Molinari on the Penguins: Even the toughest Penguin knows you can never take on a fan
Max Talbot has ventured into the most hostile arenas in the NHL and made a lot of people unhappy.
Guys who play Talbot's kind of feisty, in-your-face game don't tend to make a lot of friends on the road.
But it was a fan he dealt with in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, not the NHL or American Hockey League, who made the most lasting impression on him.
The guy was a fixture at games in Val d'Or, Talbot said, and verbally abusing visiting players seemed to be his raison d'etre. And all the practice he got made him awfully good at it.
So good, in fact, that there were times when some players probably were tempted to respond with more than glares and words.
"He's the only guy I might have faked hitting with my stick," Talbot said. "But I never would have done it."
Mind you, no player ever plans to do anything of that sort, but a recent run-in between Vancouver's Rick Rypien and a fan at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., showed how situations can escalate -- and judgments can become clouded -- in milliseconds.
Rypien was heading for the locker room after an on-ice confrontation with Wild enforcer Rob Staubitz when he suddenly veered right and grabbed a fan who reportedly was heckling him.
No punches were thrown, but Rypien took a big hit of a different sort a few days later, when he was assessed a six-game suspension by the league.
"It's fair," Talbot said. "It makes you think about doing it again. Six games with no salary. That's harsh."
Talbot's perspective seems to represent something of a consensus among players. Even Penguins left winger Matt Cooke -- who has had some serious differences of opinion with league officials and who is not exactly beloved in most road rinks -- endorsed the league's action.
"In my opinion, the league is doing its best to regulate all things that happen," he said. "There are going to be decisions you don't like and there are going to be decisions that you think are right, but they have a group of guys who have a lot of experience at making decisions, and they're trying to do what's best for our game."
Truth be told, Cooke said, the idea of getting physically involved with a fan is totally alien to him, something he can't imagine happening.
He acknowledged with a smile that there have been "maybe a few water bottle-squirting incidents in the penalty box," but giving an abusive fan an unscheduled shower is a lot different than giving him a broken jaw. Or even making token contact with him.
"At the end of the day, whether they're fans of the home team or our team, they're fans," Cooke said. "They're not someone who's involved on the ice."
Arron Asham played against his old team from Philadelphia for the first time Friday night, and it was clear several days before the game that he was genuinely excited.
Of course, if Asham is the kind of guy who gets pumped up whenever he faces a former employer, he might end up sweating pure adrenaline if the Penguins hit a stretch of games against Atlantic Division opponents.
The Penguins, you see, are the fourth team in the division to have Asham on its payroll. He also has played for the New York Islanders and New Jersey. At this rate, the NHL might just rename the Atlantic the Asham after he retires.
"Everyone but the Rangers are my old teammates, so you get used to it quick," he said. "It's just a part of the business. Whenever I get on the ice against them, the friendships are off until the game is over."
Asham's contract is for just one year, so the possibility that he'll be working in Manhattan at this time next year can't be ruled out. For even though he can't explain how he came to make a tour of the division, he isn't the least bit upset that it's happened.
"I don't know why it always ends up like this, but I'm fine with it," Asham said. "I like playing in the Atlantic."
A few years ago, former Penguins left winger Randy Cunneyworth was one of the rising young stars in the coaching business. He was running the bench for the Rochester Americans of the AHL, and looked to be a can't-miss NHL prospect.
Cunneyworth left the Americans in 2008 to join Atlanta as an assistant coach, a logical career move but, like the rest of the Thrashers staff, lost his job in April.
He wasn't out of work for long. Cunneyworth landed on his feet as head coach of Montreal's AHL affiliate in Hamilton, Ontario, and came into the weekend having guided the Bulldogs to a start of 3-1-1, with two shootout losses.
Don't be shocked to see him back in the NHL at some point.
First Published October 31, 2010 12:00 am