Ryan Malone is in his fourth season with the Penguins.
Really, though, he’s been with them his entire life.
His father, Greg, played for the Penguins and later served as the team’s head scout. Growing up in Upper St. Clair, Ryan spent many days in the Penguins locker room and was glued to TV when the team had its Stanley Cup runs in the early 1990s.
Now, he’ll get his turn to play for the Stanley Cup.
And, he’ll be the first player born and trained player from Pittsburgh to do so.
Malone scored two goals and added an assist as the Penguins eviscerated the Flyers, 6-0, on Sunday to claim the Eastern Conference championship at Mellon Arena. They move on to the Stanley Cup Finals.
“I don't know if it set in or not, but I think, Game 1, everyone's going to be excited and it's what you play hockey for is to put yourself in this situation,” he said. “I think everyone dreamt about it as a hockey player, to get a chance now to battle for the best prize there is out there. So it's going to be fun. I think we're all excited to get going.”
Malone has seen the Penguins reach the summit in 1991 and 1992. And, he was on some Penguins teams that were among the NHL’s worst.
Now, Malone wants to help the Penguins reach the top once again.
“Yeah, I mean I think since day one of training camp, getting a shot to make the team was a great circumstance for myself,” he said. “I think to be where I am right now, we all worked hard together. When you have all 20 guys on the ice pulling in the same direction and trying to make a difference, it's the biggest thing. Personally, you go out there, try to win your one-on-one battles and just battle hard and sometimes you get the bounces.
“So I think personally I wasn’t expecting too much; you just want to make sure you're playing your game and everything else falls into place. We still have a long way to go. So there's nothing to celebrate, that's for sure.”
Still, it’s been quite an evolution for the Penguins and Malone.
“I think four years ago about where we were and Craig [Patrick] rebuilding the team. He did a great job,” Malone said. “Ray [Shero] came in and added the extra pieces. The fans have been patient. And I think, so far, so good.”
The Penguins reached the Stanley Cup Finals with their first-ever postseason series win over cross-state rival Philadelphia.
“I don't think it really matters who we beat in the first three rounds, as long as we get there and give ourselves a chance in the next round here,” Malone said. “We realize we've got a tough test in front of us, still, and our goal wasn't to get there. Our goal is to get the whole thing done. We have to be refocused now, make sure we're sharp in practice and be ready in the next level to take it.”
When Malone came off the ice, one of the people he saw in the Penguins’ locker room was Mario Lemieux – the Hall of Famer who led the Penguins to their two Stanley Cup championships.
“He just told me, ‘Good job,’” Malone said. “I think playing with him in my early years was a big privilege. Now, I think for any hockey player not playing and watching it's a little tough. And you always wish you were out there. But I think Mario plays a big part in the team. We all look up to him still.
“And he's always led by example. I think he's passed that along to a lot of guys.”
The Penguins will meet either Dallas or Detroit in the Stanley Cup Finals.
“I don't think it matters too much who we play,” Malone said. “I think we have to make sure we're playing our game and playing our type of hockey. I think we were playing the way we want to play. We like our chances.
“We’re not too familiar with either team. So, we just have to make sure we have our A game going in there for Game 1 and the coaches will make the adjustments as needed. But it's pretty simple hockey come playoff time. And we just have to make sure we have our A game.”