It came as no surprise that in 1966, Pittsburgh was awarded the expansion franchise by the National Hockey League. The group of investors seeking to get the team included some of America’s more influential players of industry. Some of the people involved were Art Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Mellon and Heinz families. And that was the beginning of hockey for fans of western Pennsylvania. Here we will take a look at some of the history of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Typically, in any sport, expansion teams have a tendency to do less then well during their first few years. This was not how it went for the Penguins. They ended their debut season (1967-68) with only four more losses than wins. This is hardly great, but is not too bad for a new team. They also pulled off a feat of embarrassing one of the NHL’s “Original Six” with a 4-2 defeat over the Chicago Blackhawks.
1969 brought hope to Penguin fans. The team was able to acquire a rookie named Michel Briere. He scored more goals than any other rookie that year. The club took advantage of his talent and made it to the Western semi-finals. Ultimately, Pitt lost to the St. Louis Blues 4 games to 2 but the fans could see that they had reason to believe in the future of their team.
Shortly after, the hockey world was struck with some horrifying news. The terrific rookie, Briere, was in a horrible auto accident in Canada. He suffered massive head injuries and spent a year in a coma. He passed away shortly thereafter.
Stepping away from that sad moment, we skip ahead to 1984. In would be an understatement to say that that year’s draft was a landmark occasion. For this is when the Penguins picked up a player who would ultimately become known as possibly the best player ever. The Pens had the first overall pick that year, which many rivals believed to be a scam. They accused Pittsburgh of purposely playing badly toward the end of the season in order to be awarded first pick.
True or not, the fact is that the team drafted Mario Lemieux. The list of all he accomplished is seemingly endless. He led his team to Stanly Cup victories in both 1991 and 1992. He has won dozens of NHL awards and trophies. In 1988 he accomplished something amazing that had never been done before, or since. In a single game against the New Jersey Devils, he scored all five ways possible: regular strength, shorthanded, penalty shot, empty net and power play.
Just as rival fans (and teams) breathed a sigh of relief following Lemieux’ retirement, another Penguin superstar burst on to the scene. His name was Sidney Crosby. He was the youngest team captain, at age twenty-one, to lead his team to the Cup. At this time though his awards were still at least a dozen shy of Lemieux’.
Today the Penguins are still a powerful force. They are always at or close to the top of the standings. Oh, and of course Sidney Crosby still plays there and still makes a difference to the team.
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