The holiday season is upon us (you know, since stores have had their Christmas stuff up for about two months now) and I thought this would be the natural time to stop and give thanks. Instead of writing a novel about all the things I am thankful for (and believe me there's plenty) I am going to give thanks to my one lifelong love of the sporting world... the Pittsburgh Penguins. So grab yourself a slice of pumpkin pie and enjoy as one Pens fan gives thanks.
The things I am thankful for:
- Bob Johnson - Badger Bob brought a winning attitude to the Pens and transformed them into a dominant force in the NHL while leading them to their first Stanley Cup. Along with Craig Patrick, Johnson is responsible for much of the success the Penguins enjoyed in the early '90s, and he is not forgotten.
- Bob Errey - Bob was always one of my favorite players and it killed me when he was traded to the Sabres in '93. He wasn't flashy, he just went out and worked his butt off. He made some big plays and was a tremendous leader for the Pens. I am thankful we got to have him in black and gold.
- Petr Nedved - Endurance is a beautiful thing. Nedved played his best hockey as a Pen and was a big part of that '95-'96 team that came ever so close to the Finals.
- The Lang/Straka/Kovalev Line - It's a shame these guys played in the shadow of Jagr and Lemieux, because they were arguably the best line in the NHL when they were together. All great players individually, this line was magic on ice (they complimented each other perfectly) and the three of them will always share a warm spot in the hearts of Penguins fans. They were just flat out a blast to watch and we were lucky to have them.
- Ulf Samuelsson - The original Terminator. Ulfie brought a necessary dose of nastiness to those early '90s Pens teams. You just had to love the way he gave everything he had every shift. Every team needs a guy like Ulf.
- The Moose - Johan Hedberg made the summer of 2001 a magical time for Pens fans. The Moose came over from San Jose at the trade deadline and then propelled the team to the Eastern Conference Finals. Hedberg's stay in Pittsburgh was relatively short, but he has a place in every true Pens fan's heart and I am extremely thankful for the magical spring of 2001.
- Darius Kasparaitis - Say what you want about the guy, but he came to play every night and wasn't afraid of anyone. Oh, and he did this!
- Sid/Geno/MAF/... - This new crop of Pens are just awesome. Sid is a once in a generation player, Geno is blossoming into a true force on the ice, we all know I love the Flower, and the rest of the team is a blast to follow as well. This team has brought fun back into Penguins hockey and I am thankful for each and every one of them. Okay, except for Mark Recchi...
- Paul Stanton - The kind of player every successful team needs a couple of. Stanton was pretty much the defensemen version of Bob Errey. Never flashy, he just went out and did his job game after game, and for that I am thankful.
- Joey Mullen - What's not to love about Joe Mullen? From a purely physical standpoint Mullen had no business being a professional hockey player, but that didn't stop him. Joey was a gamer and gunned his way to retiring as the leading American-born NHL goal scorer. Joe was also a big inspiration for me (and other less physically gifted players as well I'm sure) and I couldn't be more thankful for what he brought to the Pens and to the game in general.
- Tom Barrasso - Not exactly Mr. Personality, but he was money when it mattered (most of the time). Without Tommy B. the Pens don't win two Cups and are basically the Kings of the Eastern Conference.
- Larry Murphy - Calm, quiet, and classy... that was Larry Murphy. He never really got the credit he deserved (he should have won the Norris in '93), but he was loved and appreciated by the Penguins faithful. If you look up solid in the dictionary you'll see a picture of Larry Murphy. Penguins fans were lucky to see the best years of his Hall of Fame career.
- Jaromir Jagr - Arguably the best NHL player of the '90s, Double J was a pleasure to watch his entire time in Pittsburgh. He may very well be the most skilled NHL player ever not named Lemieux. Despite an ugly breakup with the Pens and the horrible trade that sent him to the Caps, Jags gets nothing but love from me and I would love to see him finish his career back in the black and gold.
- Mario - Where to begin? Any hockey fan who got to see Mario in his prime should be thankful for all that he gave us. The dominance. The incredible goals. The comebacks. Mario did it all and I doubt there will ever be another player like him. He was a once in a lifetime talent and I am thankful to have been around for it.
- Ron Francis - Ronnie Franchise is easily my favorite athlete ever. Ron Francis did it all and he did it all extremely well. He may have been the most complete player ever and like so many others on this list, his best days were in Pittsburgh. He was often overshadowed by some of his flashier teammates, but for most of the '90s he was the heart and soul of the Pens. Saying I am thankful for Ronnie doesn't even begin to do it justice, he was my hero growing up and will always be my favorite.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Be safe. Go Pens!