It’s been 20 years, but members of the Penguins’ first-ever Stanley Cup team in town for the Alumni Charity Golf Classic still kept a watchful eye on their shoes at their welcome reception on Monday.
“It’s funny, I’ve been here for about 20 minutes and I’ve looked down at my shoes three times already because I’m afraid somebody’s going to shoe check me,” joked Phil Bourque.
Added Peter Taglianetti, “It’s really childish and foolish, but guys still have tears in their eyes from laughing when it happens to somebody.”
Shoe checking is when somebody stealthily places a glop of food on a teammate (or coach’s) shoe at dinner without their knowledge.
“It’s maybe an old shoe, you want to polish it up a little bit,” said Bob Errey, who famously pranked coach Bob Johnson during that 1991 playoff run. “So you get whatever you can find that’s accessible and you throw it on somebody’s shoe. You usually do that at pre-game meals to the players.
“You usually catch them napping and we’ll clink the glasses and say ‘shoe check,’ and somebody will look down and find a slop of something on their brand new shoe.”
Bourque, Errey, Taglianetti and 20 of their teammates are the featured guests at this year’s Alumni Charity Golf Classic presented by 84 Lumber, which is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Penguins’ 1991 Stanley Cup championship.
And the boys haven’t missed a beat in the two decades that have passed since they won the franchise its first-ever championship.
“It’s a privilege to be around guys like this,” Bourque said. ”We had such a special team and such a unique bond. It’s unbelievable. It’s been 20 years now and it’s the same stupid jokes that were funny 20 years ago are still funny today.”
And shoe checks and bad jokes aside, the excellent turnout alone speaks to the incredible closeness of that group and how special it was for them to capture that Cup.
“People ask me all the time now, what’s the most memorable moment of your career?,” said Paul Coffey. “It’s always the championships. The first goal, the 50th – it doesn’t matter. It’s always the championships. To bring something to a city like this is great. That’s why everybody’s here.”
Even Mark Recchi – who just won the 2011 Stanley Cup with Boston – is taking time from celebrating that championship to revisit this one.
“When you have teams like that – when you win championships – it’s for a reason,” he said. “It’s because you are close. You do what it takes to win and you have a great group of guys. When you have stuff like this, guys are going to commit to it. That’s just the way it’s always been.”
Capturing a Stanley Cup is no easy feat. Teams must battle through long, tedious regular-season schedules to earn the right to compete for it, and once they snag a postseason berth, the playoffs are an entirely different story.
The road to Stanley is 16 wins long and each one must be fought for tooth and nail – that hasn’t changed one bit in the last 20 years.
And the teams that are able to put it all together and win hockey’s greatest prize build rapports that last a lifetime, as these former Penguins have proven.
“That’s the greatest thing about playing hockey,” said Scott Young. “When you’re in the locker room together and you go through what you go through to battle and win hockey games and win championships, you can not see someone for 15 years or 20 years and get right back into it and it feels good.”
“It really is hard to describe,” said Randy Gilhen of the team’s bond. “That’s such a tough thing to do, to win the Stanley Cup. It’s two months of an emotional rollercoaster. So I think there’s a special bond that you get with your teammates and the guys you go through that with. The ultimate prize is at the end. You create a bond and friendships that last forever.”
And to bring Pittsburgh its first-ever Cup? That’s something this group will always be remembered for, no matter how many other championships subsequent Penguins teams will win in the future.
“It’s pretty special for us being the first ones to bring it back to Pittsburgh,” said Paul Coffey.
The anniversary of the franchise’s first Cup is the focus of this year’s event, and those involved with that team will enjoy revisiting their accomplishment together. But in the end, it's ultimately the camaraderie that makes coming back to Pittsburgh so special.
“I was saying earlier today that the year that we won, we could have gotten knocked out of the playoffs the first round and it still would have been the most enjoyment I’ve ever had playing in all the years I’ve played in the NHL,” Gilhen said, whose career spanned from 1982-98. “Just to see all the guys, the whole experience is what I was really looking forward to.”