Sunday, April 13, 2008

In the Middle

Everybody knows hockey just wouldn't be the same without all the superstars. You know - the Crosbys, Malkins, Vinnys, Ovechkins, etc. etc...

And on the same hand, everyone knows hockey would survive quite fine thanks without all the random guys who make their way through the system for a season or two with a team and then get traded around until everyone is tried of looking at them. You know who I'm talking about here too - Chris Beech comes to my mind...

But what about all the guys in the middle?

The players who usually don't make too much national spot light, but develop a good local fan base. They show up to play every night, get dirty in the corners, battle for face offs, are key players on the penalty kill or just seem to know where their team's superstar likes to pass the puck.

I often find myself with a soft spot for these "middle men". Hockey is such a sport of teamwork. You can have all the talent in the world, but without good support players who play a common system, you'll go no where.

And thus here is a look at some of my favorite Penguin middle men who we couldn't have gotten this far without:

Sergei Gonchar

When Gonchar first came to the Penguins, he put on a lackluster show. So much so that people were wondering if he was worth his weight in gold. But the past few seasons he's really come around as a quiet but strong leader for our group of youngsters. You can see the way he is helping to shape some of our younger defensemen. And he is absolutely key at the point on our power plays. A few months ago Gonchar reached the milestone of 600 career points. When interviewed after the game about reaching this milestone, Gonchar was extremely modest. He said something to the tune of "it's a lot of hard work, but in the end it pays off."

Ryan Malone

Pittsburgh has a soft spot for Ryan Malone as he came up through our local hockey system (dad Greg Malone used to play for the Pens). Everybody loves a good hometown hero. What many people forget about Malone though is that he used to be our star player (scary times...). The year before the lockout, Malone led our Pens every night on what was often a sad attempt at winning a game. When Crosby, Fleury and Malkin came on board, Malone's role was reduced and his skills were over shadowed by young talent. But he's worked hard, and this year the effort is starting to pay off. With 27 regular season goals and 24 assists, Malone is finally starting to play like the power forward we hoped he'd turn into. For his efforts he was named an Alternate Captain about midway through the season. He's the guy I think Colby Armstrong could one day become...

Max Talbot

Talbot is one of the funniest guys on the team as he's always laughing, pulling pranks and keeping the locker room light. But one the ice Talbot takes his job very seriously. He's great in the corners chasing down pucks, taking guys to the boards and sticking up for superstars in times of need. Talbot is proof that if you have some talent and are will to work hard you can make it to the NHL. What I like about Talbot is that he always has something up his sleeve to try to improve. Last year he was obsessed with winning face offs. He would ask other guys on different teams what their strategies were and then try to replicate them. This year he want to step up his offensive game, and actually had the most points on the team for the first few weeks of the season.


Kat said...

I loved this post. There are so many guys on this team that step up on so many levels. I mean, Gonch has been so solid all year, and the great Steel City Line wouldn't be just that without guys like Malone and Sykora.

Every leading man needs a great supporting cast and the Pens are chalk full of them. I mean look at our 3rd and 4th line guys. The Talbot's, Ruutu's, Laruque's, Robert's, Letang's, etc. have help this team step up on so many levels. I love love love this team for that very reason.

Amy Lynn said...

I love this post as well. I love my middle men. They make watching fun because they aren't elated by all of the fame. And you feel a sort of intimacy by simply knowing them and what they have to offer.