June 11, 2009
Reporters’ microphones hung like scores of banana bunches in front of Rob Scuderi’s face. The flaring lights of the cameras caused his forehead to wrinkle and eyes to squint. He was not comfortable in this situation. The newfound attention caused the quiet defenseman’s genes to squirm in their own double helixes.
Scuderi was not used to this much direct publicity. The reflection of the spotlight from Crosby, Malkin and Fleury was all he really knew. However, after a spectacular display of defensive prowess in the waning minutes of Game 6, he had become the darling savior of every Penguins fan. With a few ticks of the clock left, with Marc-Andre Fleury out of position and the net ready to receive the tying score, Scuderi transformed from defensive defenseman to nervous net-minder. Three kick saves on a bloodthirsty Johann Franzen had locked up his place in Penguins folklore. Father’s would tell their sons about the play with a fairytale exaggeration. In time, Scuderi would be remembered as being ten feet tall. In time, he would be remembered as having the strength of ten men. In time, he would have a blue ox for a companion. All in time.
In his own mind though, Scuderi’s play that night had not been anything out of the ordinary. The only thing he did was get in the way, and that was what he was supposed to do. He was a defenseman. It is right there in the job description. Get in the way. But now the Long Island boy found himself in the way of a new adversary, one which he didn’t like but felt compelled to embrace: the Media.
TV reporters, newspaper columnists, and website bloggers all had their turn to ask an inane question apiece. Any simple utterance from the hero of the game would satiate these quote-hungry fiends.
“What were you thinking when you made those saves on Franzen?”
“Do you think you’ve played the best hockey of your career in this series?”
“With free agency on the horizon, do you think you’ll be in a Penguins uniform next year?”
The truthful response that he would have liked to give to all of these questions was one and the same:
“I don’t know.”
Surely he couldn’t just say that. It was too straightforward, too easy. It needed to sound more important. He had watched Crosby do it a million times. Take a simple answer and make it long and drawn out. Act like the reporters are getting paid by the word. Give them something to latch onto, but never give them something to spin. Long and bland, that’s the key to a successful post-game interview.
“Where do you fit into this great team, Rob?”
“You know,” he started, not knowing where the sentence would lead him. “I’m just the piece of the puzzle.”
Getting in the way is his specialty. And in between the Red Wings and their second consecutive Stanley Cup title will be a piece of quiet defenseman in the shape of Rob Scuderi.