When Herb Brooks would phone in his scouting report from USHL games he attended in that hockey hotbed of Omaha, Neb. during the 1998-99 season, the man on the other end of the line had to somehow find a way to hold in his elation.
Forgive Greg Malone if he couldn't always do it. It's not easy being the chief scout for a team that's taking stock of your own child, but that's the position Malone was in when his son, Ryan, was being monitored by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"Herbie would come back and tell me he saw him score this highlight reel goal," said Greg Malone, a former player with the Penguins who after serving 16 seasons as the head scout in Pittsburgh is now a professional scout in Phoenix. "He would say; 'Listen, we don't have to pick this kid high, but we have to draft him somewhere. I don't care where, let's just make sure we get him.' "
The Penguins did eventually draft Ryan with the 115th pick in the 1999 Entry Draft, and he's turned into a fourth-round steal.
Malone spent most of the first half of this season providing some muscle and size for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to operate. As a two-time 20-goal scorer he was the perfect linemate for the Pens uber-talented duo because he could score, too.
Now that "The Kid" is hobbled with a high ankle sprain, Malone has run with his opportunity to provide even more much-needed scoring.
Since Crosby went down Jan. 18 against Tampa Bay, Malone has seven goals and six assists while still playing left wing on the top line, only now with Malkin as the center and Petr Sykora on the right. The Pittsburgh native, who scored 22 goals in each of his first two seasons, has upped his season totals to 17 goals and 14 assists.
"I'm put into a role where our line needs to score goals and you're thinking of that first now, which is a good thing," Malone told NHL.com. "You have to make sure you're still smart with the puck and doing the right things, but now I'm in position to score goals and put numbers up."
Penguins coach Michel Therrien believes the key to Malone's success has been his maturation since entering the League four seasons ago.
Malone has grown up, according to Therrien, who said Malone "deserved" to be awarded the "A" that goes to an assistant captain. Malone also became a father for the first time earlier this month when his wife gave birth to a baby boy.
"He's got an important role," Therrien said. "Right now he's on the first line, the first unit power play, the first unit penalty killing, and he's an assistant captain. So he grew up a lot in the last few years.
"He has more maturity on and off the ice," the coach continued. "He's a big part of it if we win or lose a game. He has that type of responsibility. It's the type of responsibility I wanted to give him. He deserved it."
"Bugsy," as Malone is known in the Penguins' dressing room, also is known throughout Western Pennsylvania as somewhat of a pioneer. He's the first Pittsburgh born-and-trained player to make the NHL.
Philadelphia center R.J. Umberger is the only other Pittsburgh native playing regularly in the NHL.
"In high school, we had a lot of guys go play Junior B. We thought that was the next step," Malone said. "Then we had guys going to Division I colleges. Now we have a couple of guys drafted and playing in the NHL. It just shows what Mario (Lemieux) brought to Pittsburgh and how hockey grew. We're his generation."
Malone defines NHL longshot made good. He said he was a good player, nothing more, during his three years at Upper St. Claire High School in a Pittsburgh suburb.
"I maybe made one All-Star team while I was in high school," he said. "I was on Junior B teams."
"He never separated himself," added Greg Malone. "He was in the pack."
Malone, though, ventured out of the state, all the way to Minnesota, in the summer of 1996 so he could begin attending hockey camps run by renowned scouting and NHL draft guru Chuck Grillo.
Grillo taught Malone an important lesson that he's put into use since Crosby went ankle first into the Mellon Arena boards.
|Penguins coach Michel Therrien believes the key to Malone's success has been his maturation since entering the League four seasons ago.
"Chuck Grillo always told me you're going to need a backup game sooner or later. In junior, you may be a top scorer all the way up, but come the NHL if you're on the top two lines you have to bring something to the table every night," Malone said. "I kept promising to build my game so I can play in whatever situation they put me in. I feel confident in every role. Obviously playing with (Malkin) on the top line right now it has put me in position to put up some numbers and I'm taking advantage of it."
A year after attending his first Grillo-run camp, Malone enrolled at Shattuck-St. Mary's High School in Minnesota. He scored 44 goals and dished out 41 assists for the prep power.
The following season he recorded 14 goals and 22 assists for the Omaha Lancers of the USHL. Brooks saw potential, and the legendary Team USA coach was hooked.
"At the draft he was 6-3 and 175 pounds soaking wet, but that's what intrigued Herbie," Greg Malone said. "He said; 'Look at his dad, he filled out, so Ryan will.' "
So the Penguins picked him, but Ryan, who played four years at St. Cloud University before embarking on his NHL dream, remembers draft day as being a slightly bittersweet experience. He couldn't go anywhere without being lauded as daddy's pick.
"He would probably have liked to have been drafted by someone else because it was the old; 'You got drafted because your father was there,' " Greg Malone said. "He heard that, but looking back it was one of the better things that happened to him. It gave him more drive to show everyone he's here on his own merit, which he is.
"It had nothing to do with me."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.