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Scuderi far from anonymous among teammates

by Larry Wigge /
It wasn't like a scary good cop-bad cop Andy Sipowicz interrogation scene from “NYPD Blue.” No, when Bob Scuderi, a highway patrolman on Long Island, took his sons, Rob and Ken, to the station, it usually just meant something better was to come for the boys.

What that trip meant was the boys were just 10 minutes away from Nassau Coliseum -- and Bob would often stop off there to watch practice or a game.

"I was a little young for the Stanley Cup teams, but Denis Potvin and Mike Bossy and Pat LaFontaine and Kenny Morrow were still around," Scuderi recalled. "I'll tell you something, my eyes were wide open. Going to the rink with my dad was my favorite thing to do.

"I grew up a huge Islanders fan. Hated the Rangers."

Years later, the Syosset, N.Y., native, loves to beat both of those teams as a 20-minute-a-night defensive defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He remembers those visits to Nassau Coliseum as a special bond between dad and sons. More important, they were part of the passion for the game that enabled a young athlete to choose hockey over lacrosse in high school.

And that's how the Penguins' shot-blocking, steady-as-a-rock defensive defenseman's career began. Scuderi's game will be on view Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET when the Penguins meet the Detroit Red Wings on the NBC Game of the Week.

Scouts who judge players in an instant would miss a player like Rob Scuderi. He doesn't stand out at first. He isn't a great skater. He doesn't have a hard shot. In fact, Scuderi knows what it is like to be passed over. That's exactly what happened to him at the 1997 Entry Draft. He wasn't selected despite scoring 42 goals and 70 assists in 82 games for New York Apple Core.

One year later, after earning a scholarship to play at Boston College, the Penguins selected him in the fifth round, 134th, in the 1998 draft.

"I can see where his skills might not jump out at you," Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury laughed. "He's not the prettiest skater in the world. All I know is whenever I have a tough save to make, I'll look up and there's Rob right next to me trying his best to keep the puck out of the net.

"Believe me, I owe him more than a few goals over the past few seasons."

"He's like 'Mr. Anonymous,'" said teammate Brooks Orpik, who played on defense at Boston College with Scuderi and also was drafted by the Penguins. "All I know it seems like he's never out of position. And in a game where we strive for consistency, that's Robbie."

And it all started near Bethpage on Long Island, where Bob and Leslie (a teacher) Scuderi gave their boys a happy home and the right kind of values to build on.

That passionate, dig-down and work-hard work ethic is a style that has helped teams Scuderi has been on compete for championships -- Boston College reached the Frozen Four all four years he was there, winning the NCAA title in 2001; in the American Hockey League, he was with Wilkes-Barre and went to the finals of the Calder Cup in 2004, before finally making it to the NHL, where the Penguins went to the Stanley Cup Final last spring.

"He is such a smart player," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "I coached him at Wilkes-Barre and I have always loved his attitude. He's a great leader. He's tough to beat one-on-one. You always know what you are going to get from Rob, game in and game out. He very rarely has a bad game. He's very consistent."

Said Scuderi, "I play a very simple defensive defenseman game. But I've always been very confident in myself."

"He is such a smart player. I coached him at Wilkes-Barre and I have always loved his attitude. He's a great leader. He's tough to beat one-on-one. You always know what you are going to get from Rob, game in and game out. He very rarely has a bad game. He's very consistent."
-- Michel Therrien

And that confidence -- even though a little more cockiness would likely get him more attention on such a high-flying offensive team -- Rob would rather just do his job and stay under the radar.

"I was a late bloomer," he said matter-of-factly. "Most of these guys in the NHL were playing some serious hockey and by 15 or 16 they were being looked at by college and NHL scouts. But no one was looking at Long Island."

To wit, his stay-hungry attitude.

"I'll never take anything for granted," he told me. "I go out there, in practices and in games, every day like I have to prove myself."

Late bloomer perhaps, but not too late. All Rob Scuderi has had to do at each stop along that learning curve up the yellow brick road to the NHL is find out where and how he fits into the team.

Best advice? "That's easy," Rob recalled. "My dad always told me, 'Play with your head and your heart and just go out there every shift and do your best.' "

That mutual admiration goes hand in hand for the Scuderis. When I asked Rob what he would be if he wasn't a hockey player, he said, "I'd be a policeman or a fireman. There's nothing better than devoting your life to helping people. I'll always admire what those guys do every day."

Rob laughed when I asked about his major at Boston College. It's business management. But he said he should have stuck with a bachelor of arts degree. "A lot less math," he joked.

On the ice, he doesn't count the number of goals he scores or prevents. He lets others do that for him. Truth is, he led the Penguins and was eighth in the NHL in blocked shots with 116 through games of Feb. 2. He's hard-nosed defensively and is plus or even nearly every game.

The night I interviewed Scuderi, the Penguins won in St. Louis. And while most fans may not have noticed him, Blues winger David Backes certainly did.

"You may not notice No. 4 upstairs, but he's always in the passing and shooting lanes, making it difficult to get the puck through to the net," Backes said. "He blocks a lot of shots -- sort of like a second goalie. His shins are probably black and blue from all of the shots he blocks."

For Rob Scuderi, there were no athletic genes to speak of in his family, only passion and a sports fan background. But now ...

"My father-in-law (Bill Schaefer) played in the NBA and it wouldn't surprise me if our kids would have some freaky athletic skills," Scuderi laughed.

All they have to do is watch their dad -- Mr. Anonymous -- and they would quickly learn that the skills and passion might someday lead them to a professional sports career as well.
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