The reunion tour continued on Monday as yet another former Penguin visited CONSOL Energy Center for the first time.
|Senators defenseman Sergei Gonchar spent five seasons with the Penguins. He is the fifth-highest scoring blueliner in team history. |
This time it was Ottawa defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who signed a three-year contract with the Senators on July 1, paying a visit to the Penguins’ beautiful new home.
Like Colby Armstrong, Bill Guerin and Mark Eaton before him, Gonchar was blown away by the sheer beauty of the arena.
“This is a beautiful building,” Gonchar said. “While the Penguins were on the ice (for the morning skate) I had a chance to step in and look at the finished locker room. It’s amazing – probably the best locker room in the NHL.”
However, as much as Gonchar enjoyed seeing the new rink, he said that facing the Penguins in a different arena than the one he called home for five seasons will help him adjust to facing his former teammates.
“It would have been a lot tougher for me if they were still playing in Mellon (Arena), because that was the building I played so many games in and won a Cup,” Gonchar said. “This is a new building, and while it’s beautiful, it’s probably going to help me adjust playing in a new building.”
Returning to Pittsburgh for the first time since his offseason departure brought back many good memories for Gonchar.
During his five seasons with the Penguins, Gonchar helped lead the team to a 2009 Stanley Cup championship, back-to-back Cup Final appearances in ’08 and ’09 and four consecutive playoff appearances.
On an individual basis, Gonchar ranked among the top blueliners in club history. RELATED ARTICLE: Penguins Report: Game Day vs. Ottawa
In 322 regular-season contests as a Penguin, Gonchar totaled 259 points (54G-205A) to place him fifth among defensemen on the team’s all-time list. Of the four full seasons Gonchar played (he missed 56 games in ’08-09 with a shoulder injury), he recorded 50 or more points on each occasion, including a career-high 67 (13G-54A) in ’06-07.
“I played here for five years,” Gonchar said. “I had a lot of great experiences here, not only on the ice but with the group of guys that we had. Not only were we teammates but we were great friends. We had such a great chemistry and that was why we were able to win the Stanley Cup.”
As great a player as Gonchar was on the ice – and he was without question one of the top offensive defensemen in the league – he was equally as important to the Penguins turnaround from a last-place outfit during his first season (’05-06) to Stanley Cup champions four seasons later.
Although Gonchar was quiet in demeanor, he provided a calming influence in a locker room filled with 20-somethings who needed a veteran presence to look up to.
|Gonchar helped the Penguins capture the 2009 Stanley Cup championship. |
“He brought a lot of experience and leadership,” captain Sidney Crosby
said. “He didn’t say a whole lot, but his poise and sense of calmness that he brought was kind of contagious. I know he also played a huge role in ‘Geno’ (Evgeni Malkin
) being able to adapt quickly to playing here.”
Gonchar’s influence on his fellow countryman Malkin’s transition to the United States was instrumental in helping Malkin develop into one of the National Hockey League’s elite players.
Not only did Gonchar serve as Malkin’s mentor and closest friend, he and his wife, Ksenia, opened their house for Malkin to live during his ’06-07 rookie season.
“I don’t think there’s even a chance of anybody other than Sergei Gonchar being here helping him adjust and deal with the language and North American culture and teammates and coaches,” Penguins head coach Dan Byslma said. “Gonch was a huge part of that for Geno and some of the difficult situations that we all have in the game, he was the guy that helped him out immensely.”
On Monday night, Gonchar goes head-to-head against Malkin for the first time. He said it will be a strange experience that will take some getting used to.
“It’s going to be strange, I can tell you that,” Gonchar said. “It’s probably going to take me a few shifts to get used to the idea that we aren’t playing on the same team. We spent such a long time together and became such good friends off the ice.”