When general managers go about building what they think and hope will be championship contending teams, it takes the combination of a variety of different elements to achieve a winning formula. One of the toughest ingredients to add to the mix is a legitimate power forward.
During the Penguins’ run of success in the early ‘90s, and then two seasons ago during the march to the 2008 Stanley Cup Final, the Penguins possessed two of the better net-front presences in the game.
Rick Tocchet arrived to the Penguins on Feb. 19, 1992 and provided the missing physical toughness Pittsburgh needed to claim their second-straight Stanley Cup championship later that June.
Ryan Malone was the Penguins’ first native son. The son of long-time Penguins head scout Greg Malone, Ryan was a Pittsburgher through and through. He cheered for the Penguins as a kid, grew up through the local amateur hockey ranks and was a fourth-round draft pick of the Penguins in 1999.
Both Tocchet and Malone were each fan favorites who spent arguably their best National Hockey League seasons while calling Mellon Arena home.
On Wednesday, Tocchet, now the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Malone, a Tampa Bay forward, make their final visit to the building where they were once beloved.
“There are honestly so many memories,” said Malone, who will not play Wednesday following arthroscopic knee surgery two weeks ago. “For myself, I was really lucky to be a fan and then be able to play where you grow up playing. Not many guys get a chance to do that. Getting to play with Mario (Lemieux), Sid (Sidney Crosby
), Geno (Evgeni Malkin
) and all the great players here, it was a great run."
As a life-long Pittsburgh native, Malone’s list of memorable moments at Mellon Arena probably stretches longer than Tocchet’s, but you can’t argue with what Tocchet was able to provide the Penguins during his 150-game regular-season stint.
“There are honestly so many memories. For myself, I was really lucky to be a fan and then be able to play where you grow up playing. Not many guys get a chance to do that. Getting to play with Mario (Lemieux), Sid (Sidney Crosby), Geno (Evgeni Malkin) and all the great players here, it was a great run." - Ryan Malone
Tocchet was an instrumental figure on the Penguins’ 1992 championship squad. He came to Pittsburgh with an edge to the game which was missing at the time. He quickly jelled on the Penguins’ top line next to Lemieux and Kevin Stevens.
Tocchet’s deflection of a Paul Stanton shot during the second period of Game 1 of the Final was the first of four-straight Penguins’ tallies which turned a 4-1 deficit into arguably the greatest ending in the history of the then-Civic Arena as Lemieux scored on a power play with 12.5 seconds remaining to give the Penguins a dramatic 5-4 comeback victory which all but crushed the Blackhawks.
During the Penguins’ NHL-record 17-game winning streak in 1992-93, he allowed the Penguins to tie the previous record of 15 consecutive victories when he notched a hat trick against the Montreal Canadiens and Patrick Roy in regulation, then helped set up Ulf Samuelsson’s game-winning tally in overtime on April 7, 1993.
“I was here for less than three years but I remember winning 11 straight games in the (’92) playoffs,” Tocchet said. “I think we won 17 games in a row (the next regular season). Those are pretty special things. You obviously remember all the guys you play with. It was a lot of fun here.”
And nothing was more fun for Tocchet than claiming the only championship of his career.
“It’s the ultimate thing you take with you where you go,” he said. “People’s lives go in different directions but that is the one thing that always stays with you.”
Malone might not have ended his Penguins’ career with a championship like Tocchet did, but Malone did provide Penguins fans with their fair share of lasting moments at the Igloo.
There was the overtime winner he scored against the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 22, 2003, a night when the Penguins honored him on becoming the first play born and trained in Pittsburgh to reach the NHL during a pre-game ceremony. Then there was the hat trick he scored against the New York Islanders on Dec. 15, 2006 while playing on a line with Crosby.
Even with all those great individual efforts, some of the memories Malone will always remember most from his days at Mellon Arena are the Penguins’ run to the 2008 Final and just hanging around the building as a child.
“Through playing in the ‘08 playoffs and being a fan in the early ‘90s, it was awesome,” Malone said. “Even just coming here with my brother when my dad worked and playing in the rink when it was empty was pretty cool too.
“It’s weird. My brother and I would play tag throughout the whole rink. We would go up in the press box and just run all over the place. We would roller blade around and then jump on the ice after the Pens played. It was great.”
Because Malone grew up always wanting to wear the black-and-gold, the No. 1 memory he will take with him from Mellon Arena is getting that chance to live his childhood dream when he attended his first training camp in 2003.
“Last night was somebody I was watching’s first NHL game so I was thinking about mine here,” Malone said. “I even remember just pulling on the jersey in training camp. It was pretty special. It was a great place to start my career.”