Scuderis protect and serve
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One minute, Penguins teammates Max Talbot and Rob Scuderi were bunking down for their pre-game nap in a Raleigh, N.C., hotel room, listening to the CNN anchor detail the Binghamton, N.Y., shooting rampage a day earlier that left 13 victims dead and thinking what a crazy, sick world it is. The next minute, they were out of their beds, huddled around the television, horrified by the breaking news out of Pittsburgh.
Three Pittsburgh police officers have been shot and killed after responding to a domestic incident in the Stanton Heights section of the city ...
"It just makes you sick to your stomach," Scuderi said.
Some more than others.
Scuderi's father, Bob, is a retired Nassau County, N.Y., policeman, 31 years on the job.
For the Scuderis, this was a tragedy that hit close to home.
"Those three men are gone for no other reason than they were trying to protect the welfare of the public," Rob Scuderi said, quietly.
"I don't think people have an appreciation for how dangerous those situations are. The police have the same feelings the rest of us do. They don't want to walk into that house. They don't know what's behind that door. They don't want to face a guy with a gun. But they do it without complaint because that's their job. They do it because someone has to do it. Now, those three good men are gone ...
"It's just not right."
Scuderi knows how lucky he is to have his pop along for the Penguins' playoff ride. Bob Scuderi and his wife, Leslie, made the 7Â 1/2-hour drive from their home in Bethpage, N.Y., to watch Games 1 and 2 against the Philadelphia Flyers at Mellon Arena. They are loving every second of life, watching their boy, now 30 and a standout defenseman, one of the NHL's top penalty-killers.
Don't think for a minute that the Scuderis don't know that two of Pittsburgh's fallen heroes from the April 4 ambush -- Eric Kelly and Stephen Mayhle -- won't get to see their daughters get older and that the third -- Paul Sciullo II -- didn't live long enough to have children.
"You hurt for them and their families," Bob Scuderi said as he watched a Penguins practice last week. "As policemen, we're all family."
Bob Scuderi, 62, started as a foot cop in 1969 and worked his way up to a patrol car and, finally, the highway patrol. "I'm sure he saw some disturbing things, but he never brought it home," his son said.
Disturbing things? Sure, Bob Scuderi saw them. He served a year with the Marines in Vietnam, was shot in the right thigh in an ambush while on night patrol and later took part in Operation Allen Brook on Go Noi Island in 1968 when 25 Marines were killed and another 38 wounded. As a cop, he was a backup at a domestic incident when a fellow officer shot and killed a suspect with a knife. And in 1990, he worked the terrible aftermath of the Avianca Flight 52 plane crash in Cove Neck, N.Y. "We used John McEnroe's front yard as a morgue," he said.
Who wants to bring that stuff home?
If anything, Bob Scuderi tried to minimize the dangers of the job to his family. He and Leslie, a school teacher, have three other children -- daughters Christine, 36, and Elizabeth, 35, and son Kenny, 28, a defenseman for the Charlotte Checkers of the East Coast Hockey League.
"We have a small lake in the middle of town," Bob Scuderi said. "When the kids were young, I told them if Godzilla came out of the water, I'd scare him away with my gun."
It's amazing how long the Scuderi kids believed that story, probably because they didn't want to think about the day when their dad's gun didn't scare people, when his shield wasn't necessarily enough to protect him.
"You just never knew," Rob Scuderi said. "Even when he got off the streets and onto the highway, you didn't know what could happen."
That's why Bob Scuderi wasn't so thrilled when his son, Kenny, took a couple of tests to become a policeman. "I never thought about how dangerous the job was when I was doing it," he said. "Then, he got involved and it was like, 'Whoa! What's he want to do that for?' " Kenny has since changed his mind and is thinking of being a fireman after his playing days.
Bob Scuderi is a lot happier that his boys followed him into hockey. He didn't start skating until he was 30 but quickly joined some adult leagues with his young sons in tow. He still plays in an over-50 league and made some sight at Penguins practice the other day in his blue Penguins cap, his yellow Long Island Old Pucks jacket and his black Marine Corps T-shirt.
"The boys getting college scholarships" -- Rob to Boston College and Kenny to Clarkson College -- "were home runs for us," he said.
Now, Rob Scuderi is playing the game at the highest level and has developed into a superb defenseman. It's a shame that even much of Pittsburgh doesn't recognize just how valuable he is to the Penguins. Really, if you had to guess who led the team with a plus-23 rating this season, would you guess Scuderi?
"My job is to get the puck out of our end and on one of my teammate's sticks as soon as I can," he said. "If I can do that, it's amazing how much offense they can produce."
The Penguins will make a big push to re-sign Scuderi when he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, although it will take considerably more than his $725,000 salary this season. "All of the guys who have left here weren't happy about leaving," he said. "I definitely want to stay."
Right now, all Scuderi is worried about is Game 3 against the Flyers today in Philadelphia. That and enjoying what he hopes will be a long playoff run with his family.
"It's funny, we go out to eat now and he picks up the check," his father said, fairly giggling.
"When I made the Dads' trip with the team, he handed me $200 and said, 'Here, enjoy yourself.' "
For the Scuderis, it's not about who pays.
It's about spending precious time together.
Every cop and his son should be so fortunate.
First Published April 19, 2009 12:00 am