They may be Pittsburgh's kings of the ice, but, like you, they once had dreams, too
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After practice today, the Penguins will pack their skates and sticks and everything else hockey-related and fly to Toronto for a preseason game tonight.
The tools and travel of the trade are second nature for the Penguins, but while hockey is their first choice, many have an interest in other sports and even have an idea about another sport or two that might have turned into a livelihood.
Defenseman Mark Eaton, for instance, grew up in Delaware near Philadelphia. As a center fielder in baseball, he once tried out for the Phillies.
"Around senior year, I had to pick what sport I wanted to pursue," he said.
Winger Pascal Dupuis said that with the aid of a tanning bed, he could envision himself being competitive in beach volleyball -- along with tennis, that's a sport several players mentioned -- and is drawn to bowling and two-man whitewater canoeing.
But baseball is out. Twice, at ages 11 and 12, Dupuis snapped a bone in his arm while launching a snowball.
Center Max Talbot likewise turns up his nose at baseball.
"I was running back and linebacker in football, but I like running back," Talbot said. "I like to touch the ball, run it right up the middle."
Talbot's good friend, Canadian diver Alexandre Despatie, won the Olympic silver medal in 3-meter springboard last month, but Talbot can't swim. He thinks he could have success in weightlifting and wouldn't mind trying a marathon based on some history with distance running.
Although hockey players have a reputation for being good golfers and often do well in celebrity and charity events, this group of Penguins doesn't have a lot of aspiring pros in that sport.
"I'd like to be a good golfer, but you have to be really good or else you have to spend so much time in qualifying school, and I don't know if I'd want that hassle," said defenseman Hal Gill.
Gill, all 6 feet 7 of him, was a good quarterback at Nashoba Regional High School near Boston and listed football as his top alternative sport, but he also mentioned an offbeat event.
"I would say the discus," he said. "I like that. I did it in gym and I was good at it."
Defenseman Brooks Orpik took a different approach to the idea of another sport.
"Who's got the best job? A left-handed baseball starter?" he said. "You pitch every fifth day. That's what I would wish for.
"But, realistically speaking, I don't know. A safety in football would be fun, like [the Steelers' Troy] Polamalu, but I don't have the hairdo."
Orpik is one of several Penguins who was a catcher, but he never would have picked baseball.
"The life span's a little short," he said.
Center Sidney Crosby, on the other hand, liked being the backstop in baseball.
"I played catcher growing up. That would be my best chance to make it [in another sport]," , he said. "I used to like catcher. It's a lot more action. You're calling pitches, and there's a little more thinking involved. It was cool. You had to study the other team a little bit, so it was a bit like preparing in hockey."
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury also was a catcher. He also played football for a year, too, but not in a position anyone would guess for a wiry guy --defensive end.
"I didn't have a clue about football, all the rules and that stuff," he said. "I didn't play much, but I loved it. When they kicked it, I would run back and try to steal it from the [return] guy just so I could run with it a little more."
Fellow goaltender Danny Sabourin played shortstop in baseball and did a stint in basketball, "but I don't know the name of the position," he said. "The big guy in the middle. Like Shaq."
Strapping forward Jordan Staal and his brothers played a lot of sports. He was an outfielder in baseball, a receiver in football, a center in basketball and competed in track.
"I always did long jump and triple jump. I usually won," he said. "For the sprinting, I usually did the 200, but I ended up getting killed. The bigger I got, the slower I was."
He and his brothers put together a crude high-jump apparatus.
"It wasn't very high, but we were pretty good at it," he said. "We had, like, two mattresses. We had a wooden stick to go across, and it didn't feel too nice when you landed on it because there were a couple sticks or branches poking you."
Nothing like the equipment in pro hockey.
NOTES -- Defenseman Sergei Gonchar will see another doctor Monday about his dislocated left shoulder because the two he has seen are split on whether he needs surgery. "I want to get as much information as I can before making a decision," said Gonchar, who was hurt Saturday early in the team's first preseason game and is out indefinitely. "I was very frustrated. I felt like I had a good summer and I was ready for the season." ... Center and captain Sidney Crosby, who sat out the preseason game Wednesday against Tampa Bay because of a sore groin, practiced yesterday and hopes to be in the lineup tonight at Toronto. "It feels pretty good," he said. "I want to play as much as I can before we start." ... Coach Michel Therrien (broken ribs) returned to practice.
First Published September 26, 2008 12:00 am