It used to be lore around the NHL that if you walked into Pittsburgh to play the Penguins and Mario Lemieux
had that little hop in his stride as he came onto the ice for the pre-game skate and did it again on his first shift, well, the opponent was in for a long, long night because the rest of the guys wearing Pittsburgh colors -- Kevin Stevens
, Rick Tocchet
, Ron Francis
, Larry Murphy
and Co. -- would take their lead from the captain.
If you looked at Game 3 a little closer, you could almost feel the same kind of flashback, when Sidney Crosby
, Ryan Malone
and Marian Hossa
skated onto the ice with a purpose against the Detroit Red Wings
and set the tone early for a 3-2 Penguins victory to run Pittsburgh's record at home in the playoffs to 9-0 -- the team is now 17-0 at Mellon Arena dating back to a 2-1 Feb. 24 shootout loss against San Jose.
"Yeah, I know what you're talking about. I remember that," Malone said after getting an assist on the second of Crosby's two goals, one shot and two hits in Game 3 to run his totals to six goals and 10 assists in 17 playoff games. "The crowd was electric. Like old times."
would know. As a youngster, he used to watch that tradition unfold in front of him as he was growing up sitting in seats that belonged to his dad, Greg, who played for the Penguins from 1976 through 1983 and later served as chief scout for the team for two decades.
Ryan has become sort of a living legend here, becoming the first Pittsburgh born and bred player to play in the NHL. This 28-year-old fiery redhead and his brother, Mark, used to be a part of an interesting bring-your-kids-to-work, Mr. Mom sort of thing when his dad wore the same No. 12 on his back, often carrying a diaper bag with him to the rink when he had to practice and the boys were lads.
Fifteen years ago, Ryan was a 12-year-old mite here in Pittsburgh, when Mario le Magnifique won Stanley Cups for the Penguins in 1991 and '92. And now, he's trying to return the glory to the Igloo. In fact, when Malone looks up at the dingy Mellon Arena, he remembers the good times, the house rocking much like it has for this year's young talented group of skaters.
"I remember every time the Pens were on a power play they would play the Jaws music. It would send chills up your spine," Malone told me, before adding the reality of playing in the same building now. "In a way, it's crazy to be in this situation I'm in. I really feel lucky. First, I never really dreamed I would be good enough to play in the NHL ... and to play here, well, it just feels like home. I'm privileged."
Before the series he waxed poetic about how he once played hide-and-seek in this building with his brother, how he rollerbladed with his dad here and used to occasionally go on the ice with the sons of other players, how he used to play shinny on the ice with the sticks of players like Jaromir Jagr
, Ron Francis
, Mark Recchi
in his hand.
Malone started skating when he was only 2. He remembers having a No. 10 sweater for Ron Francis
and a No. 12 for Greg Malone. His brother had a No. 77 for Paul Coffey
. Ryan and his brother would wear those sweaters when they were kids stickhandling with plastic-blade sticks on the cul-de-sac near their upper St. Clair county home outside of Pittsburgh.
"We played on the street sometimes and sometimes against the garage door ... but it was almost always Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final," Malone recalled. "We were the Penguins and nothing was going to keep us from winning that little trophy we made that was supposed to be the Stanley Cup."
wasn't always 6-4, 224 pounds, and hard to handle in front of the net. He remembers several times going out for teams here and not making it. But that wouldn't stop him from working harder on his skating and getting stronger.
"I played hockey and baseball until I was 15," he said. "I remember it was at that time that my dad said, 'Pick a sport.' I was much better at baseball back then, but hockey was my passion. There was really no choice for me."
A self-made hockey player? This rink rat never stopped working. He wound up getting a scholarship to St. Cloud State.
"I never thought at all I could make it," he said. "No one from Pittsburgh had ever been drafted ... or even went to Division I."
When asked what he would be if he wasn't a hockey player, he said, "I honestly don't know, because hockey is all I ever knew."
And we're better for that hard work that led Ryan from a 6-2, 170-pound player when the Penguins selected him in the fourth round, 115th overall, in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft.
Part of this marvelous run for Malone and the Penguins includes a two-goal, one-assist performance, including the game-winning goal in the Eastern Conference Finals series-clinching Game 5 against Philadelphia. And that came after Ryan had career-highs with 27 goals and 51 points this season.
Once Ryan was finished talking about his father-son, Mr. Mom, bring-your-kid-to-work portion of his life, I wondered if he was starting the same sort of tradition with his new son, William.
He smiled and said, "We watch hockey every night I'm home. He seems to be just as caught up in the game as I was back when. I don't know if it's just all the guys moving on the TV that keeps his attention. But, he's focused. I'll just keep teaching him everything. He's excited. I'm excited."
And we can all see all how much that rich Penguins tradition has done for Ryan Malone