PITTSBURGH -- The game hasn't even started, but the gamesmanship between coaches Mark Johnson and Joe Mullen began in earnest Tuesday during a media conference call prior to the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game, to be held Thursday here at Consol Energy Center.
The two U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductees and former Pittsburgh Penguins are excited and looking forward to the opportunity to coach 39 of the top 2014 NHL Draft-eligible American-born players.
When asked how he will go about instructing his 20-player roster, Johnson stunned a very quiet Mullen.
"I've put together some video and I'll get in there Wednesday night and we'll have a short meeting, and I'll show them four hours of video and analyze the breakout and power play; they should be able to digest it as they sleep and get up Thursday and practice it … and it'll look good Thursday night," Johnson said, tongue firmly in cheek.
Mullen then was asked if he put in four hours of video preparation.
"You got me nervous there for a while … four hours," Mullen said. "I haven't done anything like that. I just plan to give them some direction out there and let them go at it, let them play."
Really, that's how both Johnson and Mullen went about their business whenever they stepped on the ice as players.
Johnson, selected by the Penguins in the fourth round of the 1977 NHL Draft, spent three seasons in Pittsburgh and totaled 136 games before making stops in Minnesota, Hartford, St. Louis and New Jersey. During his 11-season career, Johnson had 203 goals and 305 assists. He played a huge role in the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" United States Olympic team, recording a team-high 11 points. Johnson currently serves as coach of the University of Wisconsin women's ice hockey team.
Mullen never was drafted but became one of the most accomplished American-born players in NHL history. He spent six seasons with the Penguins and was a key producer on Pittsburgh's back-to-back Stanley Cup championship teams in 1991 and '92. In 379 games as a Penguin, Mullen had 153 goals and 172 assists. In 17 NHL seasons, he had 502 goals and 561 assists in 1,062 games while also playing for the St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins. He won his first Cup with the Flames in 1989. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000, and currently is an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Flyers.
"I think the message we want to send to the kids is that we want them to go out, play hard and play a solid game," Mullen said. "We want to make sure no one gets hurt, but just don't worry about anything but having fun and playing a good game."
There are 26 players, according to NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list, that are projected to be candidates to be selected in the first three rounds of the 2014 NHL Draft, which will be held June 27-28 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Seven players are projected to be first-round choices: Forwards Blake Clarke (North Bay, OHL), Chase De Leo (Portland, WHL), Dylan Larkin (USNTDP U-18, USHL), Sonny Milano (USNTDP U-18, USHL) and Nick Schmaltz (Green Bay, USHL), and goalies Thatcher Demko (Boston College, HE) and Alex Nedeljkovic (Plymouth, OHL).
"In these types of games, less is more [when it comes to coaching]," Johnson said. "Hopefully they can enjoy the evening. They have talent and skill and an opportunity to go in front of a lot of scouts, and lot of energized Penguins fans to showcase themselves. My biggest job is to just get out of the way."
And what will Johnson express to his players in the locker room:
"I'll just tell them to enjoy the moment and be excited and nervous at the same time," he said. "Obviously, playing in a first-class facility like Consol Energy Center is going to be fun, so they just need to enjoy it. They got picked for a reason, so they just need to go out, relax and enjoy the night because it'll go by quick."