It has been an exciting off-season for Paul Steigerwald, the television play-by-play voice of the Penguins.
And not just because he recently signed a new multi-year contract to continue his role with FSN Pittsburgh, the team’s long-time TV partner.
“To watch how Ray Shero and his staff were able to keep the young core of this team together, and to do it in such a short period of time this summer, was really amazing,” Steigerwald said. “With the all the other free agency news that was going on at the same time, I’m not even sure that’s sunk in yet. And the fact that those guys took less than they could have received on the open market to stay in Pittsburgh says a lot about what’s going on here right now.
“From an entertainment standpoint, there’s not a team in hockey that even comes close to the Penguins. For our city and our fans – and for me as a broadcaster – that makes this is a very exciting time.”
Indeed, although there were some free agency losses in early July, Shero managed to sign center Evgeni Malkin
and defenseman Brooks Orpik
through the 2013-14 season and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
One year earlier, he’d signed center Sidney Crosby
and defenseman Ryan Whitney to long-term deals through 2012-13.
That means the core young group of Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Whitney and Orpik are under contract here together through at least the next five seasons.
“The beauty of following the Penguins is that, in addition to having some great and very competitive teams, we’ve also been blessed with ridiculously talented individual players,” Steigerwald said. “We had Mario and all those great players from the 90s, and now we’ve got these guys – led by Sid and Geno, who provide completely different kinds of splendor.
“I remember when I was a kid growing up here in the ’60s and ’70s, there were sometimes eight or 10 Penguins games on TV a year, and it always seemed like a big event,” Steigerwald said. “Now, we’ve got all 82 games on TV (a minimum of 71 on FSN), and every game is an event in this town, a major event. You have to cherish it when it’s happening. You can’t ever take it for granted. We’re blessed to watch it, to be part of it, and to have these memories created for us.”
Steigerwald, 53, grew up in Scott and played high school hockey at South Hills Catholic before going off to college (Kent State) and cutting his teeth as a broadcaster for the Johnstown Red Wings of the old Eastern Hockey League in 1979-80. He joined the Penguins in 1980 as a member of the marketing department and started to do intermission interviews for the team’s radio broadcasts. He’s been part of the organization and the broadcast team, in various capacities, ever since.
Steigerwald left the radio booth to become the Penguins’ play-by-play broadcaster in 2006-07, and his first two years at the FSN microphone have been highlighted by back-to-back 47-win seasons, spectacular scoring numbers from Crosby and Malkin and a breathtaking run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2007-08 -- not to mention eye-popping TV ratings that set local records and ranked as the highest in all FSN markets in the United States.
“We’ve obviously had a lot of great times with hockey in this city, magical moments, but there’s something that’s going on right now – the relationship between the team and the fans the region – that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before,” Steigerwald said. “Penguins hockey is pervasive. The fan base has grown and grown, and it’s reached out to a new generation, to the point that Penguins hockey is now really a part of the fabric of this town.
“The local broadcasters don’t call the games in the conference finals or the Cup finals, so I got to have the experience of watching some of those games from the stands and being a part of the crowd. I will never, ever forget the feeling the day we beat the Flyers and won the Eastern Conference championship. The feeling between the fans and the players was really remarkable. You could tell that the fans felt they were a part of all the success – and they were, and the players acknowledged it.”
The 2008-09 season presents a fresh set of challenges as the Penguins prepare and plot to renew their quest for the Cup. Some key components and role players were lost to free agency, and coach Michel Therrien will have to figure out updated line combinations with intriguing newcomers such as Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko and Matt Cooke
. And everyone else will be gunning for the defending division and conference champs.
But Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Whitney and Orpik are locked in for the long term, and the rest of the roster has such a fascinating blend of youth, experience and grit – Jordan Staal
, Sergie Gonchar, Kris Letang
, Petr Sykora, Max Talbot, Pascal Dupuis
and others – that the Penguins look to be a force, and a championship contender, for this year and many years to come.
“In the whole history of the Penguins, I can’t ever remember such a feeling of stability,” Steigerwald said. “We’ve got an ownership group that’s made a huge commitment and is virtually spending to the cap. We’ve got a hockey operations staff, led by Ray Shero and Chuck Fletcher, that has shown it is very capable of operating in the NHL’s brave new world. Our coach, Michel Therrien, has been here for three years and we’ve gotten better every year. The talent of the players is obvious. And the fan base is one of the very best in hockey.
“After what we had to go through in the early part of this decade, and through the lockout … it’s great to see it all come to fruition. Everybody feels like they played a role. I go back to that game in the conference finals against the Flyers. Sitting there in the stands, it felt like one solid group – the fans, the players, the coaches the staff. It was one big family in the building that day.
“And there’s more to come. I can’t wait to get started.”