If there is a vision from the 2008 Stanley Cup Final that described the gritty passion fans love to see from NHL players, it had to be Penguins forward Ryan Malone
, with a swollen nose, finishing his team's epic triple overtime Game 5 win after taking a puck in the face. It was this moment, in the spotlight of the Stanley Cup Final, that helped cement Malone's reputation as one of the League's grittier players and probably helped him hit the jackpot with a seven-year, $31.5 million contract he signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning last July.
This no-quit attitude and passion to win also was the main reason Malone was able to have a successful four-year college career at St. Cloud State.
"Even when Ryan was with us at St. Cloud, he really had, and I mean this in the most positive way possible, no regard for his body," said Brett Petersen, who was the assistant coach at St. Cloud State when Malone played there from 1999-2003.
Petersen said Malone's courage and desire were two major attributes that made him an attractive recruit.
Oh yeah, that's right up there, maybe even tied for first. That was a great time and I'll never forget that. - Ryan Malone, on his 2001 WCHA championship
"He just always played with that 'whatever-it-takes' attitude and would do anything for his team," Petersen said. "He's never been a selfish player and that's the type of guy you want on your team. I think when he was playing on the world stage, for the Stanley Cup, that really came out and people know now what Ryan Malone
is all about."
Recruiters saw a lot to like in Malone, both in terms of actual talent and potential.
"He had that God-given frame and, knowing that, with his work ethic he would evolve to be the size and the player he is today," Petersen said. "He could develop the strength. A lot of guys don't have that frame, but Ryan was gifted and blessed and we knew to go along with it he had the determination to get to where we needed him to be and where he is today."
Malone said going to college allowed him to develop his talent.
"For myself, the college route was the better route to develop my overall game and also get stronger," Malone said. "I was a bit of a late bloomer on the ice and then also physically. I had that natural frame, but I was only like 6-foot-2, 180 and needed to get stronger if I was going to eventually make it to the NHL. So I really liked the conditioning program they offered at St. Cloud and was confident that with the college schedule the way it is, playing mostly on the weekend, I'd have plenty of time to focus on conditioning."
Malone grew up in Pittsburgh and attended Upper St. Clair High School, then Shattuck-St. Mary's in Fairbault, Minn., his junior year. He spent his senior season playing juniors with the Omaha Lancers in the United States Hockey League. He grew fond of the small town community in Minnesota while playing at Shattuck-St. Mary's and that was another deciding factor in going to St. Cloud State.
"It just seemed like the right fit for me with the conditioning program and an Olympic sheet of ice to build my skating skills," said Malone who was also considering North Dakota and Boston College. "But the environment was also a huge part. I liked that small-town feel at Shattuck-St. Mary's and they had that at St. Cloud. Hockey is everything there and the fans were so passionate. But it wasn't in a bad way; you could still go about your business. There was just a great small-town feel."
Malone would also be happy with his choice thanks to the influence of head coach Craig Dahl.
"Craig Dahl was not just a great coach but a great person," Malone said. "He taught me not just to be a better player but also a well-rounded person. You have to learn how to act and conduct yourself in the community and as a person, and he helped us do that. Just look at some of the players I played with, a great group of guys like Tyler Arnason who plays on Colorado, Duvie Westcott who played for Columbus and Mark Hartigan who played in the NHL as well. But they weren't just great players, they were good people when they left there."
While Arnason, Westcott and Hartigan all left early for the pros, Malone stayed all four years and he's still happy he made that decision.
"You really don't want to play in the minors if you don't have to," Malone said. "School is such a great time and experience in your life and having the weekend games only or shorter seasons, just helps you get prepared physically. It was great getting psyched all week for the weekend games. Staying the extra year gave me more confidence and prepared me for the pros."
Despite playing in the Stanley Cup Final, Malone still lists winning the WCHA conference title in 2001 as one of his best memories.
"Oh yeah, that's right up there, maybe even tied for first," he said. "That was a great time and I'll never forget that."