Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Holmes' Quote Makes's List of Super Bowl's Best

(Ernie Holmes, Pittsburgh Steelers DT On Miami)
"I'll be glad to leave here. I feel like eating palm trees. I don't like this place. It's for people with arthritis. They come here to play golf and to die."

Lynn Swann's Catch #8 on's List of Greatest Super Bowl Moments

This leaping, juggling, acrobatic, 53-yard catch in the second quarter captured the essence of Lynn Swann that day. Playing with the after-effects of a concussion, Swann set a Super Bowl record of 161 yards on four receptions. His 64-yard TD in the fourth quarter sealed Pittsburgh's 21-17 win, but the image of him tumbling over Cowboy CB Mark Washington is the enduring moment.

Swann Cracks's Top 10 Super Bowl MVP List

[Lynn Swann comes in at #4 on's Top 10 list of Super Bowl MVPs. - jtf]

The acrobatic Swann caught just four passes, but they were for a total of 161 yards. His 64-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter sealed the 21-17 win over the Cowboys. Selects Lambert as Top Super Bowl Linebacker

[ recently selected Jack Lambert as the top linebacker in Super Bowl history...can't argue with that choice. - jtf]

The athletic Lambert redefined the middle-linebacker position in the 1970s and helped the Steelers come out victorious in four trips to the Super Bowl. He had a safety in Super Bowl X and a key interception that helped Pittsburgh hold off the Rams in Super Bowl XIV.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ron Cook: Therrien doing a lot right, even if it gets little notice

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

At first, it seemed so silly, so unprofessional.

The Penguins' sole mandate is to win, yet tough-guy coach Michel Therrien was making lineup decisions Saturday night based on -- can you believe it? -- sentimentality.

Jocelyn Thibault's father came from Montreal to join the dads' weekend for the Penguins' games in Dallas and Phoenix, a brilliant team-bonding idea by general manager Ray Shero. There was no way Therrien was going to send him back home without seeing his kid play. Thibault got the start in goal against the Phoenix Coyotes even though the Penguins' go-to goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, was rested and had played well the night before in a win against the Dallas Stars.

Ronald Petrovicky's dad traveled even a greater distance -- all the way from Slovakia -- with no guarantee that his son would get into a game. But there was his boy, dressed and ready to go in Phoenix after being a healthy scratch for six consecutive games, even though Therrien is loath to change his lineup after a win.

The moves didn't seem nearly so silly after Thibault had a big night and Petrovicky a goal and an assist in the Penguins' 7-2 win. They didn't seem so unprofessional once their significance was clear. It's pretty safe to say an appreciative Thibault and Petrovicky will have Therrien's back the rest of the way. Not just them, but all of the players who weren't oblivious to what happened.

"I'm a demanding coach, yes," Therrien was saying in his tiny Mellon Arena office yesterday after practice. "But I want to be able to look those players in the eye every day and feel good about myself.

"It was the right thing to do."

That got me to thinking.

That and the Penguins' surprising 23-17-8 record, which, if the season ended yesterday, would have them in the playoffs.

How many other times has Therrien made the right move?

For sure, Therrien was right to immediately give Sidney Crosby the "A" as the Penguins' assistant captain when he took over for fired Eddie Olczyk in December 2005. Sid the Kid was just 18 and a rookie, but Therrien had seen enough of him at training camp as coach of the Penguins' Wilkes-Barre/Scranton minor-league club to know he was the team's best player and hardest worker. "Such a great leader," Therrien called him. The promotion wasn't made with just the moment in mind, either. "I have a plan, a vision," Therrien said. The move was made for two or three years down the road when Crosby will be wearing the "C" as the face of the franchise, not that he isn't that face already.

Therrien was right to demand discipline and accountability from his players. The Penguins' free-wheeling days were over. No longer could they ignore their defensive responsibilities. They had to play in a structured system. It was the only way their young team could improve and ultimately win.

Therrien was right to blow his cork less than a month on the job after a third consecutive loss when he felt the players weren't responding. "That was a pathetic performance. Half of the team doesn't care," he growled that night. Who can forget the way Therrien publicly savaged his defensemen -- "I'm really starting to believe their goal is to be the worst defensive squad in the league. ... They're soft" -- who just happened to be the unfortunate vehicle he used to deliver his message?

"I did it the hard way, but I had to do something," he says now. "That team was going in the wrong direction."

Say this for the man: He got his guys' attention. They didn't make the playoffs, but they improved the rest of the season.

Therrien was right to put the Penguins through their toughest training camp since the Badger Bob Johnson days. That hard-earned conditioning base, not to mention the confidence that went with it, contributed to their 7-3 start this season.

Therrien was right to call in Crosby for a little talk after Crosby was stopped again in a shootout loss to Boston Jan. 18 and he noticed the kid was starting to doubt himself. "I told him I didn't care if he goes 0 for 100, he was going to be out there for me. I'm not going to lose because my best player is on the bench." You know what? Even a superstar needs to hear something like that once in a while.

It was the right thing to do ...

Are you getting the idea that maybe we should appreciate Therrien a little more than we do?

If Mike Tomlin has the Steelers overachieving like this next season, we'll be calling him a genius and saying "Bill Who?"

If Jim Tracy ever has the Pirates six games above .500, we'll be nominating him for the Hall of Fame.

Why shouldn't Therrien get the same love?

Actually, you could argue he deserves more.

For one thing, Therrien works in a league that routinely fires its coaches quicker than any other. That imprudence is one of the NHL's more significant flaws.

For another thing -- and this has been pointed out at least a zillion times -- Therrien is not Shero's guy. He was hired by Shero's predecessor, Craig Patrick.

That combination explains why there was speculation during a five-game losing streak earlier in the season that Therrien's job was in jeopardy. That seems so ridiculous now for a couple of reasons. The Penguins aren't just a young team, they have flaws, no matter how sparkling their record is at the moment. They need a little help on defense and at least one goal-scoring winger. Shero didn't give Therrien any big-name free agents in the offseason, choosing instead to evaluate his players and build slowly. Beyond all that, Shero doesn't give the impression he's a guy who will panic, either in dealing with his coach or making a future-sapping trade just to give the Penguins a chance to limp into the playoffs this season.

But Therrien had to face the whispers, nonetheless.

"Of course, I care," he said, quietly.

Yes, the tough guy wants to be liked and appreciated.

Don't get the idea Therrien is going soft, though. Don't be fooled by his weekend gestures with Thibault and Petrovicky. "We're still going to be demanding as coaches," he said. "This is a young team that's learning how to win. We have to be demanding. We have to make sure the guys continue to buy into the way we have to play."

The players know.

"I don't think he's changed at all," said forward Maxime Talbot, one of nine players on the Penguins' roster who played for Therrien at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

"We feel his presence. Today, he was in a good mood and laughing a lot at practice. But we know we still have to work. We have to be sharp every day because he's going to be sharp."

Said Therrien, "I believe in what I do."

Maybe it's time the rest of us start believing, too.

Monday, January 29, 2007

LaRoche proves profitable for dealers

Adam LaRoche at Piratefest

By Rob Biertempfel
Monday, January 29, 2007

Jim Tripodi got ready for PirateFest by doing the same thing the Pirates did.
He brought in a heavy hitter from Atlanta.

Tripodi, owner of Diamond Jim's Sports Cards and Memorabilia in Beaver, has sold his wares at 16 of the 17 PirateFests. This year, his biggest seller was anything connected with first baseman Adam LaRoche, whom the Pirates recently got in a trade with the Atlanta Braves.

"We've sold probably ... well, let's call it LaRocheFest," Tripodi said Sunday. "He's injected so much enthusiasm into the crowd."

Tripodi expected the heavy demand, so he asked a fellow collector -- Scott Hales, of Duluth, Ga. -- to fly to Pittsburgh and help. Hales brought along hundreds of LaRoche baseball cards to boost the inventory.

Hales, a Braves season-ticket holder, also brought a batting glove LaRoche tossed into the crowd at Turner Field last season. Hales stood in line for an hour to get it autographed.

"That was the highlight of the weekend for me," Hales said.

The "collector's corridor" -- a lineup of a half-dozen local memorabilia dealers -- is one of the more popular facets of PirateFest. Fans could buy a Willie Stargell baseball card, an autographed photo of Jason Bay or a game-worn jersey from the 1970s.

Tim Templin, 7, of Allison Park, convinced his parents to shell out $5 for a packet of 100 Pirates baseball cards.

"And he got a couple of bobblehead (dolls) and a mini-bat," said his mother, Susan Templin. "He's got lots of baseball cards at home -- too many, as far as I'm concerned."

The dealers didn't mind if not every fan made a purchase.

"We get the word out about the store and make a little money," dealer Ed Nuttall said. "It gives me an idea of what people are looking for on the Pirates end."

Nuttall, who runs Pittsburgh Sports Store at the Mall at Robinson and Pittsburgh Mills, had slashed prices on all his leftovers from last summer's All-Star Game at PNC Park.

"I'm trying to get rid of it," Nuttall said with a laugh.

A pile of socks bearing the All-Star logo wasn't drawing much interest. However, Nuttall was sold out of 8-by-10 photos of LaRoche.

During a question-and-answer session with fans, LaRoche said he'd like to pick up a piece of memorabilia while he's in Pittsburgh: a T-shirt from LaRoche College in the North Hills.

"It was awful nice for you all to name a school after me," LaRoche joked.

The Pirates also capitalized on LaRoche's presence. Jerseys and T-shirts bearing his name and uniform number were selling briskly.

The team also scored big with its "Pirates Lost Treasures" booth, which offered game-used jerseys, autographed balls and a few other items. The booth drew a stampede of credit card-bearing buyers when FanFest opened Friday night.

Within minutes, jerseys of the most popular current Pirates were sold out. By yesterday afternoon, most of what remained bore the names of minor-leaguers.

"Fans want a piece of the star (players)," said Tim Schuldt, the Pirates' senior vice president for marketing, sales and broadcasting. "For average fans, access to stars in every sport has gotten harder as it's become big business. If they can't meet the guy personally, maybe the next best thing is having his jersey or something."

Schuldt said the Pirates soon will expand the "Lost Treasures" concept on their Internet site,, with a weekly sale and charity auction of game-used gear.

Notes: This year's PirateFest attracted a record total of 15,980 fans at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which surpassed last year's record of 15,361 fans.

Rob Biertempfel can be reached at or (412) 320-7811.

Gretzky, Crosby share talent, toughness

Sidney Crosby

By Karen Price
Monday, January 29, 2007

Phoenix Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky can remember coming to Pittsburgh in the early 1980s when the Penguins were averaging roughly 8,000 fans per game and the then-Civic Arena would sell out with fans wanting to see him play.
He experienced the same thing in St. Louis and probably countless other cities where, even if attendance was good, Gretzky guaranteed a packed house.

"It made you a better player because every night, you had to be prepared because the pressure was on you," Gretzky said on Saturday, roughly an hour before the Coyotes hosted the Penguins.

Sidney Crosby was making his first trip to the desert since entering the NHL last season, and the game was in front of the first sellout crowd at Arena in Glendale, Ariz., this season. A team that was averaging 14,200 per night, or 81.1 percent of capacity, drew a standing-room-only crowd of 18,495, and Crosby scored one jaw-dropping goal and added three assists in the 7-2 win for the Penguins.

For the past few weeks - and especially during last week's All-Star activities - the comparisons between Crosby and Gretzky seem to have hit a new high. Articles have been written on the two, and many of the players participating in the All-Star Game made the link.

Crosby was held scoreless in his All-Star debut, but it was quickly pointed out that Gretzky was also scoreless in his All-Star debut, also at age 19.

The comparisons may not always be fair or accurate, especially in terms of playing style and era. Gretzky was more of a pure goal scorer, and his scoring records won't likely be broken. Crosby will likely finish with more assists than goals.

But what can be compared is the both players' attitudes toward off-ice presence, how they handle the attention and responsibilities, and the ability both have to draw fans to the game.

"It's tough," Gretzky said. "It's a lot harder than people realize. Every city you go to, people want to see you and, more importantly, people want to see you play well. He's only going to be (in Phoenix) one time, and everybody's human. Everybody has off-nights.

"And for guys like myself, him, Mario (Lemieux), you couldn't afford to do that. You had to play your hardest every game because you didn't want people leaving the rink disappointed. I know he has that figured out. He plays hard every night."

Based on Gretzky's comments, Crosby's ability to play under pressure will help the largely inexperienced Penguins coming down the stretch, as they try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

"Come April and May, it made my game easier for me because I had dealt with it every single night," Gretzky said. "Mario had to go through that, and now Sid's doing it, so when Pittsburgh does, obviously, get into the playoffs - and they are heading in the right direction - and he's playing in Game 7, it's going to be like playing in a game in October because the atmosphere's going to be sort of the same. It only made me a better player, and I'm sure it will make him a better player."

Gretzky and Crosby first met when Crosby was 14 years old at a camp for 17- and 18-year-old prospective first-round draft picks. Gretzky was so impressed with Crosby, whom he said was the best player on the ice, that he decided to skate with the group the next day.

"I wanted to be able to skate with (Crosby) one time," Gretzky said.

Crosby said it was a dream come true.

"Everyone was a whole zone away from him, scared to go near him, scared to touch the pucks he touched," Crosby said. "But it was something I'll remember, for sure."

So what does Crosby think of being compared to Gretzky?

"It's a compliment, that's always how I try to take it," Crosby said of the comparisons. "But I don't put pressure on myself to be another Wayne Gretzky. I just want to try to do my best and continue to improve."

Karen Price can be reached at

Ron Cook: Wilson's first great play is calling out Castillo

Jack Wilson

Monday, January 29, 2007

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

There were 16 PirateFests before the one that ended yesterday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, all highly successful, more successful than the losing seasons that almost always followed. Who doesn't feel good thinking about a little baseball in the cold, harsh month of January? Even if it's Pirates baseball? But PirateFest No. 17 clearly was the best of the bunch. It's not so much because it brought the first Pittsburgh appearance of new slugging first baseman Adam LaRoche, although the energy that generated was immeasurable. It's because one of the Pirates' veteran players took the first step toward claiming ownership of the team's clubhouse, which has been something of a cesspool for years and contributed to nearly a decade-and-a-half of losing.

Shortstop Jack Wilson.

In case you missed it over the weekend, Wilson called out teammate Jose Castillo in a number of media outlets. His message was clear and on point:

Jose, we love you, buddy, but we need you to come to spring training with your head right. If you're not in shape, number one, and not focused, number two, we don't want you. If you're not ready to be your best every game, every at-bat, every play in the field, do us all a favor and stay home in Venezuela.

Is it too late to get Wilson on the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year ballot?

Wilson's show of leadership might not be as impressive as Freddy Sanchez's batting title last season. But, one day, it could prove to be more critical to any success the Pirates have.

Winning games in the National League Central Division isn't as difficult as eliminating the culture of losing that long has surrounded the Pirates. Years and years of getting your fanny kicked can beat down even the best of men. Jason Kendall and Brian Giles are two who come to mind. Good players, they were eager to make their mark as big-leaguers when they joined the Pirates, eager to be the ones to lead the team's resurrection. Slowly but surely, though, all of the losses took their toll on them. In the end, they couldn't wait to leave Pittsburgh.

It has been that way pretty much every year for the past 14 years. Opening day isn't the big day of the season. The trade deadline is. It's get-out-of-jail day.

Do you think Sean Casey wanted to scream with joy when he was traded to Detroit last July?

How about Craig Wilson when he was sent to the New York Yankees?

But maybe that's changing.

The Pirates have more young players -- especially young pitchers -- who aren't so accustomed to losing. They also have a few older players -- Jack Wilson, Jason Bay, Salomon Torres -- who are sick of the losing and want to keep fighting instead of looking for a way out. Jack Wilson is so sick of it that he took the extreme measure of publicly challenging a teammate and questioning his heart.

Way to go, Jack!

It's one thing for management to come down hard on Castillo. General manager Dave Littlefield and manager Jim Tracy have made it clear they weren't pleased with his conditioning last season, his work habits and his mental blunders at the plate, in the field and on the bases. Tracy has gone so far as to say Castillo will be in a fight with Jose Bautista for his starting job at spring training. If Castillo wins, he'll play second base and Sanchez will be at third base. If Bautista wins, he'll play third and Sanchez will be the second baseman.

It's nice to think Castillo will be right when he reports to Bradenton, Fla., next month. The Pirates will be a better team if he wins the job and the versatile Bautista comes off the bench. Bautista can play third base, second base and any of the outfield spots. But, that said, there's no way Littlefield and Tracy put up with another lame effort by Castillo.

That's where Jack Wilson comes in. Maybe he'll be the one who gets through to Castillo. It's always better when the clubhouse policing comes from within and not from the manager's or general manager's office. Castillo might be able to shrug off complaints from his bosses as long as they continue to sign his checks. But how does he walk into that clubhouse every day and look his teammates in the eye when he and they know he is letting them down?

What Wilson did this weekend won't guarantee an end to the Pirates' 14-year losing streak.

But it sure was a nice start.


(Ron Cook can be reached at or 412-263-1525. )

Sunday, January 28, 2007

John Harris: Tomlin's capabilities evident from college years

Sunday, January 28, 2007

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- The new Steelers coach graduated from one of the oldest and best colleges in America, and he also found time to play some pretty fair wide receiver.
Mike Tomlin (Class of 1995) owns William & Mary's all-time records for yards per catch in a season (25.5) and career (20.1) and also holds the career mark for touchdown receptions (20).
"I remember games where we started off with Mike on post routes or deep routes and it was 6-0 right off the bat," said Zbig Kepa, who was William & Mary's offensive coordinator when Tomlin played there and remains in that capacity. "He got behind people."

In more ways than one. Tomlin also holds William & Mary's unofficial record for making friends and influencing teammates.

"He was well-respected even as one of the younger guys on the team," said college teammate and fellow receiver Terry Hammons, who attended Upper St. Clair High School. "He didn't have a lot to say to everybody; they just listened when he talked. He had that presence to go out and make things happen on the field."

Across the street from William & Mary's Zable Stadium, Peter Isipas, owner of Paul's Deli, a popular campus eating establishment, said Tomlin was one of his best customers -- and one of his best friends.

"From the first day he walked through that door, he was a guy you could talk to," said Isipas, who has pictures of famous athletes and coaches covering the walls of his restaurant, Tomlin's included. "He's the kind of person who can be a friend of yours, even if he's 20 years younger.

"You tell people in Pittsburgh they're going to love Mike. He's a people guy."

William & Mary is the second-oldest college in America, founded in 1693 by a Royal Charter issued by King William III and Queen Mary II of England. It's also the college that four U.S. presidents attended; the college where Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's premier honor society, was founded; and the college that's ranked sixth among all public universities, according to U.S. News and World Report. The college also is where one can find an outpouring of love for Tomlin, who replaced Bill Cowher last Monday.

All around William & Mary's campus in scenic Williamsburg, those who know Tomlin best are reveling in his rapid ascension, proud to claim him as one of their own, and standing in line to proclaim that it couldn't happen to a more deserving person.

"I've stayed in relatively good contact with Mike over the years, watched him develop. Every time I've talked to him he has maintained his enthusiasm for coaching," said coach Jimmye Laycock, who recently completed his 27th season at William & Mary. "How he'll be as the head coach at Pittsburgh, I think he'll do a great job. He'll be the type of coach that players will enjoy playing for and people who support the Steelers will enjoy getting to know and liking."

Tomlin, 34, isn't a revelation as much as he becomes just another William & Mary success story. He is the second William & Mary grad to secure an NFL coaching job. Dan Henning coached the Atlanta Falcons (1983-86) and San Diego Chargers (1989-91).

Marv Levy coached at William & Mary. So did Lou Holtz. Other William & Mary players currently coaching in the NFL include Sean McDermott, an assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles, and Allen Williams, an assistant with the Indianapolis Colts who also was an assistant with Tomlin at Tampa Bay.

William & Mary defensive back Mark Kelso played for Levy in Buffalo. Another William & Mary defensive standout, Darren Sharper, is a safety with the Minnesota Vikings.

Tomlin coached Sharper, his former teammate at William & Mary, in his only season as Minnesota's defensive coordinator.

"When Mike got the job with Minnesota, he had to coach Darren Sharper," Kepa said. "I had in my archives individual one-on-one route tapes. Mike was on there running routes against Sharper. They used to call him out all the time: 'Sharper, get to the front of the line. I'm up next.' So on the tape there's actually a couple of shots of Mike going one-on-one against Sharper. So I sent it to him. Said this is a little bit of credibility when you coach those guys."

From the time he left Denbigh High School in nearby Newport News, Va., to attend William & Mary, there seemed to be little that Tomlin could not do.

A skinny wide receiver with a hyperactive work ethic and a nearly 40-inch vertical leap, Tomlin quickly proved himself on the field and became an effective team leader in the process.

"He was a strider, tall, kind of gangly," Kepa said. "He worked at it. He had to develop. It wasn't like he came in as the guy. His learning curve, he cut it down pretty quickly. It didn't take him long to get into the flow of the offense."

Said William & Mary director of speed, strength and conditioning John Sauer: "Mike came a long way. He worked his tail off in the weight room. He made himself into a good player. When he came here he was about 170 pounds. He was 190-195 pounds his last year. The harder he worked, the more confident he got on the field."

Tomlin played wide receiver, but he did so with the mind-set of a linebacker. He was a talker who backed up his words -- and didn't back down from a challenge.

Former William & Mary linebacker Jason Miller said he enjoyed practicing against Tomlin because he was one of the most intense players on the team.

"The thing I always respected about Mike is he used to put up a hell of a battle," said Miller, who grew up in Canonsburg. "I wasn't going to back down, and he wasn't going to back down. There were pushing matches after the whistle."

Tomlin's toughness, playmaking ability and natural leadership earned his teammates' respect. There was a special quality about Tomlin that separated him from the other players.

Even though he acted like one of the guys, he wasn't treated that way.

"He was our emotional leader," said Melvin Griffin, Tomlin's teammate at William & Mary who's now an assistant football coach at Tabb High School in Yorktown, Va. "Everybody was surprised he got the Pittsburgh job. I wasn't surprised. He's more of an NFL coach. Being a wide receiver, looking at coverages so much, he was knowledgeable about the game. He was always in the film room in college."

Credit Laycock, who ran a pro-style passing offense that challenged Tomlin physically as well as intellectually.

Laycock demanded a lot from his players. He expected a lot more from Tomlin, one of his brightest pupils.

"We talk to our players. Our players are intelligent," Laycock said. "We don't get them to memorize what we do, we get them to learn it inside and out so they can communicate and talk and give suggestions. We wanted to take advantage of the intelligence of the type of player we have here."

Or as Kepa so succinctly described: "You have to go to class here. You don't go to class, you have problems."

Tomlin was a student of the game -- on and off the field.

"Sometimes receivers don't like to watch a lot of tape. But Mike would study guys," Kepa said. "It's hard for receivers to be leaders, but he was a leader here. He knew how to interact with teammates and coaches. He'll come across at all levels. He could be with guys off the street, or with CEOs at a board meeting. He could play the role he had to play."

Tomlin is big on loyalty. He maintains relationships with his college coaches and friends from his old neighborhood in Newport News -- where a message board outside Denbigh High School offers congratulations for Tomlin getting the Steelers job -- never forgetting where he came from.

Still, when he graduated from William & Mary, Tomlin was unsure about his future. So he went to Kepa for advice.

"He came into my office one day and said, what am I going to do?" Kepa said. "I asked if he ever thought about coaching. We had a conversation. Get after it, work your way into it. It's not going to be handed to you. That's what he did."

Tomlin's first job was coaching the wide receivers at Virginia Military Institute. Several years later, Tomlin needed someone to talk to again. Only this time, he had just completed his first interview with the Steelers. He called Laycock for advice and support, and it was just like old times.

Tomlin got the job.

John Harris can be reached at or 412-481-5432.

Crosby puts on show in Phoenix

Pittsburgh Penguin's Sidney Crosby steals the puck from Coyotes' Keith Ballard in the first period at Arena.

Penguins too wily for Coyotes, 7-2
Sunday, January 28, 2007

By Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- This seems to be the place for young goal-scorers to dazzle.

A year ago, it was Washington's Alex Ovechkin, who scored against Phoenix while stretched out and rolling on the ice.

Last night, it was Penguins All-Star Sidney Crosby, who brought a standing-room crowd of 18,495 at Arena to its feet when he scored from the seat of his hockey pants to put the game out of reach in a 7-2 win against the Phoenix Coyotes.

With the puck heading out of harm's way toward the right corner, Crosby corkscrewed his body to follow and snag it. His left skate got tangled with that of Coyotes winger Fredrik Sjostrom, but as he hit the deck, he managed to sweep the puck past goaltender Mikael Tellqvist and into the near side of the net at 4:48 of the third period to make it 5-2.

The goal -- and the win -- capped a two-game, two-night wild, wild West trip.

"It was unbelievable. It was sick," said Penguins goaltender Jocelyn Thibault, who made 22 saves and stopped all seven Phoenix shots in the third period.

Crosby's other teammates felt the same way.

"Guys on the bench couldn't believe it -- another highlight goal." Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.

Crosby, typically, was matter of fact about the move.

"I just tried to stay with it," he said. "You can't go out there and try to do things like that. You just try to go out there and react. I was just falling back and I was lucky enough to get my stick there with enough time to get the shot away."

It was Crosby's fourth point of the game. The NHL's leading scorer with 78 points in 45 games extended his points streak to six games (four goals, nine assists).

Linemate Mark Recchi had a goal and three assists to stretch his points streak to six games (seven goals, seven assists). Defenseman Sergei Gonchar had three assists.

It wasn't just the usual suspects who produced for the Penguins. Nine players picked up at least one point, with forwards Jarkko Ruutu and Ronald Petrovicky among those scoring.

The Penguins trailed, 2-1, midway through the second period, then poured it on to get all four points out of their two-night journey after beating Dallas in a shootout Friday. They extended their unbeaten streak to 5-0-1.

With the win, they moved into a seventh-place tie with Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference standings with 54 points, four behind sixth-place Carolina with four games in hand.

The Penguins play their next four games against Eastern Conference teams and open a three-game homestand Tuesday against Tampa Bay.

The teams traded goals through the first half of the game.

Then it was all Penguins -- and nearly all of the Penguins.

Defenseman Ryan Whitney got his eighth of the season when he converted a pass from Crosby for a power-play goal from the left circle to make it 3-2. That extended Whitney's points streak to seven games.

Ruutu surprised Tellqvist at 17:37 when, looking to pass, he instead guided the puck underneath the goaltender to give the Penguins a 4-2 lead.

"I looked for a pass, but I had to shoot it fast because there was nothing there," said Ruutu, who picked up his third goal of the season and second in three games, but one came on a penalty shot and he hadn't scored during regular game action since the season opener.

After Crosby's flashy goal made it 5-2, Petrovicky, a little-used winger, bagged his first goal of the season and second point of the game when he scored on a rebound to make it 6-2 at 5:03.

"It's obvious there are guys who are going to get most of the goals, but you're trying to chip in whenever you get a chance," Ruutu said of the different names appearing on the scoresheet.

Recchi, cruising past the top of the slot, hacked at a loose puck and beat Tellqvist to bulk up the score to 7-2 at 12:16.


(Shelly Anderson can be reached at or 412-263-1721. )

Penguins Notebook: Gretzky knows Crosby is for real

Sunday, January 28, 2007

By Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Amid all the 17- and 18-year-olds who were projected as first-round draft picks that year, newly retired Wayne Gretzky picked out a 14-year-old working in their midst at a player agency camp.

"At that time, I said he was the best player on the ice," Gretzky, now coach of the Coyotes, said last night before Phoenix played the Penguins. "You could just see at that young an age that he could see the ice better than anybody else and played as hard as anybody else and played fearless.

"The next day I jumped on the ice with him. I wanted to be able to skate with him."

That player, of course, was Sidney Crosby, who has proved that Gretzky has a keen eye for talent. Crosby, 19, leads the NHL in points and is coming off an All-Star week in which he constantly was compared to Gretzky.

Last night, Gretzky and Crosby were at Arena, making the comparisons seem more vivid.

"That's the way sports is," Gretzky said. "When Bobby Orr came in, there were a lot of comparisons to Gordie Howe. And then Guy Lafleur came along and guys like Mike Bossy. And then I came along. Then, Mario [Lemieux] came along.

"The ironic thing about it is that time quickly goes by and, before you realize it, they're comparing some young guy to you. It won't be too much longer that it will go from comparing Sidney to me to comparing somebody to Sidney."

Not that Crosby is within sight of being over the hill. He hasn't reached his peak.

Gretzky said Crosby handles his role as a hockey ambassador and the pressure to perform well every night well.

"It's tough," he said. "Every city you go to, people want to see you and, more importantly, they want to see you play well."

Crosby often says there will never be another Gretzky, 46, who essentially rewrote the record book. He also downplayed their meeting last night.

"You can compare and all those things, but I think we all grew up watching him and idolizing him," Crosby said. "Any time you get to play against someone like that, whether it's on the ice or as a coach, it's special."

Old friends

A couple of hours before the game, Penguins winger Mark Recchi and Coyotes center Jeremy Roenick spent some time laughing and catching up -- two old friends, with the emphasis on old.

"We are a different era," Roenick, 37, said of his former Flyers teammate, Recchi, 38. "We came up together through the ranks. We started with minimal salaries, when they were five figures, not seven. We took our bumps and bruises along the way."

Recchi and Roenick began the season needing 16 goals for 500 in their career. Recchi reached that with two Friday night. Roenick went into the game last night needing 10.

"He gets played a little differently than I do," said Roenick, who isn't a top-line player these days like Recchi is.

"He beat me to it, but I'll get there eventually."

A mixed message

When Mark Cuban, the Mt. Lebanon native and billionaire owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, visited the Penguins locker room Friday night after their shootout win over the Stars, he talked up Crosby, calling him "a stud."

The white Penguins jersey he carried around and got signed, though, was a No. 71 Malkin.

Slap shots

Crosby on the milestone Friday night of equaling the team's win total (22) of last season: "Yeah, it is [good], but we don't want to look at that too closely. It's a different year, a different situation. As a stat, we can look at it move on, but we've definitely made some progress." ... The Penguins scratched defenseman Noah Welch and forward Chris Thorburn, giving winger Ronald Petrovicky a chance to play for the first time in seven games. ... Phoenix scratched centers Patrick Fischer and Kevyn Adams.

Dan Rooney: Born to be a Steeler

Paul Taglaibue presents the Lombardi Trophy to Dan Rooney after Super Bowl XL.

Dapper Dan Lifetime Achievement Award

Sunday, January 28, 2007

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Dan Rooney sat in his office at old Three Rivers Stadium one day in the 1980s and pointed a finger at the Steelers National Football League charter hanging on a wall.

"I wish that thing were still worth $2,500," Rooney said.

Forbes Magazine pegs the Steelers' value at $880 million today, a tidy return on Art Rooney's original investment to join the NFL in 1933.

The reason his son Dan preferred the old value of the team is for estate planning and because the Rooneys do not plan to sell the Steelers and reap the team's worth.

Keeping the team in his family and in Pittsburgh -- and mostly as a success on the field -- is what Dan Rooney cites as his most gratifying accomplishment as the Dapper Dan Club selects him as winner of its 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Rooney will accept the award April 15 at the annual Dapper Dan Dinner at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The Dapper Dan Man of the Year and Woman of the Year, yet to be announced, also will receive their honors at the dinner that night.

"Speaking of accomplishments, if that's the proper word, I would say keeping the team in Pittsburgh and being as viable as we've been," Rooney said.

The Steelers' five Lombardi Trophies in six trips to the Super Bowl are tied for the most. Dan and Art Rooney are one of only two fathers and sons to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

All that success came after the Rooneys spurned offers from other cities in the 1950s and 1960s to move and/or sell their team, including Atlanta before the Falcons were born as an expansion franchise there in 1966.

"I always felt the team in Pittsburgh was very meaningful for the city itself," Rooney said. "It's almost like a public trust of ours to operate and do it right. Atlanta ... did everything to get us to come. We actually played a few preseason games there. I was trying to help them.

"I was on the expansion committee and they said: 'Why don't you move here?' I said don't waste your time. They said, use it, it will help you, you've been good to us. I said no, we don't do that."

"The one thing my father always said was Pittsburgh deserved a team and, now that we have it, we'll keep it. The one thing we never did, we never threatened to move, never used that as a threat."

Rooney, born the year before his ballclub in 1932, began what would be a string of jobs with the Steelers when he first served as a ballboy in 1946 at the age of 14. The next season, he played football at North Catholic High School.

"Your paper," Rooney said, "did a big piece on me: 'North Catholic's Halfback Problems Over, Dan Rooney Coming.' My friends really razzed me about that. They said, we thought you were a big wise guy. I didn't have anything to do with the story."

Rooney at first played halfback, the position that handled the football in the single wing. By the time he was a senior at North Catholic, he was selected second-team All-City Catholic League.

"First team was some guy who went to some little school, St. Justin's," Rooney said.

That was Johnny Unitas. The Steelers eventually signed Unitas after he played at Louisville, and coach Walt Kiesling cut him.

"He was the best," Rooney said. "Maybe the best quarterback whoever played in this league."

The second-team all-star took a different route. He graduated from Duquesne University with a degree in accounting in 1955 and went to work for his father full time. He signed players to contracts while he was still in college. He sold ads for the game program. He worked in the ticket office. He learned everything about the game and the business.

In 1965, Dan convinced his father to accept the resignation of hard-drinking coach Buddy Parker, and in 1969 he chose coach Chuck Noll.

Art Rooney finally made his son the team's president in 1975, long after he was running the show. Dan passed that title along to his son Art II in 2002 and became the team's chairman.

Rooney long has worked on league matters and on many NFL committees, including the powerful executive council. He has been credited with helping to solve at least two players strikes, in 1982 and in 1987, and one officials strike. He was the driving force for management that helped forge a new collective bargaining agreement in 1993 that remains the basis for today's CBA. Gene Upshaw, the NFL Players Association executive director, considers him a friend.

Rooney might have had the job of NFL commissioner that went to Paul Tagliabue in 1989 but he preferred not to leave the Steelers.

"I've been asked why I spend so much time on league matters, that you should take care of your own," Rooney said.

"I always said we're part of the NFL; by helping them we're helping ourselves."

Rooney will receive the Dapper Dan's third Lifetime Achievement Award. Arnold Palmer won in 2005 and last year it went to Joe Paterno.

"This is a great award," Rooney said. "I've been going to the Dapper Dan banquet since I was 10 or 12, when Al Abrams ran it. I heard a lot of great speeches. I heard Billy Conn say we're going to bring the heavyweight title back to Pittsburgh where it belongs."

Conn lost that 1946 fight to Joe Louis. Rooney's teams later went on to bring titles back to Pittsburgh five times.

(Ed Bouchette can be reached at )

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Penguins find way to win shootout

Sidney Crosby (left) celebrates after a goal by Mark Recchi (right) in the second period against the Dallas Stars last night.

Christensen scores winner against Stars

January 27, 2007

By Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

DALLAS -- The Stars had the Penguins right where they wanted them -- in a shootout.

One of the best teams in the league when a game goes past overtime was playing at home in front of a sellout crowd. And Dallas was going against one of the worst teams in shootouts.

Two things kept this game from ending predictably.

One was Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped all three shootout shots after stopping 35 of 38 shots in regulation and overtime.

The other was winger Erik Christensen, who has turned into the closest thing the Penguins have to a sure bet in shootouts.

Christensen scored the only goal of the shootout, beating Dallas goaltender Marty Turco on a forehand move to give the Penguins a 4-3 win last night at American Airlines Center.

"Piece of cake, right?" Christensen said, eliciting a roar from a couple of nearby teammates.

"For tonight," he added sheepishly.

Dallas had been 5-1 this season, 17-2 overall since shootouts were instituted for last season. The Penguins had been 1-5 this season, 2-11 overall before last night.

The win gave the Penguins 22 this season, equaling the number they had all last season. With 52 points, they are six shy of their 2005-06 total with 35 games remaining, beginning tonight in Phoenix.

Winger Mark Recchi had two goals for the Penguins, giving him 500 in his career, an accomplishment that earned him a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 18,594.

"It's pretty neat," Recchi said of the 500 goals. "I'm more happy that we came out with a big road win."

Sidney Crosby, who leads the NHL with 74 points, had two assists, proving he can produce in Dallas, where he was shut out in points during the All-Star Game Wednesday.

Crosby nearly ended the game sooner when he bore down on Turco with less than 5 seconds left in overtime, but Turco got his pad on the shot.

Fleury stopped former Penguins defenseman Sergei Zubov on the first shootout attempt, and Christensen followed by beating Turco on the stick side.

After Fleury stopped Jussi Jokinen with a pad save, Crosby buried a backhand attempt in Turco's pads, leaving him 2 for 12 in his career.

Fleury then clinched the win by stopping Mike Ribeiro's forehand.

"He had a good shot, but the puck bounced," Fleury said.

Neither team led by more than a goal.

Zubov gave Dallas a 1-0 lead when his slap shot from the left point threaded its way past Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar and Stars winger Antti Miettinen in front of the crease and past Fleury at 11:58 of the first period.

Two minutes later, Crosby nearly tied it.

Straddling the goal line to Turco's right, he gathered a puck near the rear of the net and swept it behind Turco's skate. The puck slid across -- but never over -- the goal line.

Penguins rookie Jordan Staal's wrist shot from the left dot slid under Turco to make it 1-1 at 8:42.

What was first thought to be a goal by Crosby put the Penguins ahead, 2-1, at 12:08 of the second period.

His wrist shot from the left side eluded Turco, but it turned out that was because the puck changed directions when it went off the skate of Recchi, who got the goal.

Dallas tied the score for the second time, 2-2, at 14:43 of the second period.

Miettinen's pass across the Penguins' zone clunked off the skate of Penguins winger Jarkko Ruutu, catching Fleury off-guard and coming to a stop nearly on Jokinen's stick.

That left Jokinen with an easy wrist shot from the right circle into an empty near side of the net.

Dallas came close -- as in inches -- from taking the lead on a power play in the first minute of the third period.

Fleury went down to stop Stephane Robidas' slap shot from the right point, but the puck trickled under the goaltender and stopped behind him in the crease.

Whitney and the Stars' Eric Lindros barreled toward the crease, but Whitney got there first, throwing himself on the puck as Fleury reached back to glove it.


(Shelly Anderson can be reached at or 412-263-1721. )

Red jerseys debut at Piratefest

Zach Duke and Adam LaRoche

[Just stop it!...My opinion after seeing one photo of the new alternate jersey is: I hate it...I think it looks ridiculous. As a matter of fact, I hate the whole idea of alternate jerseys. The home whites and road grays look great...leave it that. You don't see any red Yankees jerseys floating around do you? The red jersey looks so blindingly awful that it could keep fans away from the stadium in droves. - jtf]

By Rob Biertempfel
Saturday, January 27, 2007

Adding some zip to Pittsburgh's black-and-gold motif, the Pirates, on Friday, unveiled a red jersey for the 2007 season.
The red jersey -- which has black lettering with gold trim and black short sleeves -- will be the team's second alternate home uniform and likely will be worn Friday nights.

The white, pinstriped jersey will remain the alternate look Sundays. The Pirates also are keeping their traditional white home and gray road jerseys.

The new look was a hit last night with many of the fans at PirateFest.

"It looks pretty sharp," Pirates season-ticket holder Pat Kirk of Murrysville said. "I'm ready to cheer for the black and gold and red."

It's the first time the Pirates will have an all-red jersey. Red also is splashed down the sides of the new batting practice/spring training tops.

"Red has been a part of our logo, off and on, for decades," said Tim Schuldt, the team's senior vice president for marketing, sales and broadcasting. "When we asked some of our season-ticket holders if they were comfortable with it, they embraced it."

The team's original colors (blue and red) were replaced by black and gold in 1948. From 1997-2001, the Pirates used red trim on their jerseys and a red-billed cap.

Schuldt is hoping the new look is a success on stove shelves, as well.

"We rolled out some red-dominant merchandise, and everyone liked it," Schuldt said. "You could see that in the sales."

Melissa Junker of Stanton Heights, said she might be tempted to buy a red-themed shirt or hat for her 3-year-old son, Tre.

"I like it because it's different," she said. "It's not the same old black and gold."

That caused Junker's husband, Bill, to frown.

"I don't like the red at all," he said. "It's just not Pittsburgh."

Adam LaRoche, the slugger who arrived in a trade last week, modeled the red jersey for a group of several hundred season-ticket holders. A few feet away, the Pirates were selling a few dozen game-used jerseys from recent seasons.

A white, sleeveless Oliver Perez jersey from 2005 was tagged at $150, as was a Salomon Torres warmup from last season. The gray road jersey reliever John Grabow wore last year, complete with patches honoring the All-Star Game and former mayor Bob O'Connor, was $250.

The authentic stuff was snapped up quickly by collectors. Within minutes, only shirts worn by washed-up, former prospects such as Bobby Bradley and Adrian Brown, were left.

Not everyone got caught up in the buying frenzy.

"If they had something from Willie Stargell or Roberto Clemente, it'd be interesting," said Jim Falorio of Fombell, who walked away from the booth empty-handed.

The 17th annual PirateFest continues today and tomorrow at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

There will be two question-and-answer sessions today. Players will field queries from the fans from 2 to 3 p.m. General manager Dave Littlefield, manager Jim Tracy and CEO Kevin McClatchy will go from 4 to 5 p.m.

Tracy and pitching coach Jim Colburn will conduct youth clinics from 2 to 3 p.m. today and 1 to 2 p.m. tomorrow.

Rob Biertempfel can be reached at or (412) 320-7811.

North Shore gets a lift from The Bus

Jerome Bettis, left, and the Pirates' Kevin McClatchy, right, listen to Frank Kass, chairman of Continental Real Estate, talk about the "Jerome Bettis Grille 36" restaurant yesterday on the North Shore.

Former Steeler Bettis' restaurant, opening in May, is part of a surge of development expected around the stadiums this year

Saturday, January 27, 2007

By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Bus is stopping on the North Shore once again and his arrival could signal a big year for development between Heinz Field and PNC Park.

Jerome Bettis Grille 36, named after the retired Steelers running back, could be one of many advances in 2007, including a possible deal on another office building and the start of a long-awaited amphitheater project.

An upscale Hyatt Place hotel also could be part of the mix.

Mr. Bettis' restaurant, on the ground floor of the Del Monte Center near Heinz Field, is scheduled to open in May and could be a milestone in the North Shore's ongoing development, Steelers President Art Rooney II said.

"I think it will bring the kind of excitement we've been hoping for as part of the North Shore project. So I think it's a tremendous step forward and I think we'll just be able to build on this as we go forward," he said.

The Steelers are hoping to close on a deal soon with Cordish Co. of Baltimore for the development of North Shore Live, a proposed entertainment district near Heinz Field whose centerpiece would be an amphitheater with up to 5,000 seats and a glass top.

Other features could include restaurants, shops, nightclubs and an outdoor performance plaza.

"I'm not going to put an exact time frame on it but I think we're close enough that our goal, our hope, would be that it's something we can break ground on at the end of this year and possibly have at least parts of it open in '08," Mr. Rooney said.

Frank Kass, chairman of Continental Real Estate Cos., the Columbus firm hired by the Steelers and Pirates to develop the land between the stadiums, said the amphitheater would be boxed by nightclubs, providing for a year-round concert venue. An agreement could come soon, pending an application to the state for help with infrastructure improvements.

Mr. Kass said he also is closing in on a deal to build a "very nice, upscale, urban" Hyatt Place hotel between the stadiums. He hopes to make a formal announcement in March. He said he is negotiating with the city Stadium Authority for the land and parking needed for the hotel.

The hotel would be the third between the stadiums.

A 198-room Marriott SpringHill Suites hotel opened in 2005 near PNC Park and construction is expected to start next month on an 180-room Residence Inn at Mazeroski Way and General Robinson Street. Both hotels are separate from the Continental development.

Continental also hopes to be in position by late spring to announce construction of another office building to supplement Del Monte Center and the Equitable Resources headquarters.

Mr. Kass said he has had talks with Equitable about adding a building and consolidating operations on the North Shore if its purchase of Dominion Peoples wins regulatory approval. He said he is talking to several other potential tenants.

Mr. Bettis' restaurant will be the third to open on the North Shore this spring. McFadden's Restaurant and Saloon in the Equitable building will debut March 17. Calico Jacks Cantina is expected to open in the Del Monte building about a month later. Fox Sports Network Pittsburgh will move its studios to that building next month.

The $3 million Jerome Bettis Grille 36 will feature 8,500 square feet, more than 40 high-definition TVs and an outdoor patio area.

Mr. Bettis and his partner, Howard Shiller of Celebrity Ventures Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., stressed it will be a "sports-themed restaurant," not a sports bar.

"It's going to be a crowning jewel in this area," Mr. Bettis said. "I'm proud to have my name on it."

The restaurant will be mid-priced, offering such fare as steaks, burgers, hoagies, chicken, ahi tuna and salads. It hopes to attract families, North Shore office workers and, of course, Steelers fans.

Over the last five years, Continental has invested about $100 million in the North Shore development, Mr. Kass estimated. He said he expects that to reach $200 million to $250 million by full build-out.

Mr. Rooney said he is "satisfied" with the progress, particularly after so many years of no development with Three Rivers Stadium, which was demolished to make way for Heinz Field and PNC Park.

"I think we have turned the corner and I think having Jerome's restaurant here is just going to be a tremendous landmark that will bring more and more people to the North Shore," he said.

Mr. Rooney said he remains concerned about the impact of the new Majestic Star casino, which will be built near Heinz Field between the Carnegie Science Center and the West End Bridge.

"I'm hopeful we'll work those out," he added. "It does present traffic and parking issues that we're going to have to work through."

Businessman Don Barden, owner of Majestic Star, has pledged to work with the team to address concerns.


(Mark Belko can be reached at or 412-263-1262. )

Friday, January 26, 2007

Bob Smizik: LaRoche will help, but climb to .500 not an easy task

Friday, January 26, 2007

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The acquisition of Adam LaRoche, who hit 32 home runs for the Atlanta Braves last season and who has the look of a big-time power hitter, has Pirates partisans ga-ga about the season. Of course, it doesn't take much to get this breed excited. They were thrilled at this time last year by the additions of Sean Casey and Jeromy Burnitz.

LaRoche, though, is a splendid pickup and makes the Pirates a better team, even if they had to give up closer Mike Gonzalez to get him.

His addition has fans buzzing about the lineup possibilities and wondering when was the last time the Pirates had such a powerful batting order. Most harken to the team's previous championship season of 1992 when Andy Van Slyke and Barry Bonds formed a potent 3-4 combination. But we weren't satisfied with hearsay. We did the necessary research to find the last Pirates lineup that was as good -- or better -- than this one. How's this for a dominating lineup:

A leadoff hitter who batted .277, with a .333 on-base percentage, and who was fourth in the league in stolen bases.

A No. 2 hitter who batted .325, fifth in the league, with a .399 on-base percentage.

A No. 3 hitter who owned four 30-home run seasons, three 100-RBI seasons and who had a .521 slugging percentage (anything over .500 is very good).

A No. 4 hitter, who at age 25 already had one 30-home run season and was on his way to a second 100-RBI season.

A No. 5 hitter who was on his way to a season in which he hit 31 home runs and had a slugging percentage of .567.

A No. 6 hitter who homered 20 times in only 305 at-bats and had a slugging percentage of .561.

Do we really have to go any further?

Such a lineup is significantly more fearsome than what the 2007 Pirates figure to put on the field.

It wasn't easy doing all the research to come up with this information. We had to go all the way back to ... 2003.

That's right, the 2003 Pirates, the team that finished 75-87, could send these first six hitters out: Kenny Lofton (traded July 22 that season to Chicago Cubs), Jason Kendall, Brian Giles (traded Aug. 26 to San Diego), Aramis Ramirez (traded July 22 to Chicago Cubs), Reggie Sanders and Matt Stairs. With all respect, the 2007 expected lineup of Chris Duffy, Jack Wilson (who often batted eighth on the 2003 team), Freddy Sanchez, LaRoche, Jason Bay and Xavier Nady is not as good.

We point this out not to demean the current team. To the contrary, we think it's a nice lineup, and the likely No. 7 and 8 hitters, Ronny Paulino and Jose Castillo, are better than their 2003 counterparts. But as recent history indicates, this lineup alone is not enough to carry the Pirates above .500.

As always, it's all about pitching, and the Pirates will be only as good as their young rotation.

That's quite a load to put on Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny and Paul Maholm, who have won a combined 46 games in their careers. There's outstanding promise in this group, but starting pitchers are well-known to be slow developers who experience ups and downs as they mature.

It's not like there weren't high hopes for the 2003 rotation. The five pitchers who started the most games that season were Kip Wells, Jeff Suppan, Kris Benson, Josh Fogg and Jeff D'Amico. They entered that season with a combined 180 victories. And it's not like they were at the end of their careers. Except for D'Amico, who retired after the 2004 season, all are expected to be in major-league rotations this season. In 2003, Wells and Benson had every bit the high upside of the current starters.

Where the 2003 team went bad was in the bullpen. Three key and previously dependable relievers imploded. The earned run average of closer Mike Williams went from 2.93 in 2002 to 6.27 with the Pirates. (He was traded July 20 to Philadelphia.) The ERA of right-handed setup man Brian Boehringer went from 3.39 to 5.49. The ERA of left-handed setup man Scott Sauerbeck went from 2.30 to 4.05. (He was traded July 22 to Boston.)

And with them went any hope of what was the most talented Pirates team at least since the mid-1990s of having a winning season.

Even without Gonzalez, the Pirates' bullpen is strong, but no stronger than the 2003 relief corps appeared to be.

Of course, it's much more than how good the Pirates are. It's also about how good the opposition is. The Pirates will not finish above .500 unless they are the third-best team in the Central Division. Since the Central went to six teams in 1998, no fourth-place team has finished above .500. In fact, in the nine years of the six-team division, only three third-place teams finished above .500. So third place isn't even a guarantee of a winning season.

The Pirates are better. They're making progress. But there's a long way to go -- even to .500.

(Bob Smizik can be reached at )

Thursday, January 25, 2007

NHL All-Star Notebook: Crosby wins Messier Leadership Award

Penguins center Sidney Crosby accepts the Leadership Award sponsored by COLD-fX from Hall-of-Famer Mark Messier prior to the 55th NHL All-Star Game.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

By The Associated Press

Penguins center and All-Star starter Sidney Crosby received the Mark Messier Leadership Award from the retired National Hockey League superstar last night before the game in Dallas. It was presented in honor of Crosby's leadership on and off the ice.

Messier called Crosby "a bona fide NHL superstar."

A $5,000 donation will be made to a charity of Crosby's choice.

Bettman addresses diversity

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, opening a luncheon this week on diversity in hockey, proudly made note of 39 cities offering inner-city programs with the help of the league. Ironically, Bettman trumpeted the programs in a city without one.

The lack of a diversity program in Dallas underscores the creeping pace of the NHL in diversifying rosters.

Bettman said this week that he is not satisfied with the number of minorities in the NHL -- currently 31 (about 5 percent) players. Among them is San Jose forward Jonathan Cheechoo, a Cree Indian from Canada who was the league's top goal-scorer last season and voted in by fans to start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game.

"It's at best a start," Bettman said. "But ,when you look at the history, it is a step forward."

Different kind of ice storm

When the NHL came to Texas in 1993 after the Minnesota North Stars moved south, there were only five sheets of ice in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. There are now 25.

When the Stars arrived, there were no high school hockey teams in the area. Now there are 70. The number of youths playing organized hockey has increased from about 250 to more than 5,000.


The Minnesota Wild recalled goaltender Josh Harding from the Houston Aeros on the American Hockey League yesterday, raising questions about the health of starter Manny Fernandez, who has sprained left knee. The Anaheim Ducks acquired defenseman Joe Rullier, 26, from the Vancouver Canucks for right winger Colby Genoway, then sent him to Portland of the AHL. ...The Dallas Stars recalled center Steve Ott from a rehabilitation assignment with Iowa of the AHL. Ott has been out of Dallas' lineup for almost three months because of a broken ankle.


(Post-Gazette staff writer Shelly Anderson contributed to this report. )

Crosby fails to score as an All-Star

Washington capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin and Penguins center Sidney Crosby break up ice together last night during the 55th NHL All-Star Game in Dallas.

Penguins' 19-year-old center Sidney Crosby took the spotlight for three days in Dallas, but came up empty on the score sheet last night, even though there were 21 goals

Thursday, January 25, 2007

By Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

DALLAS -- He didn't dominate on this night.

He didn't win the game MVP and the 2007 Dodge Nitro that goes with it.

Didn't make it his coming-out party.

Didn't register a point, something fairly unthinkable in such a wide-open affair.

But Penguins center Sidney Crosby got to experience his first NHL All-Star Game last night at American Airlines Center, a game won by the Western Conference, 12-9, against the Eastern Conference.

All those goals -- the All-Star Game record is 26, set in 2001 -- and Crosby wasn't a factor.

"Twenty-one goals," Crosby said, disappointed but smiling. "It would have been nice to get one, but it wasn't to be."

Buffalo's Daniel Briere, who had a goal and four assists, was named the MVP despite playing for the losing team. For the Western Conference, Columbus' Rich Nash had two goals and two assists, Colorado's Joe Sakic had four assists and Minnesota's Brian Rolston had two goals and two assists.

Crosby had three shots and was minus-2.

"There wasn't too much strategy," Western Conference coach Randy Carlyle of the Anaheim Ducks said of thwarting Crosby. "I thought some of the older players in the league showed their talent."

Crosby, 19, who leads the league in scoring with 72 points in 43 games, was presented by the league and greeted by fans and the media as the game's premier player -- the game being hockey, not just the All-Star celebration.

More and more, he has been compared with all-time great Wayne Gretzky. The two are the only players who have led the league in scoring as teenagers, and their numbers at a similar stage of their careers are comparable.

And Gretzky was held without a point in his first NHL All-Star Game, also at age 19.

"That makes me feel a little better," Crosby said.

Through three days of activities, though, Crosby insisted he would be the richer for his chance to be an All-Star. He said afterward that the hectic schedule might have affected him, but he didn't change his mind about the experience.

"I know how important this game is," he said. "It's an enjoyable experience. I'm not going to stand here and complain about anything.

"I think the best part was being able to meet the guys and get to share the ice with them."

Crosby, who received 875,783 votes on online balloting to become the game's youngest fan-elected starter, played with Washington winger Alex Ovechkin, the young player he is most often grouped with when there is talk of players to watch for years to come, and New York Rangers veteran Brendan Shanahan.

Shanahan turned 38 Tuesday, making him twice as old as Crosby.

Which only made Shanahan a sage to Crosby, who grew up watching him play.

"He's a great guy," Crosby said of Shanahan. "We sit pretty close in the [All-Star locker] room, and I just sit there and listen to his stories. I don't have as many as he does, so I just sit there and listen to him."

It's likely Crosby's personal story log will grow substantially before he is finished playing.

The 2007 All-Star Game probably will be just the first of many, although it won't be the most memorable for what happened on the ice.

Crosby and Ovechkin -- who beat out Crosby last season to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year -- had two good chances in the first period.

At 12:00, Crosby was stopped on the doorstep by Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo after taking a pass from Ovechkin.

On the same shift, the two linemates had a 2-on-1 breakaway against a backpedaling San Jose forward Joe Thornton, who was able to break up the play.

In the second period, Ovechkin got his first All-Star goal, on a rush to the net, but it came on one of the rare times that he was on the ice without Crosby. Ovechkin's goal brought the Eastern Conference to within 8-6 after the Western Conference had gone on a 4-0 run in 4:13 to climb from a 5-4 deficit to an 8-5 lead. Until that run, the teams had not been more than a goal apart.

In the first shift of the third period, Crosby and Ovechkin cruised down the ice on a 2-on-1, but Dallas goaltender Marty Turco made a pad save on Ovechkin. That line had a more than two-minute shift near the end of the third period, but Crosby couldn't set up Ovechkin.

"It would have been nice to get one, especially with the guys I was playing with, but it wasn't to be," Crosby said.

"I tried to help him," Ovechkin said. "I tried to score goals.

"Next All-Star [Game]."

The NHL certainly gave Crosby every chance to make this his showcase. He and Ovechkin were the only players put at a podium with a microphone for player interviews Monday while all the other All-Stars held informal gatherings with reporters.

The league made sure Crosby got plenty of photo opportunities, including a news conference for the new, sleeker Reebok uniforms the NHL debuted and will use next season, and a presentation before the game of the Mark Messier Leadership Award.

Crosby smiled and gave interview after interview.

A night before the game, Crosby's teammate, Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins' second-leading scorer and the NHL's top rookie scorer, had a disappointing night when he failed to get a point in the YoungStars game.

Crosby and Malkin will get another crack at the American Airlines Center tomorrow night. The Penguins' first game after the break is tomorrow against the Dallas Stars.


(Shelly Anderson can be reached at or 412-263-1721. )

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Crosby a center of great debate

03:15 AM CST on Wednesday, January 24, 2007
By CHUCK CARLTON / The Dallas Morning News

As he has throughout most of his hockey life, Mario Lemieux elegantly made the near-impossible look easy. This week, he found a new description for Pittsburgh wunderkind Sidney Crosby.

“He’s a great babysitter,” said Lemieux, whose mansion is for now Crosby’s home.

Crosby is so many other things, too - so young, so mature, so talented and so much what the NHL needs.

This week in Dallas is as much "all-Crosby" as All-Star. In his first All-Star Game, it's Crosby's debut on a large stage.

So far, the city has seen the public side of Crosby, a thoughtful spokesman at age 19 who has handled questions about being the face of the NHL and his team's uncertain future. Tonight, fans at American Airlines Center and a cable TV audience will see "Sid the Kid," the teen center who has claimed the NHL scoring lead in only his second season.

He has 72 points in 43 games, six more than runner-up Martin St. Louis of Tampa Bay. The Stars will get another look Friday when Pittsburgh makes its first visit to AAC since Crosby joined the team.

"He's been dominating the last couple of months," said Lemieux, the Hall of Famer-turned-Penguins owner. "I haven't seen players in the past who have been able to do that. He's only going to get better. It's pretty scary."

Only one other teenager has ever managed to lead the NHL in scoring at any point in a season – Wayne Gretzky, the league's career scoring leading and irreplaceable ambassador.

People around hockey talk about how ridiculous it is to compare Crosby to Gretzky. Nobody is likely to score 894 career goals or record 215 points in a season again.

But they're still often compared because there really is no other apt measuring stick for Crosby. His uniform No. 87 – derived from Crosby's birth date of 8-7-87 – is doing things only previously achieved by No. 99.

Longtime observers marvel at Crosby's ability to anticipate plays, get to loose pucks, force mistakes and make every teammate around him better. Those were many of the qualities that made Gretzky special starting when he entered the league in 1979, following a season in the ill-fated World Hockey Association.

Both are normal-sized players, unlike superstars such as Lemieux, who is 6-6, or Eric Lindros, who was a tight end on skates when he arrived.

"As for the comparisons, I'll always be the first guy to tell you that there is never going to be another Wayne Gretzky," Crosby said recently. "But it's always been a compliment when the comparison has been there, and it's something that motivates you as a player to do well."

Crosby finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2005-06 to Washington forward Alexander Ovechkin, who could have been a rookie in 2004-05 if not for the lockout that wiped out the season. Now, the two have become an NHL version of Magic and Bird.

They shared a podium Monday at an All-Star news conference. Asked who should be the league MVP, Ovechkin immediately offered Crosby and then looked over at him.

"I couldn't tell you," Crosby replied, ever diplomatic. "There are too many guys. I mean, the best answer would be Ovechkin right now, right?"

For all his gifts and goals, Ovechkin is the latest talented European winger. He's Pavel Bure 2.0 or Jaromir Jagr with a splash of Teemu Selanne. Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk plays a similar game.

But Crosby has always been unique. Growing up near Halifax, Nova Scotia, he was destined to skate, shoot and dominate older competition. He conducted his first sit-down interview at age 7 and had an agent at 13. He already has major endorsement deals with Reebok and Gatorade, among other companies.

By the time he went No. 1 in the 2005 draft, Crosby was a household name in Canada. He has done his best to justify the hype, becoming the youngest player to record 100 points in an NHL season.

"We had the chance in New Jersey to play him in his first NHL game," said New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur, who tonight will play in his ninth All-Star Game. "Right away, this guy is the real deal. You know he's going to be something different. I think this year he's even better.

"Last year, he had problems with the referees a little bit. He was yapping a lot. Now it seems like he's put everything together."

Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier was a No. 1 overall pick and has already led his team to a Stanley Cup.

"It's weird that he's 19 years old," said Lecavalier, 26. "He's so good. You would think he's a 30-year-old in his prime."

Yet he remains a teenager. Crosby lives with the Lemieux family, more The Fonz staying with the Cunninghams than Dennis Rodman hanging with Mark Cuban.

"He's there; that's the biggest part," Crosby said. "He's there, if I have any questions. He makes that clear."

Some have questioned the NHL's attempt to market Crosby and Ovechkin over a host of other young talents. But the attention will come anyway. Crosby could be the person who introduces another U.S. generation to hockey, like Gretzky.

A search of YouTube revealed 281 video highlights and tributes to Crosby. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league is merely reacting to what Crosby has done.

"Nothing is more important than performance," Bettman said. "The fact you're dealing with somebody who's a good person, who is personable and outgoing, is a real plus, obviously.

"But the performance on the ice is really going to define his career."


Joe Starkey: Ovechkin, Crosby amaze

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

DALLAS - Bird and Magic.

You knew those names would be invoked when Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin sat together during All-Star week festivities.

Fittingly, they spoke to reporters in an auxiliary gym that was converted into a media work room for the week. Two basketball hoops, raised to the ceiling, hovered above them at American Airlines Center.

The question came early, when a reporter referenced Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and how they'd re-energized and popularized the NBA in the early 1980s, before Ovechkin, 21, and Crosby, 19, were born.

What's it like to be in a similar position, fellas?

What's it like to be the faces of your league?

"I feel fine," Ovechkin said, laughing. "I feel comfortable, and I think Sidney feels comfortable, too. We concentrate on the game and don't think about our faces, NHL, or Magic Johnson or Larry Bird."

Later, in a quieter setting, Crosby answered the question somewhat differently.

"It's our second year," he said. "A lot of people might forget that. We're still experiencing things for the first time. Sometimes, we're still a little wide-eyed."

So are we, in watching them.

If one were to be cast as Magic and one as Bird, Ovechkin is definitely Bird -- less pretty, less polished. He can pass, but his game is scoring, and he plays with a nasty edge, as evidenced by his recent, vicious hit against Buffalo's Daniel Briere.

Crosby is more refined, more measured. He can score, but his game is passing -- and he's downright Magic-like in his ability to elevate teammates' play.

Ultimately, Bird and Magic were more alike than different and more about winning than anything. The same is true of Crosby and Ovechkin, who have quickly transformed their teams from lottery contenders to playoff contenders.

When either man visits your city, you buy a ticket. You want to see the talent, sure, but you also want to see the heart and pure joy with which they play the game.

Tonight, Crosby and Ovechkin will open the 55th NHL All-Star Game on the same line, skating for the Eastern Conference. Savor it, even if it is only an All-Star Game. Bird and Magic got to play together once, well past their primes, with the 1992 Dream Team.

By that time, the two had become friendly. They admitted to having admired each other's careers from the start, despite what appeared to be a frosty relationship.

Crosby and Ovechkin already are becoming friendly. They enjoyed a night out together after the NHL awards ceremony in Vancouver last year and have spent some time together this week.

They study each other's games, too.

"When we play against each other, when I sit on the bench, I like to watch his moves," Ovechkin said. "It's unbelievable when you see how he controls the puck, how he moves, how he skates, how he passes."

The feeling is mutual.

"When he's on (television), definitely I watch him," Crosby said. "He's an exciting player, shift after shift. You can see the things he creates. That's when you turn more into a fan than an opponent."

The real fun, however, comes when they are opponents. That's what made the Bird-Magic relationship a rivalry, the fact they faced each other three times with championships on the line. It gave us a legitimate and purely visual gauge by which to measure their careers.

It made their legacies inseparable.

We can only hope to be so lucky with Crosby and Ovechkin. So far, the only measurements we can take are career points (Crosby has 174, Ovechkin 171) and major awards (Ovechkin beat Crosby for the Calder Trophy last year).

We need more. I asked Ovechkin if he has imagined facing Crosby in the Stanley Cup playoffs someday, if he has wondered who will win more Cups.

"No, I don't think about it," he said, smiling mischievously. "But I will."

Joe Starkey is a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He can be reached at

All Star Notebook: Crosby shoots, scores in shootout

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

By Shelly Anderson
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

DALLAS -- It turns out that Sidney Crosby, in fact, can score in a shootout.

Who knew?

"Yeah, all those times I missed this year, it finally made it worth it I guess -- to come here and score," the Penguins' center said with a big smile last night after he turned the one deficient area of his game into a positive.

Crosby found himself in two shootout events in the NHL SuperSkills competition at American Airlines Center, and he ended up winning the team competition for the Eastern Conference.

Crosby is the NHL's leading scorer with 72 points and is the front-runner to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP, but shootouts have not been his forte.

He is 0 for 5 this season, worst in the league, and 2 for 11 in his two-year career.

Last night, though, he beat Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff with a forehand that scooted underneath the goaltender in one portion of the shootout competition, then took part in the final event, which was called the one-on-one shootout. His opponent there was Anaheim veteran Teemu Selanne.

Crosby scored on two of three attempts against goaltender Roberto Luongo of Vancouver. Selanne was stopped on all three shots by goaltender Ryan Miller of Buffalo.

That broke a 10-10 tie in the team score and gave the Eastern Conference a 15-11 win.

"I surprised them with some junky ones, I guess," Crosby said.

Crosby also competed in a competition called in the zone, a three-on-none drill.

He was teamed with Atlanta's Marian Hossa and Philadelphia's Simon Gagne against Kiprusoff. They got no goals, but Crosby didn't attempt a shot.

Rick Nash of Columbus won the individual puck control relay, but the Eastern Conference won the team portion of that.

Anaheim's Andy McDonald was the fastest skater, completing a lap in 14.03 seconds to help the Western Conference win that skill.

Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara got all of his 6-foot-9, 260-pound frame into a shot that registered 100.4 mph to win the individual hardest shot and help the Eastern Conference take that team event.

In the shooting-accuracy drill, Carolina's Hossa and Eric Staal tied by hitting four of five targets to help the Eastern Conference win.

The league did not announce which players would participate in which events until midday yesterday.

"I was just like, oh, this can't be," Crosby said.

"But it came down to me and Teemu Selanne, a guy I grew up watching, so it was fun."


Carolina All-Star Eric Staal gave his version Monday of the staged, feather-filled pillow fight with younger brother and YoungStar Jordan Staal -- one in which the big brother won.

"Yeah, that's what he would say," Jordan Staal, the Penguins' rookie, said yesterday. "I think I got him in the face a few times."

Jordan Staal had some reservations about getting in front of the cameras for the NHL promotional spot because it was listed as "wrestling" on his itinerary.


After a morning NHL Board of Governors meeting, commissioner Gary Bettman said the league is sticking with its scheduling design through at least the 2007-08 season.

Teams play eight intradivision games, but they play in each opposing conference city just once every three years and do not play every opposing conference team every season.

There has been some criticism that, for instance, rising stars Crosby and Ovechkin in the Eastern Conference, don't play in every market each season or that Canadian teams in the Western Conference don't always face or play host to cnerstone franchises Toronto and Montreal.

"We kind of like it where it is," Bettman said. "It doesn't mean it's perfect, but I think on balance, that's the conclusion that everybody was most comfortable with."


The NHL has received a new proposal from the International Ice Hockey Federation on transfer agreements that includes Russia, but Bettman said he has not had time to digest it enough to comment.

"It's a good sign that, on some basis, though I don't know what that is, the Russians are indicating a willingness to participate," Bettman said.

Because Russia was not a part of the latest IIHF agreement with the NHL, Penguins rookie Evgeni Malkin had to make a secretive and difficult trip to the United States last summer.


Bettman insisted the league is not backsliding on its crackdown of the obstruction that had bogged the game down and hindered the skill players.

"We're not advocating or tolerating any slippage," he said. "We're all committed to maintaining it.

"Some of the critiquing and review of the officiating can be subjective, and we understand that and we respect it. But the fact of the matter is we think the game is still open, the feedback we're getting is overwhelmingly positive, but it requires work. We've had some rough games. We don't like it. We want no rough games. But we're committed to maintaining the standard."


Bettman announced that the 2009 All-Star Game will be in Montreal, where the Canadiens will be celebrating their centennial. The game next year is in Atlanta. ... Although the NHL All-Star Game got a lot of local media attention through Sunday, it has been trumped by the news of Bill Parcells' resignation as the Dallas Cowboys' coach. ... Bettman said the board of governors has no interest in conference or division realignment or in increasing the size of the nets.

Grimm may have misread situation

Rooney II: Offer discussed, but not tendered

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Could a misunderstanding or miscommunication have occurred that led Russ Grimm to believe that he was offered the Steelers' head-coaching job Saturday?

Art Rooney II, the team's president, believes that is possible. A published report declared that Grimm had been offered and accepted the Steelers' head-coaching job Saturday night. The Steelers hired Mike Tomlin as their coach Sunday and publicly introduced him Monday.

Yesterday, Grimm accepted a job as the assistant head coach and offensive line coach of the Arizona Cardinals, the same titles he held with the Steelers. The job reunites him with new Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, the Steelers' former offensive coordinator who had been considered among the leading candidates to replace Bill Cowher, along with Grimm. The Steelers released Grimm from his contract with them after he requested it.

Rooney did not deny that the team discussed an offer with Grimm, but he said no deal was completed.

"Let me put it this way: We made Russ a finalist, and I think at that point we felt he was somebody we seriously were considering for the job," Rooney said yesterday. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for Russ and I do hope he gets a shot to be a head coach; I think he deserves it. I think its fair to say he came close."

Rooney admitted that the Steelers had talked about contract numbers with Grimm's agent, but he said they also talked about numbers with Tomlin's representatives.

As for any such contract offer they might have given to Grimm, Rooney said, "We discussed that it's not going to be final until it's final. It's one of those things I think we made clear it was not final at the time we spoke."

A possible misunderstanding then?

"I think on the agent's part; they tend to think in those kinds of terms," Rooney said. "I think we made it clear at the time we spoke that it was not final, and we were going to speak again on Sunday. I believe the agent was told not to say anything to anybody because of that. I think the league people caused some confusion, which was unfortunate, but that didn't come from us."

The Steelers were furious over reports that surfaced Saturday on and ESPN that Tomlin had been chosen as their head coach. They insisted they did not pick their coach until Sunday. Rooney blamed "league people" for those reports.

"Let's put it this way, I think I know where both of the leaks came from and I think it's unfortunate when people talk about something when you're dealing with these things," Rooney said, then quoted an old Yogi Berra saying. "It ain't over 'til it's over, and people were claiming something was over when it was not."

Grimm seemed disappointed, but said he wasn't bitter over the way events played out.

"Obviously, it was tough," Grimm told reporters in a conference call yesterday. "I thought I had a shot at it. Whatever the details are and things like that, I respect the decision that was made.

"It's time to move on. I'm thrilled to be in Arizona."

Grimm's agent, Eric Metz, declined comment.

Rooney said it was extremely close between Tomlin and Grimm.

"I think it's fair to say Russ was close. We gave serious consideration to giving Russ the job, and he merited it. That's why we made him a finalist."

(Ed Bouchette can be reached at The Associated Press contributed to this report. )