Winning a championship is the most difficult thing to accomplish in all of sports.
That being said, winning championships in back-to-back years is something that’s been achieved by a very elite group – with the Pittsburgh Penguins being one of a select few teams to accomplish such a feat.
The Penguins captured the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup in 1990-91, then overcame a number of challenges and distractions – most notably the death of their beloved head coach, “Badger” Bob Johnson, early that season – to hoist that silver trophy over their heads for a second straight season in 1991-92.
Twenty years later, many members of that team reunited in Pittsburgh for the Penguins Alumni Charity Golf Classic on Monday and Tuesday to relive their magical run and the season in general.
“It means a lot (to have everyone back together),” said Mario Lemieux, captain of those Cup-winning teams and current owner of the Penguins. “Last night we gathered at dinner and watched the (Cup-clinching win) against Chicago. Just to hear the stories from the guys and talk about the old days, we had a great time. It was nice to see some old friends come back to Pittsburgh and share this with all of us.”
Many of the returning members from the first Cup team were in attendance, such as Lemieux, Joe Mullen, Kevin Stevens, Bryan Trottier, Larry Murphy, Phil Bourque, Bob Errey, Jim Paek, Peter Taglianetti and Jiri Hrdina, who flew all the way to Pennsylvania from the Czech Republic to be with his teammates.
But there were also some new faces in the group, most notably hockey legend Scotty Bowman, the winningest head coach in National Hockey League history.
Bowman had been named Pittsburgh’s interim head coach the day before the regular season began after it was determined that Badger, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer, would not be well enough to return.
“I think our expectations were to defend the Cup, but that’s a tough thing to do,” Bowman said. “We were one of the fortunate teams that were able to win back-to-back, and I think it’s only been done once since that time. We started off slowly. We weren’t playing the game we wanted to play. We had a lot on our plate with Bob’s sickness. We overcame a lot of obstacles. But the team was very powerful going down the stretch.”
Seeing Bowman brought back a lot of memories for the players, and made them stop and think how lucky they were to play for one of the all-time greats.
“I coach now. That’s my profession,” said Mike Needham, a member of the “Muskegon Line” that performed solidly during the playoffs. “I think about some of the things I learned from Scotty. And a lot of the things I do today, I look back and that’s what he taught me. It’s amazing knowledge that the man has, and he passed it down to us.”
Championship teams always have a special bond that can’t be broken with time. But for the teams that win it all two years in a row – now that bond is extraordinary.
“During those times in the early ‘90s, we had some tense moments and we had some joyous moments,” Taglianetti said. “But there’s a bond that the guys all put together. Twenty years may pass and everybody kind of goes in different directions, but it’s something where somebody walks in that you haven’t seen in 15 years, you just start laughing. You can’t take that away.”