Dave Molinari on the Penguins: How the Czech do you say watermelon?
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Frank Buonomo is excited about the idea of the Penguins opening the 2008-09 season with a couple of games in the Czech Republic.
After all, he's never been to Prague, which is widely regarded as one of Europe's greatest cities.
Buonomo, the Penguins' director of team services, coordinated Nashville's trip to Japan in 2000, when the Predators and Penguins played a pair of games there.
The league had arranged translator/guides for both teams, and the woman working with the Predators was proving to be quite helpful for Buonomo in the early days of the trip. After all, no one in Nashville's traveling party -- aside from a Japanese player who had been invited to the Predators' training camp -- could read or speak more than a few words of the local language.
And some of the ones they did speak didn't come out quite right.
"For the first day and a half, I was calling her 'Watermelon,' and not her real name, which was very similar to the word for watermelon," Buonomo said.
Sound far-fetched? Just think of how similar Herman and vermin are. Or Bert and dirt.
Buonomo's faux pas was brought to his attention by Chie Chie Sakuma of the league's marketing department.
"I went back to my contact and apologized," he said. "They're so humble in their culture that she wouldn't say anything [about the mistake]."
Using Japanese names and words obviously came with some hazards. So did trying to decipher information posted in a language most of the group never had seen anywhere except in a monster movie.
Which is why Nashville's trainers and equipment staff spent more time trying to get to work one day than most people actually spend on the job.
On the Predators' second day in Tokyo, those guys headed for the arena several hours before any of the players and coaches, which is standard procedure in the NHL.
Having been briefed on the wonders of Tokyo's mass-transit system, they determined which direction they wanted to go and boarded a train headed that way.
Too far that way, it turned out.
"They got on the express, not the local," Buonomo said. "And blew right by the arena."
The group, recognizing its gaffe, got off at the next stop and boarded a train headed the other way.
Except it was another express train. One that roared right past the arena.
By then, players were beginning to show up at the arena, and were baffled about the whereabouts of the trainers and equipment staff.
"Guys are taping their own ankles, they're handling equipment issues," Buonomo said. "It was quite humorous to see."
The staffers who'd been commuting to work for many hours probably didn't think so, although they undoubtedly were relieved simply to get to the arena before the day's activities were over.
"They finally made it, just as the players were walking out on the ice," Buonomo said.
Meals weren't as much of an adventure as some might suspect because the restaurants where the Predators ate in the morning offered Japanese and American-style breakfasts, and the Japanese player who attended Nashville's camp would place orders for the others when necessary, even though it meant going from one restaurant to another.
"It was pretty funny to watch us every day at lunch," Buonomo said.
The trip to Prague, assuming it comes off, likely will produce a few more memorable moments and jolts of culture shock, but Buonomo believes there won't be as many because the setting won't be quite as alien as it was in Japan.
"I would think Prague is probably a much more Westernized city, from a language perspective," he said.
That doesn't mean a player looking to buy a toothbrush won't ask a clerk for, say, a dog food sandwich, but Buonomo is confident that -- for better or worse -- most of the stories the Penguins bring home from the Czech Republic won't be as amusing as the ones that came back from Tokyo.
"It will be easier for us, going this time, because of where we're going," he said. "For me and my job, selfishly, what I have to get done, it's probably a good thing."
To be safe, though, Buonomo might want to make sure that "vodni meloun" is in his verbal repertoire when he arrives in Prague. Just in case he can't resist the urge to call someone there "Watermelon."
Out of the shadows
Sidney Crosby has been good enough for long enough that he's used to the idea of being shadowed.
It just isn't done by guys with cameras and a boom microphone most of the time.
NHL Productions has set about documenting Crosby's 2007-08 season, with the intent of producing a DVD to be released sometime next year and possibly a television special.
While it is unusual for NHL Productions to focus on individual players for its projects -- in the past, such treatment has been reserved for the likes of Wayne Gretzky -- Crosby has emerged as a worthy subject.
Darryl Lepik, executive producer of NHL Productions, had a crew in town for several days last week and said he expects to make similar trips to collect footage "two or three times a month" over the course of the season.
What's in a name?
Former Penguins forward Randy Robitaille is back in North America, signing a one-year contract with Ottawa after starting this season with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in the Russia Super League.
Robitaille had three goals and six assists in 14 games with Yaroslavl. He probably did, anyway.
An English-language Web site that monitors Russian hockey credited a Lokomotiv player identified as "Rendi Robitayl" with putting up those numbers.
Statistics posted on that site also show that a St. Petersburg SKA player named "Andreas Yuhansson" entered the weekend with a share of 15th place in the Super League scoring race. Turns out he's the spitting image of a guy known as "Andreas Johansson" when he played 77 games with the Penguins a decade ago.
First Published October 21, 2007 12:00 am