The Penguins dipped into their past to help with their future.
The team signed 35-year-old veteran forward Richard Park
, who broke into the NHL with the Penguins in 1995, to a one-year contract Thursday.
“When you reflect back on your career and it’s all said and done and you have an opportunity to finish where you started, that’s definitely a very nice feeling to have, coming full circle,” he said.
But Park didn’t sign with the Penguins for some nostalgic recreation of the past. He returned to Pittsburgh because of the quality team that general manager Ray Shero and his department have built.
“That was an ideal scenario for any hockey player if you have an opportunity to join that echelon of teams in the league that year in and year out have a legitimate chance to win the Cup,” Park said. “That’s a very fortunate position to be in as a player. For me, that was the most crucial factor in joining the club.
“I feel very privileged to have an opportunity to play with that group of players. Hopefully, I’ll join them for many fond memories ahead this year and build on what they’ve already accomplished.”
Park, a dangerous penalty killer that has scored 14 shorthanded goals in his career, has played parts of 13 NHL seasons with Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Vancouver and NY Islanders after the Penguins selected him in the second round (50th overall) of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft.
Park (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) played last season with Geneve Servette of the Swiss National League, but had an urge to return to his roots.
“That old cliché where ‘you don’t know what you have until it’s taken away from you’ holds true,” he said. “As a player growing up in North America, your dream is to play in the NHL. Once you’re in the NHL, you’re dream is to win the Cup. I wanted to come back and finish here. The opportunity to go to a Cup contending team is more than I could ever ask for.”
Park, the second South Korean-born player to appear in the NHL (Jim Paek), has always been known for his hard-work and maximum effort. He’s a reliable and versatile two-way forward that has survived so many years in the league because of his keen hockey sense.
“My game has evolved since I came into the league,” Park said. “The foundation of my game starts with a strong work ethic and I take a lot of pride in that. I take a lot of pride in playing a strong, two-way game. That’s something that I try to excel at and do to the best of my abilities. You grow up a lot. When you’re 18, 19 coming into the league and now I just turned 35 - I’ve grown up a lot on the ice and off the ice.”
Park, who has represented Team USA in two World Junior Championships (1994, ’95) and four World Championships (2002, ’04, ’05, ’06), still looks fondly on his time in the Steel City.
“I have nothing but funny and fond memories of Pittsburgh,” he said. “I spent many years after leaving reminiscing about them. I was 18, 19, 20 years old there. It is always special in my heart. Even when I played them as the opposing team, it was always special to go back there.”
And the irony isn’t lost on him that his current boss is also a former teammate, hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux.
“He’s a pretty special individual,” Park said. “Talk about going full circle, having the privilege to play with Mario and now being an employee of his is a unique scenario and situation in and of itself.”
The sentimental aspect of Park’s return is not lost on the veteran. But he is more concerned with getting down to business.
“Having played on six different teams, the very first always has a special place in your heart. That never goes away,” Park said. “The same holds true at this point in my life. To be going back there is very special. That’s something that I’ll look back on and it will have a deeper impact.
“But right now my focus is to play well and hopefully contribute to that hockey club.”