Winter Classic: Alumni have fun on new ice despite tie


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The set-up was perfect.

The ending wasn't.

Mostly because there wasn't much of one.

The Penguins' alumni game Friday against Washington ended in a 5-5 tie when -- to the audible displeasure of the 10,000 or so fans at Heinz Field -- there was not an overtime or shootout to determine a winner.

A shootout would have created the possibility for a storybook conclusion because Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, by far the primary attraction in the game, might have had a chance to score a goal that would have tilted the outcome in his team's favor.

"I think everybody's a little disappointed that we didn't get to the shootout, because it would have been great to see Mario," Penguins defenseman Phil Bourque said. "We would have gone with all Hall of Famers, of course, in our shootout group."

That was pretty much the plan, according to coach Ed Johnston.

PG VIDEO: WINTER CLASSIC ALUMNI GAME

"I had Mario No.1," he said. "I had Ronnie Francis. And then it was either [Larry Murphy] or [Paul Coffey]."

With a fifth Hall of Famer, Bryan Trottier, still in reserve.

Peter Bondra salvaged the tie for Washington when he beat Penguins goalie Frank Pietrangelo in the final minute of play.

Rob Brown, Rod Buskas, Craig Simpson, Jay Caufield and Francis scored for the Penguins; Paul Mulvey (two), Mark Lofthouse and Alan May got the other Washington goals.

No goals for Mario

The crowd likely was disappointed -- and surprised -- that Lemieux wasn't one of the nine players who managed to score a goal.

"They had a lot of defense on him," Brown said. "That was the chalk talk in their dressing room -- stop that [No.] 66. They heard he was pretty good."

That was one explanation. Murphy, noting that the format called for two 20-minute periods instead of the usual three, offered another.

Lemieux "is always big in the third period," he said. "And there wasn't a third period."

The old magic

Brown scored 49 goals while playing on Lemieux's right wing during the 1988-89 season, and it didn't take long for them to rekindle their old magic Friday.

Just 4:22 into the game, Brown staked out a spot in front of the Washington crease and directed a Lemieux feed into the net for a 1-0 lead.

"Just go to the net with my stick on the ice," he said. The pass "was a little higher than usual. Usually, he puts it nice and flat."

Brown had an exceptional scoring touch, but was a decidedly subpar skater. That isn't as much of a liability for him these days, however.

"I never lost a step, because I never had one," he said. "Now, they're all at my speed. I wish it would have been like that during my NHL career. It would have been a lot easier."

Lasting loyalties

Five participants in the game suited up for both the Penguins and Capitals when they were in the NHL.

Murphy, Rick Tocchet and Gary Rissling opted to play for the Penguins; Mulvey and Yvon Labre played for Washington.

Rissling joked that he ended up with the Penguins because "they lost the coin toss." Mulvey -- who got two goals for Washington -- said it was an easy call to be a Capital.

After all, he spent most of his career with them, his wife is from the Washington area and he resides there. Not that affiliations are a major issue in this kind of event.

"Camaraderie between all NHL players is tremendous anyway, so it doesn't matter that it's Washington alumni vs. Pittsburgh," he said. "It's just a bunch of ex-players playing against each other."

Perhaps Rissling's decision to play for the Penguins was influenced by a chance to skate alongside Lemieux, something he didn't do much when they were teammates.

"I just want to thank [coach Eddie Johnston]," he said. "I had more shifts on the first line than I did in my whole pro career."

Aloha, guys

It's unlikely that anyone traveled farther than Buskas to take part in the game.

A former defenseman, he is a pilot with Hawaiian Airlines, based in Honolulu.

"It's not so bad," he said. "I go to Paradise when I go to work every day."

Buskas resisted the temptation to fly himself here -- "I enjoyed relaxing coming out here," he said -- and said he never considered declining his invitation.

"When you get a FedEx letter from Lemieux, you don't say no," he said. "I couldn't pass this up. It's the chance of a lifetime, really."

Caufield an all-around

Caufield was strictly an enforcer during his pro career.

He showed a pretty diverse repertoire during the alumni game, however.

Caufield, who works as an in-studio hockey analyst for FSN, scored the Penguins' fourth goal on a hard, low slap shot from along the right-wing boards.

"It came off the boards nice, and I had an opportunity for it," he said, suggesting that the only times he had scored such a goal during his playing days was "maybe in [training] camp, and maybe an exhibition game or something."

He didn't stop there, however. With about a minute to play, he threw himself in front of a shot to preserve his team's 5-4 lead, at least temporarily.

Not many guys placed themselves in harm's way like that, although his sacrifice didn't prevent the Capitals from salvaging a tie.

"The blocked shot would have meant more," he said, "if we had ended up winning the game."

Critique from a student

Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has his work evaluated by Gilles Meloche on a daily basis.

Friday, he got to return the favor.

Meloche, the Penguins' goaltending coach, played the first period of the alumni game, allowing three goals.

"On a scale of 1-to-5, I'd give him ... I think he did pretty well," Fleury said. "Like me, I think he would have been better off staying in the net on a couple of plays. Don't play the puck as much ...

"But other than that, it was pretty cool just to see how he moved around, how he reacted to shots."

Powerful power play

The Penguins' fifth goal was produced by a power-play unit that, when assembled in the early 1990s, ranked among the most imposing in recent National Hockey League history.

It had Lemieux, Francis and Kevin Stevens up front, Coffey and Murphy on the points.

"It looked like we knew what we were doing," Lemieux said. "Pretty much the same setup we had 20 years ago."

Francis got the goal when he deflected a Murphy feed past Washington goalie Don Beaupre.

Soft on the head

There tends to be little, if any, contact in games between retired players, which is why so many of those involved wore tassel caps instead of helmets.

Bondra, however, said things did get a bit nasty at times.

"A guy broke a stick on my leg," he said. "I had a half-breakaway, and a guy broke a stick that went flying.

"Paul Coffey, Hall of Famer, he's hooking. He's just basically told me, 'That's old-time hockey, what do you expect?' "

Stevens lays it on

Stevens, one of the game's larger forwards during his playing days, has bulked up considerably since he moved into scouting.

"Five or six pounds," he said, laughing.

The Penguins had what could have been a winning goal disallowed with about two minutes to play, when Stevens fell on Beaupre before Murphy threw a shot into the Washington net.

"I'm used to falling on him," Stevens said. "I didn't feel like getting up."

He was joking -- probably -- and added that "I actually felt better as the game went along. The first two shifts felt like I was out there a month."

Stevens might feel the exertion today, though. Some of his teammates and opponents certainly expected to.

"I'm going to start popping Advils right now," Bourque said immediately after the game. "And maybe I can get through [today]."


Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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