The Pittsburgh Penguins: The First 25 Years (by Greg Enright)

Presented in association with the Society for International Hockey Research (SIHR). Having captured five Stanley Cup championships since 1991 –...
  1. Greg Enright
    About the book:

    Having captured five Stanley Cup championships since 1991 – more than any other team since then – it’s easy to forget that the Pittsburgh Penguins were once one of hockey’s most laughable organizations. Born in 1967 as a National Hockey League expansion team, the Penguins proceeded to waddle their way through years of heavy losses both on and off the ice. There were bad trades, horrible draft picks, a revolving door or owners, general managers and coaches, and even a bankruptcy. The threat of the team leaving town loomed constantly as it struggled to build a following in the Steel City.

    Somehow, however, the Pens hung on long enough to draft superstar Mario Lemieux in 1984 and claim their first Stanley Cup seven years later, building a large and loyal fanbase along the way.

    Here is the most complete story of the Penguins’ first 25 years ever written, covering every twist and turn of their rollicking ride from bumbling basement-dwellers to high-flying hockey champions. Packed with colorful memories from former players, reporters and team officials, the often-hilarious and sometimes tragic foundational years of one of hockey’s most accomplished franchises are now captured for both Penguin and general hockey fans alike. Includes a Foreword by Penguins legend Jean Pronovost.

    The book is available at: Amazon -, and through the publisher, McFarland Publishing -


    How the Penguins got their name:

    The next major step for the young franchise was to choose a nickname. Both G.M. Jack Riley and Head Coach Red Sullivan, harkening back to their Irish roots, liked “Shamrocks,” but to no avail. A name-the-team contest that had garnered over 26,000 entries received 716 votes for “Penguins,” and on February 9, 1967 a contest committee officially chose it as the winner. Other popular submissions included Pioneers, Pipers and Golden Triangles. Hornets, the nickname of the American Hockey League franchise then in Pittsburgh, also received a good number of votes. According to Joe Gordon, the original P.R. representative for the club, the main reason for foregoing Hornets was that it was associated with a minor league team and ownership wanted a fresh start for the major league club.

    Gordon was disappointed with idea of a flightless fowl representing the new club. “I didn’t think that was synonymous with a hockey team and a very physical sport,” he said. “From the outset, I thought it was going to be difficult to market the team.”

    He wasn’t the only team official displeased with “Penguins.”

    “It’s a bird, and one of the dirtiest birds in the world,” Riley said. Sullivan agreed. “The day after we play a bad game,” he growled, “the sportswriters will say, ‘They skated like a bunch of nuns.’”

    It was later revealed Carol McGregor, wife of team President Jack McGregor, had a strong preference for “Penguins” because the team would be playing in the Civic Arena, which was nicknamed the “Big Igloo” due to its distinctive dome-shape construction. Having a bunch of penguins skating inside it seemed right to Mrs. McGregor.

    “It was definitely different,” remembered Earl Ingarfield, a veteran center who played on the first two Penguin teams, when asked about the nickname. “You say ‘Penguins’ and it kind of gives you a little chuckle. But I think that nickname started it where teams named themselves differently than in the past.”

    Riley did, however, get to choose the team colours. He went with a double-blue scheme like that used by his old junior team in Toronto, St. Michael’s College. When it came time to order uniforms, Riley made sure there was no mention of “Penguins” on them, lest the owners come to their senses and go with a different nickname before the season began. They simply displayed the word “PITTSBURGH” diagonally across the front.

    Also nowhere to be seen was the club’s logo, which featured a portly, scarf-wearing penguin developed by local artist Bob Gessner. Gordon suggested the addition of an inverted golden triangle, emblematic of Pittsburgh’s downtown area that was formed by the convergence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers. “So we put the golden triangle behind the penguin and it’s still there,” he remembered proudly.
    By September 1967 – less than a month before the team’s first game – the nickname was still Penguins. A resigned Riley had finally come to accept it and was even prepared to alter the uniforms for the team’s second season to include the logo.

    “And if we’re in first place, Penguins will sound just great,” he rationalized.

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