Dave Molinari on the Penguins: A weekly look inside the team, the issues, the questions
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One player apparently misplaced his instructions for operating a shower in the days leading up to the Penguins' off-ice testing at the start of training camp, because several witnesses reported that he was particularly aromatic by the end of that session.
One later made an off-hand observation that the player "smelled like 10 dead possums." Within seconds, the guy had been dubbed "Possum," and it seemed that a great hockey nickname had been born.
Well, not quite.
Today, only a handful of people, none of them a teammate, refer to the player as "Possum," and the nickname seems destined to become the tiniest of footnotes in franchise history before much longer.
Of course, even the nicknames that stick in today's NHL, and particularly among the 2006-07 Penguins, tend to be terribly pedestrian. They often are a variation on a player's last name -- Colby Armstrong is "Army," Rob Scuderi is "Scuds," Ryan Whitney is "Whit," etc. -- and rarely reflect more than a few milliseconds of thought.
Certainly, there is nothing to rival Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion, Bob (Battleship) Kelly or Maurice (Rocket) Richard. To say nothing of Richard's little brother, Henri, who was known as the Pocket Rocket.
Or how about Rick (Nifty) Middleton, Chris (Knuckles) Nilan or Ken (The Rat) Linseman? Or Dave (Cementhead) Semenko, Bobby (The Golden Jet) Hull and Stu (The Grim Reaper) Grimson?
Rookie center Evgeni Malkin, who has been dubbed "Geno," might have the best handle of any Penguin, but that's just the Americanization of his first name. (It's also what some teammates and staff members called Jaromir Jagr during his time here.)
And while Ryan Malone's handle of "Bugsy" might strike some as inventive, it's actually about as original as calling a guy whose surname is Campbell "Soupy."
Of course, it could be that one of the younger guys on this team is blessed with the kind of creativity in concocting nicknames that Sidney Crosby ("Darryl" to his junior teammates, in honor of a scoring rampage reminiscent of former NHL star Darryl Sittler, but plain old "Sid" to the Penguins) shows with the puck, but simply is waiting until he gets a bit more established and comfortable before going public with them.
That he is, in a sense, just playing Possum.
Dealing with the learning 'curve'
The NHL Board of Governors approved a 50 percent increase in the legal curvature of sticks in mid-September, bumping the maximum from a half-inch to three-quarters of an inch. At that moment, more than a few goalies likely figured that the toughest job in hockey -- if not all of sports -- was about to get significantly harder.
So far, though, the change hasn't had any meaningful impact. No Penguins forward or defenseman has altered his stick pattern to take advantage of the new limit, and goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Jocelyn Thibault report that few, if any, opposing players seem to have done so.
There is no consensus on why more players have not moved to exploit the new guidelines, but there are at least three popular theories:
1. Because one-piece composite sticks are in such widespread use, players must have their stick patterns altered at the factory instead of simply modifying their curve, as they could do with a wooden blade.
2. Players need time to get comfortable with new equipment, and because the curvature guidelines were changed after summer -- when players traditionally get acclimated to sticks, pads and skates different from those they had been using -- they didn't have an opportunity to do so.
3. So many players had been using sticks that were marginally legal -- or flat-out illegal -- before the changes were enacted that they're reluctant to push the limits of the new rule just yet.
Mario might be leaving ... but he can never leave
Mario Lemieux's formal ties to the Penguins will be severed sometime in the relatively near future, assuming the NHL Board of Governors approves the deal Lemieux and his partners have to sell the franchise to Ontario businessman Jim Balsillie.
When that happens, he'll be just another member of the team's alumni association.
Well, at least in theory. The reality is that Lemieux, easily the most dominant figure in Penguins history, will continue to have a presence long after he gives up his executive office.
And in the case of the team's dressing room at Mellon Arena, it will be a tangible one.
A few months ago, as he settled into his post-playing career, Lemieux asked that the nameplate above his old stall be removed, to help shift the focus onto the team's young stars and future, and away from the guy most responsible for the greatest moments in its past.
Sound logic, to be sure, and during training camp, there was nothing that identified the long-time occupant of Lemieux's locker, although it wasn't assigned to another player, either.
But equipment manager Dana Heinze recognized the value of having a reminder of Lemieux around for players to see on a daily basis and asked him to reconsider. Lemieux acquiesced, and the nameplate went back up.
And while his old stall isn't exactly a shrine --- in fact, it's often a convenient place to store spare hangers and practice jerseys -- the nameplate above it is evidence that one of the greatest players in history used to put on his work clothes in the same room where today's players dress.
And that can't be a bad thing for anyone.
First Published October 29, 2006 12:00 am