"My first year on the beat, they had a 16-win, 38 point season. It was one of the low points, but it proved to be one of the high points, too, because it got them the draft rights to Mario Lemieux. A few years later, I covered two teams that won Stanley Cups."
-- Dave Molinari
Dave Molinari is used to being the guy writing about the accomplishments of others, rather than being honored for his own achievements. Maybe that's why the longtime Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had to take a few seconds to compose his thoughts Tuesday while he discussed being honored by the Hockey Hall of Fame with the Elmer Ferguson Award, recognizing his contributions to covering hockey during a 26-year career covering the Penguins.
"It really was pretty humbling, and more gratifying than I can express," he said of being informed that he was this year's Ferguson award winner; he'll be honored at the Hall of Fame luncheon prior to the induction ceremonies in November. "People who have won that award previously are people for whom I have the utmost respect -- and in a lot of cases, people whom I revere for their work. To be considered for inclusion in that group is really … I don't know how to express it. It's very moving."
Molinari received recognition from Penguins coach Dan Bylsma
during his morning news conference -- a tribute that also drew applause from the media on hand for the morning skate at Mellon Arena prior to Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Molinari has seen the ups and downs of the Penguins since he began covering the team for the now-defunct Pittsburgh Press in 1983 -- an era in which the franchise was definitely at a low ebb.
"My first year on the beat, they had a 16-win, 38 point season," he remembered of the 1983-84 Penguins. "It was one of the low points, but it proved to be one of the high points, too, because it got them the draft rights to Mario Lemieux
. A few years later, I covered two teams that won Stanley Cups.
"A few years later, there was another bankruptcy, another really down period in terms of their on-ice performance, but it ultimately led to them acquiring the personnel that have allowed them to get back into the League's upper echelon again."
The love affair between the Penguins and their fans had yet to blossom when Molinari began covering the team.
"The first year I covered the Penguins, in '83-84, the announced average attendance was 6,849," Molinari said. "Dating to the time Lemieux got here in the mid-80s, interest really took off. You have a generation of young adults that grew up playing the game because they were inspired by Lemieux.
"Now there's yet another young generation that has taken to the game because of players like Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
. I think Pittsburgh's place as a good hockey city, a good hockey market, will be solid for decades to come."
Along with the fates of the Penguins, Molinari has seen the economics of hockey change markedly during his 26 years on the beat. But despite the fact that players make far more than they did when he began covering hockey, he feels they're still
"Back in the '80s, when I started, it wasn't uncommon for the players to turn up in the same restaurants and bars that I used to frequent. They were making more money than I was at the time, but the gap wasn't nearly as large as it is these days," he said. "Because of the money they make these days, the players tend to operate in circles that most people don't reach.
"But hockey players, and hockey people, are really solid, grounded people for the most part. Money does change things for the players in some ways -- they drive bigger, nicer vehicles and live in bigger, nicer houses. But there are so many of them that come from small-town backgrounds and remember those roots. For the most part, they were great to deal with when I started, and they're still great to deal with now."
Named in honor of the late Montreal newspaper reporter, the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award was first presented in 1984 by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association in recognition of distinguished members of the newspaper profession whose work have brought honor to journalism and to hockey.