Greg Enright: The Pittsburgh Penguins – The First 25 Years

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  1. Greg Enright Registered User

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    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 - amzn.to/3bybO6K, and through the publisher, McFarland Publishing - http://bit.ly/2OGZeYO.

    Enright.jpg

    Excerpt:

    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.
     
    Last edited by moderator Theokritos: Jul 5, 2020 at 9:29 AM
  2. Greg Enright Registered User

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    About the Author

    Greg Enright
    is a veteran writer, editor and journalist. Based in Toronto, he is an avid hockey writer and historian and is a member of the Society for International Hockey Research. He’s been a Pens fan since he was seven years old and is proud to say he saw them play in blue uniforms.
     
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  3. Theokritos Moderator

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    Thanks a lot! I'm not sure what I like more, having another SIHR book feature or your avatar.
     
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  4. Randy Butternubs Registered User

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    I overheard a conversation on Thursday where people were talking about Steve Durbano. Any mention of him going over to the opposing team and punching someone during the anthem? I'm curious as to if that was true.
     
  5. Greg Enright Registered User

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    Great to be here. That avatar pic is from a 1974 Penguins season ticket holder newsletter. One of my favourite Pens things I've stumbled across.
     
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  6. Greg Enright Registered User

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    I've never heard of such an incident. I know that he *did* storm out of a practice once while with Pittsburgh and heave his stick into the Igloo stands on his way off the ice.
     
  7. ChrisK97 Registered User

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    Until Mario, the Penguins in an era of uncertainty actually flirted twice with a tangible shot at the Stanley Cup or at least maybe making the Finals- 1970, when they got within 2 wins of the Cup Finals (closest they got to a Cup until the early 90s) and 1975 (best record in team history of that era, had a long unbeaten streak at home, famously blew a 3-0 lead to the Islanders).

    Which of those years do you think was Pittsburgh's best shot to maybe take a shot for the Cup? Those were basically their deepest playoff runs until 1989 and the back-to-back Cup years. If they don't blow that 3-0 lead or they get past STL in 70, could they have been able to build a bit of a following (as you mentioned, they struggled to build a following in the Steel City. Those might have been their two beset shots to maybe build a following in the pre-Mario era)
     
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  8. Habsfan18 Collector/Historical Research

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    Good stuff, Greg.

    Bought my copy a few weeks ago. Haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but that is on the to-do list. It’s likely next-up once I’m done with the one I have going currently. Looks fantastic. My father, being a Pens fan since the early 80’s, is also very much looking forward to it.

    27841D63-C9D9-4807-9208-85B95E6E0B4D.jpeg
     
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  9. The Panther Registered User

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    Yeah, I think they exaggerate a bit by saying the club "waddled" through its pre-Lemieux seasons. Mike Lange says it was a pretty good team when he came aboard in 1976. From 1974 to 1977, they put together three pretty good seasons, and another good one in 1978-79. At this point, they were obviously well behind the Flyers, Sabres, and Islanders in expansion-team development, but they were as good or better than the Kings, Blues, North Stars, Flames, Scouts, Golden Seals, and (of course) Capitals. Maybe if they'd stayed the course a bit more, they'd have been in good shape to ride out the 70s, but they had lousy management it seems (trades like young Larouche -- a fan favorite -- for old Mahovlich come to mind), and then they went bankrupt somewhere in the middle of this.

    Actually, the 5 seasons from 1974-75 to 1978-79, they probably did better than the first 5 seasons with Mario (1984-85 to 1988-89).

    It's funny how some historical periods of certain franchises get wiped off the record in the popular imagination (I suppose it's different for the devoted fanbase). The mid-70s/early-80s Pens are a bit like that. Also, the 1970s' St. Louis Blues. I couldn't tell you one thing about that team.
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2020
  10. Greg Enright Registered User

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    Great question. I'd say the 1975 team, for two main reasons.

    First, the quality of the team. Red Kelly had done a great job of improving the Pens enough to get them into the playoffs and beat a team (Oakland) that was comparable to them in the first round. But they were still a third-year expansion team with not a lot of offensive firepower. The 1975 team, by contrast, was stocked with talent up front (Pronovost, Larouche, Kehoe, etc.) and a solid young defense corps including the underrated Dave Burrows and Ron Stackhouse. This was a much more complete and dangerous team than the 1970 Pens.

    Second, the quality of their potential opponents. Much of the 1970 team's success was due to the spectacular play of goalie Les Binkley. Had he not missed the final three games of the St. Louis series due to injury, it's quite conceivable they beat the Blues and go to the Final. But even if they got there, there was no way they were going to beat the 1970 Bruins. Bobby Orr was in his prime and that team was a force that was not going to be stopped by a third-year expansion team. Binkley may have stolen a game or two, but it's next to impossible to believe the Penguins would take the Cup from the Bruins. In 1975, had the Pens beat the Islanders, they would have faced the Flyers - another daunting task. But with the offensive power the Pens had that year, and with Gary Innes playing great in goal during that spring, it's easier to conceive of the Pens making that a series than against Orr's Bruins. They would have had to up their physical game considerably, which is probably an unrealistic ask, but in the heat of a Stanley Cup semi-final, strange things can happen, especially against a cross-state rival. From there it would have been the Buffalo Sabres in the Final, and what a series that would have been. The Sabres were tough, but not as tough as the Flyers. Their style was closer to the Pens', and it's easy to see this series as one that could go either way.
     
  11. Greg Enright Registered User

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    Thanks so much. Hope you and your father enjoy it.
     
  12. Theokritos Moderator

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    Greg, which sources did you use for your book?
     
  13. Randy Butternubs Registered User

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    Good stuff in this thread. I'll probably come up with a few more questions while I'm bored at work this coming week.
     
  14. Greg Enright Registered User

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    The biggest sources were newspaper archives, particularly the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Press. Quite a few other papers, too, but those were the backbone. The other big sources were the 15 or so interviews I did with former players, reporters and team officials. I also got 30 minutes of time with Pittsburgh's current mayor, who grew up a big Pens fan.
    I did not quote or really rely on other books written about the Pens. There was one short documentary I quoted from, though - a TSN special about the drafting of Mario Lemieux and the accusations of tanking. If anyone's interested in this topic, I highly recommend it:
     
  15. abo9 Registered User

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    Were not the Pens laughably bad pre-Crosby? I am too young to have seen those peak Lemieux Penguins teams, so my earliest memories of the Penguins (and coincidentally the Capitals) is really bad teams.

    So it's news to me that they were really bad prior to Lemieux as well. Seems like the fans experienced very big highs and very big lows.
     
  16. Mike Farkas Grace Personified

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    Really good in the early 90s, back to back Cup wins, best team in the league in 93. ECF in '96 and '01. Playoffs 11 straight years from 90 to 2001. Then the sell off. Then Crosby.

    Pre-Lemieux they had a year or two of note, mostly '75.
     
  17. Johnny Engine Moderator

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    To get into the word "laughably", the Pens were regular-bad in '02 and '03.

    The 2004 Penguins were one of those teams that I followed as one of my handful of secondary teams that year because it was such a ghastly spectacle and impossible not to be curious how it would turn out.
     
  18. Mike Farkas Grace Personified

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    Best team post AS break...somehow...
     
  19. Johnny Engine Moderator

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    You know, I had forgotten that stretch....

    However, it looks like they were about .500 after the All Star Break - unexpected, but a plausible dead cat bounce.
    Buuuuut...
    Shift the cutoff date to February 25 and they're 5th in the league after that date.
    Shift the cutoff date to my 19th birthday (the day after they left not-much-older-than-me career minor leaguer Andy Chiodo in for all 9 goals against Nashville), and they are indeed first in the league over a 15 game stretch.
     
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  20. Mike Farkas Grace Personified

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    Ah, memory degradation, thanks for finding that. I knew we had a run with just a poor excuse for an expansion team and a low-end color guy as a coach...
     
  21. Chili Registered User

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    For me, beyond 66, Eddie Johnston was the turning point with the franchise. EJ knew the game well and had a great eye for talent. He knew the importance of 1st round picks which the Pens had usually traded for immediate help. He deserves a lot of credit for their first two cups because of the talent he accumulated before he was replaced.
     
  22. Greg Enright Registered User

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    Agree. He made a ton of good moves: Drafting Doug Bodger, Craig Simpson, Zarley Zalapski, Chris Joseph, Rob Brown, Shawn McEachern, among other names. He traded for Coffey, and almost landed Andy Moog before Edward Debartolo Jr. ridiculously kiboshed the trade. It was great to see him lift the Cup in '09 as a member of the Penguins organization.
     
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  23. The Panther Registered User

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    There was a five-year period from 1974-75 through 1978-79 where they were quite a competitive team, with four of five seasons being over .500 and having some successes, notable players, etc. But they also went bankrupt and couldn't sell tickets.

    Easy to see the history of the team's records at a glance, here: Pittsburgh Penguins Franchise History | Hockey-Reference.com
     
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  24. Chili Registered User

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    Would love to know who he would have taken 1st overall in 1983 if that pick hadn`t been flipped with Minnesota (i.e. Steve Yzerman?). He came out with a better player at 15 (Bob Errey) then Brian Lawton. Good free agent signings (Phil Bourque, Jim Johnson, Chris Dahlquist). Anders Hakansson for Kevin Stevens. Remember hearing a story that Tony Esposito was ready to trade Stevens but EJ talked him out of it. The Coffey trade was a bold move that gave the Pens the best powerplay in the league. Believe they still hold the team record for powerplay goals in a season.
     
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  25. Theokritos Moderator

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    Greg, what's your take on the Penguins' 1983-1984 season finish? They (the team managment, specifically) did tank to get Mario Lemieux, right?
     

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