It’s late on Labor Day, the informal festive end of summer. This is a good thing for hockey, as the players start back in town, and before you know it, practice and show games will begin as the Penguins prepare for the 2022-23 season.
But on this holiday, a day honorable in part for “the work and contributions of workers to the development and achievement of the United States,” let’s check out some of the favorite hard workers over the years for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
You won’t find Sidney Crosby or all the other stars here. And sure, maybe no one on earth works harder than Sidney Crosby to keep his mind and body sharp, but that and an elite athlete like Chris Letang doing crazy exercises isn’t the soul of this workout. It is indisputable that to reach the NHL level one has to be very dedicated and work very hard for countless hours over the years in order to reach the top level. that goes without saying.
This is a feature to highlight some of the players whose calling card is to break a sweat, heat up, know their role and bring maximum energy and effort to the rink every day as a virtue of their character.
We’ll start with an easy one. clear one. But also a very real one. Brandon Tanev is nothing but nonstop energy. Continuous work. Walking a million miles an hour on ice with his legs, off the ice, doesn’t make a difference.
Tanev became a fan favorite and naturally enough. He broke his backside every second of every game and would have done anything to win. block a shot? Not a problem. Throwing the corpse around? surely. Do you find a way to score a goal? Oh yes!
Brandon Tanev is a constant frenetic energy. Few are hard-working, and few seem to have more fun out there. This is all about when the adult guys play a game and make countless billions of dollars a year (combined across the league).
If shot-making stats existed that day, the modern field of analytics probably wouldn’t think very fondly of Dan LaCouture. The LOC winger scored only eight goals and 21 points in 137 games with the pens. And it existed from 2001-2003 when Pittsburgh was far from Juggernaut and lost often.
But Lacouture was one of my favorite players anyway. I can remember one time at a practice at Southpoint when he drove a drill, he caught a bad rut and he was going so fast that when he wiped his legs got into a helicopter like motion as he turned and crashed into the boards. It totally ruined the workouts, but even the coaches had to laugh. That was Dan Lacouture – he may have been working hard and driving his legs too fast for his own good – but he’s always putting in the best effort nonetheless, whether it’s a practice or a tie against the Flyers in the third period.
And he never backed off from anyone, including multiple fights with Tie Domi. And sure enough, at 6’2 and 210, LaCouture was a much bigger man than Tie Domi. But if you had the guts to drop gloves with Domi (and more than once!) – my friend, you had some guts.
I can assure you, dear reader, without knowing the numbers that Dan Lacouture was on the ice in that era of penguin hockey for more dangerous chances for the other team than he had with Pittsburgh. But that also didn’t matter or detract from the role and player he was as a 6-foot-2 freighter that sometimes couldn’t even keep his legs under him (just ask the coaches at Southpoint). It was all energy, hustle and the perfect amount of commendable effort on the ice at the time. At the time, that was enough.
Hal Gill and Rob Scuddery
I feel ol’ Pensblog (RIP) did their best when they said every shift you watch USS Hal Gill with the pens you just wanted. Leaning on the sofa sort of “oof, oof” pointing to him hoping for the best. Living and dying with each transformation, they captured a sense of eloquence.
Hal Gill and Rob Scudder are certainly not the guys who would be the driving forces to win the Stanley Cup on their own. But perhaps it’s no coincidence that every Stanley Cup winner has a heart and soul like Jill and Scuderi advancing in major roles.
He was lost in history with the role played by Jill and then Scudder in the Stanley Cup winning goal in Game Seven by Max Talbot in 2009. Jill (fairly legally) carries a man to help get the puck behind the net to Scuderi. Scudsy makes the classic play to hold it for a second, and sucking up the front check, “takes a hit to make the play” (says the classic hard worker) to swing the disc to Chris Konitz. (Kunitz’s immediate slip up to Talbot Spring alone doesn’t historically get enough credit, either.)
Gill was also cited by Jaromir Jäger as the absolute number one player he hated playing against. Jagger’s career points/match against Boston is still a sad one, mostly due to a generation in the prime of life in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Before Zdeno Chara really emerged as a freak (I mean in a good way), Hal Gill in his day was a 6’7, 245lb mountaineer. Humans shouldn’t be that big and able to skate and have that kind of reach and power. As Jagr himself so willingly pointed out, Jill was the only force strong enough to limit number 68 when he was in his prime and usually wins scoring titles.
Scuderi, for his part, Scuderi was in the head widget. An example of a heart-and-soul player who would gladly put his safety on the line to keep the disk off the net, and succeed in doing so. What should be said?
If hockey wasn’t around, you’d think guys like Scuderi and Gill would be on a team to deliver your homes or fix your plumbing, or some other important blue-collar business where they’d be the kind of unsung heroes helping to keep society in circulation.
Cook Stall Kennedy
Is this too nostalgic for the 2009 days? Maybe so! But I’m still not sure if there was a better or harder third streak to work with for a score that matched Matt Cook, Jordan Stahl and Tyler Kennedy for the Penguins at the time. Between power, effort, off-disk play and then the ability to create, there’s not much better for the assembled parts to be than the combination with the chemistry created with this line.
Cook was a 10-year veteran when he came to Pittsburgh, and he ended up being one of the most controversial and hated players of his generation. He’s played across a range of good tastes at times, but he always knew he had to put in the best effort to make a difference. Does that excuse every decision he made on the ice? of course not. But he was a player who worked hard, took advantage of too many opponents in weaknesses, and also answered the bell.
Even in the junior ranks, Tyler Kennedy was good and well respected, but he didn’t really score that much (22 is his career-high of goals at any level), but for the effort you can’t measure what the first boy brought to the table. With an incredible drive, great efforts in pre-screening and thorough gameplay, TK has gone on to over 500 NHL games for a long and impressive career in the NHL due to his immaculate skills.
It’s no secret that Jordan Stahl was the “secret sauce” of the penguins that day. Despite being the third linebacker, Staal has also played the third most minutes of any striker in his past few seasons in Pittsburgh. He had to do a lot of heavy lifting to start the defensive zone, and take up the tough tasks to free Sid and Geno for all the good flankers and offensive opportunities. Stahl did so with a smile (until he refused to extend his Pittsburgh contract in 2012, anyway) but hard work on and off the ice was literally a staple at his origin from his family’s well-told story as farmers in Thunder Bay.
So there you have it. Some of the toughest and most serious players throughout Penguin history this Labor Day. Who are some of your favorite types of players in this context?