Winter Classic Alumni Game Brings Back Memories of Youth

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, December 31, 2010 | 0 comments »

The game between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins alumni at the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh ended in a 5-5 tie, courtesy of the Caps' Peter Bondra blasting a shot from the high slot past Pens' goalie Frank Pietrangelo with less than a minute to play. 

The final result was secondary to the feelings of watching these distinguished NHL veterans lace them up again one more time.

It's hard to argue the Penguins didn't have the star power in this matchup, as Mario Lemiueux called upon all his old buddies to populate his squad.  The Penguins roster read like a Hall of Fame ballot:  Ron Francis, Bryan Trottier, Paul Coffey, Kevin Stevens, Rick Tocchet and Larry Murphy, despite the last playing more games for the Capitals in his long career.

But true to form of the Capitals great teams of the 80's and 90's, hard work in the last few minutes of this "exhibition" game earned the Washington alumni a tie.

Yes, these older gents were a few steps slower and their hands harder with age, but when the seconds were ticking away the level of play definitely stepped up, as if in unison they all realized this might be the last time they stepped onto a rink in this type of atmosphere.  Every player relished the opportunity with the joy of children taking to a pond for shinny.

Bondra saved his best for the final moments, but there were plenty of Caps heroes that took the ice wearing the current red uniforms.

Alan May came to play, as did Sylvain Cote on defense.  Paul Mulvey, who scored a grand total of 30 goals in his NHL career, found the net twice.  Craig Laughlin yukked it up with players on both benches.  Current assistant coach Dean Evason insinuated himself into the action, picking up two helpers.

Michael Pivonka.  Yvan Labre.  John Druce.  Nick Kypreos.  Maybe not NHL legends, but heroes to Washington, DC hockey fans nonetheless.

And Don Beaupre stood tall between the pipes, as he did for six seasons with the late 80's-early 90's Capitals.

Beaupre was one of this writer's favorite players during that era of the Capitals.  His statistics were hardly ever flashy.  Never did he win a coveted award, or really ever come close.  But his steady, veteran play led those teams to five straight playoff appearances during a critical time in this organization's history.

It was a simple joy to watch him don No. 33 and defend his cage again.

As for the spectacle of it all, it was a grand thing. 

Mario Lemieux's importance to the Penguins organization, to this city's prestigious sports history, is well documented.  The fascination with him as player and hero has not diminished with time and his retirement from play.  Every time he was on the ice shouts would go up from various parts of the stadium with requests for another goal from "The Magnificent One".

His faithful would have to be sated by his two assists, secure though in the knowledge that their hero, hockey's savior in Pittsburgh, still "had it."

Friday morning's alumni scrimmage was more than the appetizer for the bountiful buffet that New Year's Day's Winter Classic will provide.  It was a blissful walk down memory lane with many of the players that helped us fall in love with the game in the first place.