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Glen Sather recalls Penguins' first playoff trip

Hall of Famer, member of 1970 Pittsburgh team, keeping eye on Stanley Cup Final against Predators

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- For the first two seasons of their NHL life, the Pittsburgh Penguins were on the outside of the Stanley Cup Playoffs looking in.

Then, in the spring of 1970, the Penguins were in, sweeping their Quarterfinal series against the Oakland Seals. They faced the St. Louis Blues in the Semifinals for the right to play in the Stanley Cup Final.

It took all of 19 seconds of Game 1 between the Penguins and Blues for the gong to be rung.

"We had a war with St. Louis, oh yeah," Glen Sather, president of the New York Rangers, recalls with a laugh, keeping an eye on the Stanley Cup Final between the Penguins and Nashville Predators from a home he owns in Loreto Bay, Mexico.

 

[RELATED: Complete Stanley Cup Final coverage]

 

Sather was in his third full NHL season in 1969-70, having gone to the playoffs the past two seasons with the Boston Bruins.

After being claimed by the Penguins from the Bruins in the June 1969 intraleague draft, Sather took his 146 games of NHL experience to Pittsburgh to play for general manager Jack Riley and coach Red Kelly. He settled in a community called Shadyside, a college town close to Pittsburgh's downtown, and included defenseman Bryan Watson and his wife Lindy, who lived nearby, as good friends.

At 26, he played all 76 regular-season games for a team that featured Al Smith, Les Binkley and Joe Daley in goal, Ken Schinkel, Ron Schock, Jean Pronovost, Keith McCreary, Bryan Hextall and Michel Briere up front, anchored by leading scorer Dean Prentice, and a defense corps headlined by Watson, a world-class agitator.

The penalty boxes nearly overflowed with the ice still wet in Game 1 against the Blues. By the final siren of the Blues' 3-1 win at St. Louis Arena, the Penguins had 83 minutes in penalties, the Blues finishing with 66. Pittsburgh defenseman Tracy Pratt led the parade with 32 minutes, and Hextall took 22. Blues defenseman Bob Plager earned 17 minutes, defenseman Noel Picard and forward Tim Ecclestone had 15 each. Curiously, Watson took only one minor penalty.

"Watson had lots of fun with the Plagers that series," Sather joked of defense brothers Bob and Barclay. "And I remember the Blues defenseman Noel Picard, a big, tough guy who (at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds) was one of the biggest guys in the League at the time. I called him 'Merry Christmas' (for the English translation of the word Noel)."

The Penguins lost in six games to the Blues, then missed the playoffs the following season. Sather wasn't in Pittsburgh then, having been traded to the Rangers on Jan. 26, 1971, for Syl Apps Jr. and Sheldon Kannegiesser.

Sather's 658-game, 10-season career would take him to the Blues in 1973-74, the Montreal Canadiens in 1974-75 and the Minnesota North Stars in 1975-76 before he played his final pro season with the 1976-77 Edmonton Oilers of the World Hockey Association.

It was behind the bench and as general manager of the NHL Oilers in the 1980s that Sather would become most famous, guiding Edmonton to five Stanley Cup championships in a span of seven seasons and earning induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997 as a builder.

Sather has been in the Rangers front office since 2000, staying on as team president after stepping down as general manager in 2015. He tries not to miss a moment of hockey no matter where he is, not letting the inconvenience of sand in his toes from a Mexican beach stop him from being finely tuned to this season's Stanley Cup Final.

"I never get away from hockey," Sather said. "I always watch with a lot of interest what's going on and who's going to be available in free agency. We just finished our meetings the past week with our pro and amateur scouts. We went through everything, analyzed every team, who's going to be available and what we think we can do to improve our team."

He believes the Penguins and Predators are "pretty evenly matched, but you really can't discount a team that has [Sidney] Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin. Nobody can match up down the middle like those guys can."

Though he didn't make a prediction, Sather admits to having a warm spot in his heart for Predators GM David Poile, whose team is in the Cup Final for the first time.

"Sentimentally, I'd like to see David win because he's never been there before," he said. "I have a lot of appreciation for what he's gone through, a lot of heartache in Nashville, so he probably deserves it more than anybody. Give him my regards, will you?"

Then, with a laugh:

"And tell him to keep an eye out for me in the summer." 

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