June 12, 2009
There was lots of laughter floating around the Joe Louis arena as the Pittsburgh Penguins warmed-up during their morning skate. Coach Dan Bylsma was pleased with the tone of the practice, loose and lighthearted. It was hard to be carefree with the knowledge that this game, no matter what, would be the end of their season together. The Carolina series was already a distant memory, only disjointed shards of the Capitals series were recollected by the players, and the Flyers series seemed so long ago that many wondered if it had happened at all. There was a long a brutal history that had led them to this point, to this arena, on this night; but the only thing that mattered to the Penguins players was that they were there, in that fleeting moment of time, with each other.
Many knew in the back of their mind that the team would look different next time around. Some players were coming up on free agency and would be lured away to bigger cities with brighter lights and greener money. They might never see Hal Gill reclining in a gargantuan Snuggie in the locker room again. They might never see Rob Scuderi’s head shake with grudging approval at a practical joke. They might never see Bill Guerin’s hound-dog eyes widen with the excitement of youth regained. None of that was important though. That was in the future and there was nothing they could do to control it, so why waste time worrying?
The Stanley Cup was in the building somewhere. Their entire lives have been in pursuit of that trophy, but now that it was so close, they had no desire to see it before the game. It would be like looking in your parents’ closet to see your gifts a week before Christmas; it settles the curiosity, but it takes some of the satisfaction away.
Fleury, Talbot and Letang all giggled in their native French, watching as Tyler Kennedy tried to undo an impossible knot they had tied his skates together with. Malkin and Gonchar stood on the blue line taking passes from Phillip Boucher, each giving tips to the other on how to play the point position on the power play. A hobbled Petr Sykora crutched his way around the rink, taking notes for the coaching staff. Crosby and Kunitz worked on some give-and-go plays. If they had the chance for a 2-on-1, they couldn’t afford to miss the net. Mike Zigomanis, Tim Wallace, Janne Pesonnen and Alex Goligoski looked on from the stands in civilian clothes. Everyone was here. All were in the present.
Four months ago, the practices were not as lighthearted. Everyday they constantly looked backwards to past mistakes and opportunities lost. They were in danger of missing the playoffs all together, but a coaching change and a shift of attitudes righted the ship. They looked forward now, to the horizon of success that laid in the future of this team for many years to come.
The newspaper headlines would have us believe that we live in bleak times: two wars, a failing financial system, and Miss USA scandal. None of that matters to anyone tonight at the Joe Louis arena or to those watching at home. We are here in the present, in this fleeting moment of time, and we have come this far together.