New coach Herb Brooks is giving Pittsburgh a revitalizing
If you'd closed your eyes toward the end of the Penguins'
practice last Friday, you would have heard a noise that sounded
like the distant churning of ocean waters. When you opened your
eyes, however, you wouldn't have found a conch shell at your
ear. Instead you would have seen a sea of Penguins swooshing en
masse around the rink. The long sprints came at the end of a
75-minute practice, yet the players skated hard, and when they
finished, they were smiling. "Herbie has us skating all the
time, all over the ice, in practice and in games," says forward
Robert Lang. "There's much more movement than there used to be.
That's fun for us."
Herbie is Herb Brooks, who will be forever remembered as the
coach of the gold-medal-winning 1980 U.S. Olympic team. His
latest venture behind the bench began on Dec. 9 when, at age 62
and 6 1/2 years removed from his last NHL coaching job, he
replaced the fired Kevin Constantine as Pittsburgh's coach.
Brooks, who went 190-198-61 over six seasons guiding the
Rangers, the North Stars and the Devils in the '80s and early
'90s, had been a Penguins scout. General manager Craig Patrick
gave him the coaching reins to breathe life into a club that was
in danger of falling out of the playoff picture and had grown
weary of Constantine's rigid, highly analytical methods.
At week's end Pittsburgh had gone 4-1 under Brooks while
averaging nearly four goals a game, about a goal more than it
was scoring under Constantine. With a record of 12-15-3-4 the
team was back in contention for a postseason spot. "I want speed
and creativity," says Brooks. "I want to give this game to the
players so we can be an exciting club."
With the world's best player, right wing Jaromir Jagr, and a
crew of finesse forwards, including Alexei Kovalev and Martin
Straka, the Penguins suit Brooks's style. While Constantine
emphasized discipline and defensive responsibility and
restricted players from roaming, Brooks encourages them to bolt
to the puck and gamble in ways that, according to defenseman
Darius Kasparaitis, "get our emotions going."
Until the poor start this year Constantine had been successful
in two seasons as Pittsburgh's coach, and last year he guided
the financially bankrupt Penguins to a 38-30-14 record and a
first-round playoff upset of the Devils. Pittsburgh was
subsequently rescued from insolvency in September by Mario
Lemieux. Now, though his regime has barely begun, Brooks is
already dreaming of something that had been unthinkable since
the days when Lemieux was sharpening his skates instead of his
pencils. "Can we win the Stanley Cup?" says Brooks. "Sure we
can. I believe that."
That shouldn't come as a surprise. As we know, Brooks believes
Trevor Kidd Injury
DON'T DUMP SUPERSKILLS
After Panthers goalie Trevor Kidd dislocated his right shoulder
making a save during Florida's SuperSkills competition on Dec.
13, several teammates grumbled that taking part in the
NHL-mandated exhibition was a needless risk. The Panthers were
understandably shocked to learn that Kidd, who was 13-4-2 with a
league-best .930 save percentage, will be sidelined for at least
SuperSkills, however, is an excellent event that's also endorsed
by the NHL Players' Association, and the NHL is right to make it
compulsory for all teams. The competition showcases shooting and
skating talents for fans who might not be able to afford a
ticket to a game. The Panthers' event, which was attended by
about 5,000 people, was free; when a club charges an entry fee,
the proceeds go to charity. The exhibition is no more risky than
practices and less hazardous than preseason games. Though Kidd's
injury was unfortunate, SuperSkills is a good idea for
increasing the league's visibility.
Islanders' Young Goalie
TAKING THE LUONGO WAY
The Islanders' 20-year-old phenom goaltender, Roberto Luongo,
made his NHL debut on the night of Nov. 28, but the most telling
event of that day occurred several hours before he made 43 saves
in a 2-1 victory over the Bruins. Coach Butch Goring had
informed Luongo of his impending start in the lobby of the
team's hotel that afternoon. Goring had waited to deliver the
news because, he says, "I didn't want Roberto to be nervous for
too long." Nervous? Luongo smiled at Goring's good tidings, went
to his room to phone his family and then drifted into peaceful
sleep. How's that for a wide-eyed rookie?
At week's end Luongo was 2-3-1 for hapless New York (7-18-5-0),
but it was more his unflappable manner than his strong play that
led the Islanders to trade veteran goalie Felix Potvin and a
draft pick to the Canucks on Sunday for right wing Bill Muckalt,
center Dave Scatchard and goalie Kevin Weekes. With the deal,
Luongo, who says "this is the best league in the world, and I
believe I belong here," became not only the Islanders' goalie of
the future but also the present.
Until last month New York had hoped to keep Luongo, whom scouts
regard as the best goalie prospect in the game, in the American
Hockey League this year so that he could gain experience and
develop his puck-handling skills. Then a season-ending shoulder
injury to Islanders backup netminder Wade Flaherty necessitated
Luongo's call-up. "That changed things pretty quickly," says
general manager Mike Milbury. "We had to bring in Roberto, and
once he was here, he had to play."
The Islanders had been reluctant to summon Luongo because the
team is bad and the front office feared the rookie's confidence
could be harmed. Yet as he split time with Potvin in the weeks
before Sunday's trade, the precocious Luongo kept his poise even
after tough defeats. "That's what made us rethink things," says
Milbury. "When it comes to composure, he's not your average
WHOM WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE?
Since the Canadiens traded the 32-year-old to San Jose last
March, he has been a force in the middle. With 33 points (10
goals and 23 assists) through Sunday, the 6'1", 200-pounder was
a major reason the Sharks stood near the top of the Western
Since the Canadiens traded the 31-year-old to Philadelphia last
March, he has been buzzing on his wing. With 40 points (13 goals
and 27 assists), the 5'10", 185-pounder was a major reason the
Flyers were tied for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Verdict: A good center is hard to find, but speedy Recchi is
more dynamic, which is why he gets the nod.