The Pittsburgh Penguins continued their 50th-year celebration by honoring the 1991 and '92 Stanley Cup winning teams on Saturday at PPG Paints Arena. While recognizing these teams' accomplishments took priority, it was also moment to reflect on how far Pittsburgh hockey has come in the last 25 years.
"Before you got here, there were six hockey rinks in the area, youth hockey was virtually nonexistent, we didn't have a championship and we couldn't imagine a sold out crowd," Penguins CEO and President David Morehouse said addressing the attendees at a luncheon after morning skate. "You're the foundation of what built Pittsburgh hockey."
Over 30 players, coaches and staff from the back-to-back championship seasons attended Pittsburgh's morning skate, received personal jerseys and enjoyed a luncheon in the Lexus Club. They will all be honored Saturday night with a pre-game ceremony before the Penguins take on the Detroit Red Wings.
Some of the players haven't seen each other in 25 years, but once they stepped into the locker room, it was like nothing ever changed.
"It's like you get right back into the locker room and the pecking order and all the one-liners and the teasing comes out," Hall-of-Famer Bryan Trottier said. "That's what makes it fun to be an alumnus with the Penguins here."
These moments were easy to find amongst the guys as they posed for a picture inside the Penguins locker room. Former goalie coach Gilles Meloche made the mistake of arriving late for the photograph, many of the guys yelling, "late for practice again, Meloche!" as he entered the room.
Paul Stanton, a former defenseman who played 206 games for the Pens between 1990-93, was excited to finally be in the front row of a team picture, he and Bob Errey sharing a high-five for the occasion after the cameras were put away.
The alumni also shared their strongest memories from their time in Pittsburgh.
"I can remember the joy at some of the celebrations at Point Park and the Old Three Rivers (Stadium)," Trottier said. "The celebration with the city, those are pretty powerful memories for me. It was their first hockey championship. To share that with this city and to see how they celebrate a championship was really fun."
Of course, the biggest shared memory among the attendees was the feeling of winning the Stanley Cup.
"Things happen so fast that you don't really get to enjoy them when they're happening," said Peter Taglianetti, a former defenseman who was a member of both Cup teams. "A few years go by and you start thinking about it and you think, 'Wow this really took place and these are some really great moments.'
"That first Cup run was one of those things that we didn't get to enjoy because it happened so fast. It wasn't until years later that you got the chance to sit and talk to guys and remember it. That's why I tell these young players now to just enjoy it, each game just enjoy it and think about it, even keep a journal because we forget a lot of things that happen."
But some memories weren't as cheerful as others.
"It was a pretty tough summer after they won the Cup in '91 and Bob Johnson got sick," Scotty Bowman, head coach of the 1992 team, said, remembering legendary coach "Badger" Bob. "We didn't know the severity of everything. It was a tough beginning of the next season, especially with nobody knowing how the end would be with Bob. I think it took a lot out of everybody the first few months."
One of the most heart-warming moments of the reunion was having Martha Johnson, the wife Bob Johnson, in attendance. Many of the players made sure to hug Martha as they passed her and she even received her own jersey with 'Johnson' proudly on the back.
"It seems impossible to me that we were only here for a year, so many people are so good and so kind to us," Johnson said. "We had an unbelievable time when we were here. I'm glad to be here and enjoy it."
"Martha is a pretty amazing lady," Pierre McGuire, a former scout for the Pens, said. "She hasn't changed much, she looks fantastic and she still knows her hockey really well. One of the most enjoyable Mother's Days I've ever had was with Martha Johnson, Bob Johnson and myself. We had just won a playoff series and Bob called me up at the hotel saying, 'Come to lunch with Martha and I.' I did and we had a delightful three-and-a-half Mother's Day Brunch."
While some of these players, coaches and staff have gone their separate ways after their time with the Penguins, the experience of winning back-to-back Stanley Cup titles will forever tie them together.
"It's a great bond, it's a special bond," Trottier said. "The guys always rally. It's a friendship, it's a kinship and we all treasure it."