It’s been a hectic summer for Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, so he took a much needed day away from the office on Tuesday to participate in the Alumni Charity Golf Classic presented by 84 Lumber.
But Rutherford wasn’t just there in a working capacity as Pittsburgh’s GM – he was there as a former player, too.
Rutherford, a goaltender, played parts of three seasons for Pittsburgh from 1971-74. He appeared in 115 games with the Penguins, posting a 44-49-14 record and a 3.14 goals-against average while wearing a unique bright blue mask that was once featured on the cover of In Goal Magazine.
Now, 40 years later, Rutherford’s career has circled back to Pittsburgh.
“It feels great to be here,” Rutherford said before jokingly adding, “I guess I had to get a job here to get invited back. Actually, a few years ago I was trying to get to this outing. Now I’m really glad I’m here. I get to see a lot of old friends.
“We have a special bond and a friendship that lasts forever. It’s one that doesn’t necessarily mean we see each other once a month. I know my really close friend Dave Burrows, from when I played in Pittsburgh, I don’t talk to him much but I consider him my real good friend. But to get to see some of those guys I haven’t seen for a long time, this is a special day.”
One of those old friends was fellow goaltender Denis Herron, who played 18 games for Pittsburgh as a rookie during the 1972-73 season – and was mentored by and learned from Rutherford.
“Jimmy was the goalie for the Penguins when I came in as a rookie and it was just great because he showed me the ropes a little bit,” Herron said. “What to do, how to do it, everything. And since I had no experience it was great, you need that. It was very nice.”
When old teammates get together, a lot of storytelling goes on. As Dave Hanson of Slapshot fame jokingly put it, "That’s the great thing about old hockey players getting back together again, you get to kind of relive the youth again. But suddenly that goal that you scored or that save that you made is 10 times bigger than when it really happened."
And Rutherford, who golfed with Penguins owner/legend Mario Lemieux, shared a memory of his own.
“I think the real special one was when we went to the playoffs against the Blackhawks (in 1972),” Rutherford said. “We were certainly outmatched, that was in some of their glory days when they had Bobby Hull and those superstar players. Every game that series was a one-goal game, we gave them a good series. They beat us four straight, but that was a great memory. I was really young as a player here, Red Kelly was the coach and I have a ton of respect for him the way he handled the team.”
Rutherford was traded back to Detroit, the team that originally drafted him on Jan. 17, 1974 and played nine more seasons before retiring in 1983. He never thought that he would eventually return to Pittsburgh, but is thrilled to be back in the city.
“It’s funny, you never think of things in your life how they’re going to turn out,” Rutherford said. “But when I got traded from Pittsburgh, I was very, very upset because I loved it here. I was here almost three years, and you never really think about coming back. At this point in my career, to have this opportunity, it’s just a great feeling.”
It wasn’t just old Penguins teammates Rutherford reunited with – he saw a teammate from his Red Wings days as well. Hanson, who is the executive director of the RMU Island Sports Center and has been coming to the Alumni Charity Golf Classic for years, played one season with Rutherford in Detroit in 1978-79.
“He’s got just a few more wrinkles and a little less hair,” Hanson joked. “But it’s great to see him. Jimmy was always a goalie first of all, so he was never playing with a full deck to begin with. But it was great to see him. He was actually a great goaltender back in the day with the Detroit Red Wings team. It was good to see a smiling face, especially from the old days.”
However, the outing wasn’t just about playing 18 holes and reuniting with old friends – it was about raising money for charity as well. The proceeds from the day went to the Mario Lemieux Foundation, Achieva, and Magee Women’s Research Institute and Foundation.
“This group of alumni is nothing but a great group of guys,” Hanson said. “They’re a lot of fun, and they come out for all the right reasons and raise a lot of money for some great causes. It’s evidenced when you see what kind of group you have when you have grunts like me out here and then you have the superstars like Mario, we’re rubbing elbows and having a great time all around. The guys we get to play with, we have a good time with them as well.”