to his new team, he has two goals, four points in seven games. Overall, he has 38 hits in 12 games.

"I'm feeling better and better every game," he said.

What he doesn't have is a hand in the many fights the Penguins have had. He has fought only once.

"I've wanted more, but it just hasn't worked out," Asham said. "I've asked guys. Lots. Guys just don't want to fight. So I've got to just go out there and play good hockey."

Which is fine with the Penguins.

"We didn't get Arron because he can just run around and add that [physical] element," coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's a guy who with his skating and with his shot can be effective. He's a smart player, so he can be effective in different roles. He's physical, certainly. He has an edge to his game that keeps the opponent aware of him, whether it's forechecking or whether he's in front of the net or whether he's coming to be a physical factor.

"He's also a guy whose shot is a weapon. In our practices, we don't want him to hit too many people with it, it's such a weapon."

Growing up, playing hockey was as much a part of Asham's life as his native culture.

At times, he faced prejudice -- he has a cousin who heard a lot of racial slurs when he played junior hockey -- but said that has died down, if only because of the fear of discipline.

"The way the game is, you can't really say anything without getting caught and getting suspended, but it has been bad in the past," Asham said.

When he's home in Manitoba, Asham works some with children on the four rural reservations on the outskirts of his hometown, where there are dirt roads and a lack of stores. He also has a charitable foundation, Arron's Chance 2 Play Hockey (www.chance2play.com) that helps give kids the opportunity to get involved in the sport.

"Great people," he said. "It's not so much that they are in need; they just need the motivation to go out and do it.

"There's a lot of great indigenous hockey players. It's just a matter of getting noticed and getting the opportunity to further yourself in your career."

Something Asham has done and continues to work at.


For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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