Veteran Bill Guerin rejuvenated playing with young Penguins
Bill Guerin: The right piece at the right time in Penguins' late-season resurgence.
Bill Guerin's winning goal in overtime of Game 2 vs. the Flyers April 17 gave him his first chapter of Penguins postseason lore. The goal also was the 30th of his long playoff history.
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There are whispers of gray in his playoff whiskers. That can happen when you are with your eighth NHL team and can match ages with the head coach.
Bill Guerin, 38, wears the old-age jokes and references well. That's likely because his energetic children keep him spry, and the youthful Penguins, who acquired the veteran at the March trade deadline, have restored vitality to his game after it grew a little stale with the last-place New York Islanders.
Asked if he sees much change in Guerin compared to when they played together in Boston early this decade, Penguins defenseman Hal Gill thought for a second.
"Yeah, he's getting old," cracked Gill, five years Guerin's junior.
"No, he hasn't changed much. He's still the same good old boy."
One who gets a little wiser with each stop -- and there were four between his days with the Bruins ended after the 2001-02 season and his arrival here -- so that when he got to the Penguins he was able to provide leadership quickly as well as something they had sought all season.
That would be a right winger for star center Sidney Crosby.
Guerin and Chris Kunitz, acquired a few days before Guerin, have regularly flanked Crosby during the Penguins' strong stretch run and first-round playoff win against Philadelphia.
In 17 regular-season games, Guerin had five goals and seven assists. Against the Flyers, he had two goals, including the overtime winner in Game 2, and an assist in six games. That is just the latest, tiny wedge of a career that spans 1,185 regular-season games (408 goals, 403 assists) and 111 postseason contests (30 goals, 23 assists) going into the Penguins' second-round series against Washington, which opens Saturday.
Crosby didn't have to spend a lot of time discussing strategy with Guerin -- "He's up and down the wing and he's in the slot, and I pretty much know that, so we try to keep it simple," Crosby said -- but he did have a question for the veteran.
Was he with New Jersey when the Devils played a neutral-site game in Halifax, Nova Scotia, against the New York Rangers in October 1993?
He was. That means Guerin played in the first live NHL game seen by Crosby, who was 6. In 1989, Crosby was weeks shy of his second birthday when New Jersey drafted Guerin fifth overall.
Guerin was 24 when he won the Stanley Cup with the Devils in 1995. He has been chasing a repeat and stiff-arming time since.
"You just figure you're going to win every year," he said. "Fourteen years later ??? That's why it's such a special thing and, when you have an opportunity, you have to grab it. The paybacks are endless for winning it."
The pursuit has taken him from New Jersey to Edmonton, Boston, Dallas, St. Louis, San Jose, the New York Islanders and now here.
One constant is his family. He and wife Kara have four children, daughters Kayla, 11, Grace, 10, and Lexi, 6, and son Liam, 7. Only in situations such as this, so close to the end of the school year, do they stay behind. Usually, the family moves as one.
Still, they have spent as much time together in Pittsburgh as possible.
"We've been to a Pirates game," Guerin said. "My wife took them to the zoo. We've been to the science center. We've been everywhere."
Liam likes to skate in a Guerin jersey before the team. Then, he makes the rounds in the locker room, quietly absorbing, maybe offering to wipe down players' skates.
"Having kids around the room lightens the mood," Guerin said. "It brings everybody back down to earth a little bit. It's fun to have kids here. When he comes here, I barely see him. He's hanging out with all the other guys.
"It was important to my wife and I to give them this experience, something that, hopefully, they'll remember, being in a building like this with fans like this."
During the Penguins' most recent home game, the Guerin brood was shown on the Mellon Arena scoreboard screen, jumping and screaming and holding signs proclaiming that their dad rocks.
"His kids are great," Gill said. "I think he enjoys being around them, enjoys feeling young. He's the kind of guy that I'm not sure who the parent is when he's around his son. The same thing with his girls."
It's up for debate how much of that fun Guerin extends to the team.
"I think that his experience of walking into different rooms, he understands personalities quickly and he knows what makes guys click," said winger Matt Cooke. "He's come in and been involved in some of the sarcasm and pranks."
Guerin shook his head.
"Any joke that's played around here, I get accused of it. Right away," he said. "And I don't play many practical jokes, or any. But they always assume it's me."
Pranks or not, the Penguins' players would welcome Guerin, who is eligible for unrestricted free agency July 1 but declined to speculate on his future beyond wanting to continue his career, and his leadership back. In fact, they began thinking about what a great addition he would be before the trade for a conditional draft pick.
"We hadn't been playing well and, when there was talk of who they may bring in and knowing that he was available, guys said, 'Great guy in the room, great team player, huge for team morale,' " Cooke said. "That was something we wanted even more than getting him to come here and score goals down the stretch. We needed him to come in and have a presence in the [locker] room, and he's done that."
With the Islanders, Guerin was team captain, but his ice time was slipping, and there was talk of tension in the locker room and with coach Scott Gordon.
"They were great to me, but it's hard losing every night. It's hard rebuilding," Guerin said. "For me, a guy that doesn't have that many years left, it's frustrating.
"I came here and I felt rejuvenated. I'm back in a responsible role. My role [with the Islanders] was diminishing. Now it's picked back up here. It feels really good. Rejuvenated? Yeah, of course. Anybody would be.
"You don't have to be old to get rejuvenated."
First Published April 30, 2009 12:00 am