On the Penguins: Girding for first visit to Winnipeg
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In the mid-1980s, then-Penguins coach Bob Berry was asked his impression of the city of Winnipeg as the Penguins prepared to travel there for a game.
Berry's response was instant, brief and hard to misinterpret.
"You see more women," he said, "in a submarine."
Now, much has changed over the past quarter-century or so -- like how it's no longer difficult to find a woman on a submarine -- and the Penguins will get a firsthand look at the place Berry skewered when they travel there today for a game against the Jets Monday night.
A lot of the players have been there before, either as juniors or minor-leaguers, but Steve Sullivan and Richard Park are the only ones who were in the league when the original Jets were in business.
The team the Penguins will face was based in Atlanta until this summer, when it was transplanted to Manitoba. After much debate and discussion, it took on the same name as the one that started operations in the World Hockey Association, then was absorbed into the NHL until 1996, when it left for Phoenix.
And, while it is early, the Jets' home city does not seem to be the target of nearly as many cruel one-liners as it was during the franchise's previous incarnation.
That suggests Winnipeg's defenders -- and rest assured, they are ferocious in their devotion to the place -- just might be on to something. Or, at least, that they have succeeded in finding an audience for their positive message.
How the current generation of NHL players will take to the place remains to be seen, but it is safe to say it was not one of the more popular stops on the circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.
Penguins goaltending coach Gilles Meloche made numerous trips to Winnipeg during his playing days, but he should not be waiting for a job offer from the Chamber of Commerce.
Asked a few days ago what he remembered about going there, Meloche said, "The hotel and the rink, the hotel and the rink. That's about it. We never went out. It was just too cold, and I don't think there was as much downtown [as there is now]. What was that, 20 years ago? I don't know what it's like now."
While downtown Winnipeg is purported to be a decidedly different place than the one Meloche recalls, it seems safe to assume that it still is The City That Global Warming Forgot.
When the mid-winter winds whip across the prairies -- with nothing bigger than a speed bump to slow them for hundreds of miles -- conditions in Winnipeg can get slightly more brisk than those found on the far side of Neptune.
"That's why it's good we're going in October," assistant coach Tony Granato, a frequent visitor during his playing days, said, with a smile.
Even Meloche, who grew up in Quebec -- a place where you will not find many natives out sunning themselves in January and February -- said his home province did not prepare him for the weather he experienced while going on the road to play the Jets.
"It's not as cold as [Winnipeg]," he said. "Nothing's like that."
Happily for the Penguins, the high today is predicted to be a balmy 50 degrees, although they aren't likely to get off nearly as easily when they make their second visit of the season to the MTS Centre Dec. 23.
Then again, if the enthusiasm Jets fans have shown since getting the former Thrashers could be transformed into energy, it might be enough to raise the temperature province-wide by about 10 degrees.
Crowds at the now-demolished Winnipeg Arena were among the most knowledgeable and appreciative in the league, and that does not figure to change after going 15 years without an NHL team.
"Great fans," Granato said. "Very enthusiastic hockey town."
He did not mention that vigorous cheering is a good way to keep the blood flowing, too.
The team's top models
Ryan Kesler of Vancouver got a lot of attention -- probably not all of it appreciated -- recently after appearing in a photo spread of nude athletes in ESPN the Magazine.
The consensus among his peers seems to be that Kesler represented NHL players well in that feature, but not everyone who plays in the league necessarily is as photogenic as Kesler.
That includes at least a few guys from the Penguins, although an informal survey turned up no consensus of which teammate players would least like to see in such a photo essay.
A sampling of responses:
Ben Lovejoy: "I don't think I'd want to see Tyler Kennedy in that issue. The way he works out, he'd just put us all to shame. I'd be embarrassed."
Arron Asham: "Probably myself and [Matt Cooke]. Yeah, probably Cookie. He's like me. We're shaped different than most hockey players. He's a hairy man, as well."
Pascal Dupuis: "I'm not going there."
Mark Letestu: "The answer is me. I've got a terrible body. You're going to hear that from a lot of guys. ... Probably Cookie. Cookie's got a bad one, too. But I'm winning, for sure."
First Published October 16, 2011 12:00 am