Readers, I won't lie: I'm a bit of a fantasy nut. Badass knights, damsels in distress, wizard on the top of a mountain with lightning pumping out of his hands? Yeah, that stuff is awesome. That is what the closing ceremony was like for me; it was like T.A. Barron, J.R.R. Tolkien, or George R. R. Martin (what's with Fantasy authors and initials?), were writing about hockey. The legends of old were coming to the House that Lemieux built, clad in their House's colors, with the Penguin crest emblazoned on their chests. It. Was. Epic.
Personally, I expected to be disappointed from a standpoint of my true love in hockey: goons and pests. I was pleasantly surprised many times over by the number of old warriors that were brought out by the Penguin brass on the final regular season show to grace the Igloo. In one fell swoop, I was blown off my feet as Mark Kachowski, Jay Caufield, and Francois fucking Leroux trotted out onto that big carpet. I would be remiss to not give them all some love:
Both Kachowski and Caufield are involved in this video, but I have to give Caulfield a little more so I'll focus on Kachowski. Kachowski is the very definition of what it means to be a WHL player. Everyone talks about how players who come from the Western Hockey League are tough sons of bitches, and they are absolutely right. At 5'11" Kachowski isn't exactly one of the guys you'd expect to see being a goon in the NHL when today you see goons like Eric Godard or Jody Shelley who are towering behemoths, but Kachowski still did his job. 64 games played in the NHL over 3 seasons. 209 PIMs. Ri-fucking-diculous. Kachowski was Matt Barnaby or Tie Domi before Matt Barnaby or Tie Domi, a shorter guy that would still go toe to toe with absolutely anyone. Those are my favorite kind of players. With only 11 career points it's quite obvious Kachowski didn't have the talent to make it at the NHL. He found a niche for a while though with his heart and passion for the game. He knew how to stir the pot, he knew how to send messages, he never backed down. The Caps may have been giving the Penguins a beating there, but this was just one year before the beginning of the playoff dominance that the Penguins have over the Capitals began. I like to think Kachowski had a hand in that.
What is there to say about Jay Caulfield? At 6'4" he is what you think of when you think about a goon. When you consider that in that video, (and I apologize for the audio), Caufield is throwing with Bob Probert, considered the greatest fighter in NHL history, you have to merely stand in awe. It comes as no surprise to me that a lot of the slashing, whacking, and grabbing that was one of the reasons Mario Lemieux walked away from the game, started heavily after Jay Caufield was no longer in the Penguin lineup. You have to protect your superstars, and with a fight card that includes Joey Kocur, Tony Twist, Dale Hunter, and the previously mentioned Bob Probert, it's obvious Caufield did his job for Lemieux well just like Eric Godard and Mike Rupp do for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Caufield has gone on to remain a stoic no nonsense badass for the Penguins on the FSN Postgame shows, offering black and white opinion on how the boys are playing.
Francois Leroux is an enigma. Here he plays stout defense and gives Pat Lafontaine the Scott Stevens treatment with a devastating shoulder check that could've been avoided if Lafontaine wasn't staring at the ice. Leroux immediately answers for his action by beating the snot out of Rob Ray, of ESPN commercial fame. Following The Code, good stuff right there, other than Lafontaine getting hurt, of course.
By the same token Leroux pulled crap like this. Wearing something on your fist when you're going to fight? Everyone in the NHL knows you're not supposed to to even ask to fight someone when their hand is messed up. Beyond that, you're allowed to turn down the fight for another time without losing any respect. Leroux fights with a bust hand and breaks Twist open with it. On top of that, Leroux slew foots Twist in attempt to bring him to the ice. I'd be pissed as Twist, too.
Of course, there was some guy named Gary Roberts in the building as well.
Allow me to bask in the glory for a moment: Gary! Gary! Gary! What an absolute legend. What he did for the young Penguin team when he came to Pittsburgh from Florida cannot be sold short. Without him I'm not sure that the Penguins would have gone as far as they did as quick as they did. He was a true veteran presence, not the babies Ziggy Palffy, Mark Recchi, and John Leclair were. He KNEW why he was there. He brought grit, toughness, and above all else, this:
However, the King still walked in last:
One day, when I'm an old joke, and the Penguins are getting their third arena, I hope to see the likes of Mike Rupp, Eric Godard, and Georges Laraque walking on the red carpet in the CEC along with the obvious Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Sergei Gonchar. Of course, I hope they don't show Rupp's fight from the last Regular Season game at the Mellon.
Yeah...um....well...at least Gillies has a sweet mustache? Thankfully though, the collective goon badassery that was already brewed in that building that night was all the Penguins needed.