Mario Lemieux will lace up his skates, strap on the Penguins uniform and take the ice alongside teammates Paul Coffey, Ron Francis, Kevin Stevens, Larry Murphy and Rick Tocchet. But this isn’t 1992.
The ghosts of Penguins lore will manifest with a glorious return to the ice at Heinz Field Friday morning as Penguins and Capitals alumni re-ignite the rivalry that many of Friday’s participants originally sparked during memorable battles throughout the 1990s.
|Mario Lemieux |
Nostalgia will be all the rage when Lemieux, Coffey, Francis, Bryan Trottier, Gary Roberts and Bill Guerin – to name a few – square off with Peter Bondra, Dino Ciccarelli and Don Beaupre in a 9:30 a.m. tilt.
“The game is going to be unbelievable,” Phil Bourque said.
The alumni game is just one of the many events that make up the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Week, which is – of course – highlighted by the Penguins’ current NHL squad playing the Capitals on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Heinz Field.
“It’s a great honor, and I’m thankful I was asked to play,” Trottier said.
“The Penguins are doing a great job with (the Winter Classic), and the city is embracing it,” Rick Tocchet said. “It’s a great sports town, and a great place to play in Heinz Field.”
Pittsburgh and Washington have faced off in eight postseason matchups since 1991, with the Penguins winning in seven of those series. But the root of the rivalry came when the teams met in the playoffs five times in six years from 1991 to ’96. Pittsburgh bested the Capitals in four of those five showdowns.
“We had some real emotional highs, when you think about the battles that the Penguins and Capitals had in the 90s,” Bourque said.
“We’ve all gone on to different things, but once we get onto the ice and start looking each other in the eye, I think that flame’s gonna burn again.”
Some of the members of the Penguins’ alumni team played a practice scrimmage on Tuesday at CONSOL Energy Center. And the former teammates’ camaraderie picked up right where they left off nearly two decades ago.
“It was awesome,” Bourque said. “It’s been 18 years since the ’92 Cup. We laugh at the same stupid stuff and we still jab at each other just like we did 18 years ago. And we still kind of have that feel of where guys are going to be.”
The scrimmage was a little slower than the last time Penguins fans saw these guys on the ice, and the players expect the actual game will only be a little bit faster.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a different pace than what we played out there (in the scrimmage), so I might have to strap on an extra couple of oxygen tanks,” Bourque joked. “But it’s going to be fun to play competitive like that.”
“It’s a lot slower now,” Tocchet said. “But it’s fun. We still have the competitive juices. You don’t want to lose, which is nice, because you always want a competitive game.”