You want me to talk about the Pittsburgh Pirates and major-league baseball — I can go on for hours. You want me to pontificate about the upcoming Steelers season? Just tell me when to start and tell me when to stop. In fact, I can hold my own in conversations about basketball, most college sports, the major Olympic events, pro bowling, professional nine-ball, pro poker and Class AA WPIAL fast-pitch softball. (Go Ellwood City!)
But hockey has always been my Achilles’ heel. As a large guy with only one horrible life experience on ice skates, I just don’t get hockey. I know the teams, I know a lot of the players and I basically understand how the game works. But I’ve never been a huge fan. That’s not to say I don’t support the Penguins, because I do. I’ve watched most of the playoffs this season as I do most years, but I have to admit that I rarely choose playoff hockey over a regular-season Pirates game.
However, I want the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup. And I’m happy to say that I know that’s going to happen. How do I, a man with no actual “knowledge” of or “aptitude” for the game, know the Pens will win? Let’s just say I have a “system” of prognostication that makes me an “expert.” I wouldn’t call it a psychic prediction, exactly, because technically my extrasensory abilities haven’t yet been certified by a higher power like the U.S. government or The 700 Club. But I’ve always had an uncanny knack for calling these things correctly. Some call it luck, some call it magic (well, I call it magic), but whatever it is, here are my four reasons why the Penguins will win the Stanley Cup.
Many people believe a coin-flip is sheer luck because it has a 50/50 chance of coming up either way. But that’s how the unenlightened think. Each coin flip is actually controlled by a panel of four deceased sports experts (Myron Cope, Howard Cosell, Harry Caray and Herb Brooks) who spend the afterlife directing coin tosses to predict outcomes of sports contests; the key is knowing how to read them. I flipped a quarter 50 times and it came up tails 30 times. Matt Murray, the Penguins’ rookie goalie, wears No. 30. The symbol on the back of the quarter is an eagle, which is also a bird … like a Penguin. On the losing side of the coin is George Washington. San Jose right winger Joel Ward played the past five seasons in Washington. The Washington Capitals are the Penguins’ nemesis, and the Pens beat the Caps in round two of the playoffs.
In 2007, San Jose drafted center Nick Bonino late in the NHL draft. He would never play a game for the Sharks; they never gave him a chance. He was immediately traded to Anaheim, and after stints there and in Vancouver, Bonino was traded to the Penguins. In the May 30 championship series-opener, with the score tied at two in the game’s final minutes, Bonino slapped a pass from Kris Letang into the net for the game-winner. The Sharks actually sealed their own fate nine years ago when they traded Bonino for players who barely contributed to their team. Look for Bonino to play an even bigger role in this series along with his HBK linemates Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel.
I know enough about hockey and follow the Pens enough to know that former Penguins coach Mike Johnston’s tenure here was a Dumpster fire at a chemical plant. The pride of junior hockey’s Portland Winterhawks, Johnston never really fit in here. When he was fired, in December, the Penguins weren’t even in playoff contention and probably would have lost a seven-game series to the Winterhawks. However, he was replaced by Mike Sullivan, the first-year coach of the Pens’ AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Since his arrival, Sullivan has led the Pens to a 33-16 record, and they finished second in the Metropolitan Division. Does this story sound familiar? Well, it should. In 2009, Penguins head coach Michel Therrien was — to use a clinical term — “sucking ass.” He was fired that February and replaced by Dan Bylsma, who at the time was in his first season coaching at — that’s right, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Bylsma turned the team around, and the Pens made the playoffs and the Stanley Cup finals where they beat Detroit in seven games. Here’s hoping that after Johnston wins this Stanley Cup, he’s able to get a follow-up championship, unlike Bylsma.
- A Stanley Cup wager ticket from Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas
Last September, while walking through Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, I saw a guy wearing a Phil Borque jersey. I was planning to make some wagers on the World Series and the Super Bowl, but when I saw that jersey, I knew I had to put big money down on the Pens. So I marched up to the betting window and slammed down a $5 bill on the counter and bet the Penguins at 12-to-1 odds. That means once this series is complete, I’ll make 60 big ones. That means $60, right?
The bottom line, Pittsburgh hockey fans, is you don’t have to worry about this series. There will be tense moments, for sure, but all you have to do is sit back and relax, because you know the truth — that fate has already bought Sam a drink, and got his dog one, too.