By Jason Ioli
As I reflect on game 7, the Stanley Cup finals, and the entire 2008-09 season, one word keeps coming to mind. One word continually echoes through my thoughts. One word keeps the smile on my face that I was finally able to flash as Sid hoisted the cup over his head.
After losing in six games to the Red Wings last year, the Penguins and their fans felt a dejection that just doesn’t go away no matter how hard you try. Flash forward to the 2009 SCF and the scene is the same. But this time, something felt different. Something about this team, this year, felt different then last year. Even when the Wings jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the series, and flashes of the previous year’s playoffs raced through my mind, I knew this was not last year. I still had something that I did not have then, belief. And as the Pens started to swing the series back in to their favor, the ghosts of last year started to dissipate and the light at the end of the tunnel came into view. In the end, when most of the world had written the Pittsburgh Penguins off, they showed what a champion is made of and exercised the dark spirits of last year.
When Marian Hossa decided he wanted to leave the Penguins, it did not bother me. He was a great player and I wanted him to remain with the Pens, but it was his decision and I could respect that. When he announced that he wanted to leave because he was determined to win a cup and decided that he had a better chance in Detroit then in Pittsburgh...that bothered me. A real champion makes his fortunes. He doesn’t chase after other people’s fortunes and try to take a piece. When the battle is lost and the war seems to be over, you don’t suddenly change sides just to be on the winning team. You double your efforts, fight harder, and do whatever it takes to win. Now that he and his hope for a cup have lost to the team that wasn’t good enough, perhaps Hossa will understand that. Whether you call it karma, or revenge, or whatever, I see it has only one thing.
As this past season started, very few thought that the Pens had a chance to return to the SCF. They had lost too many quality players. As the season progressed, injuries and poor effort seemed to back up those thoughts. In February, the Penguins reached their low point. They were in tenth place in the conference and it looked like all was lost. But then, something changed. A light turned on. It was like a Hulk Hogan wrestling match. Just when he is taking the beating of a life time, he stands tall, a barrage of punches and kick bounce off of him, and suddenly, he is invincible. For the Penguins, that light was Dan Bylsma. When disco Dan took the reigns of his new team, he started getting results almost immediately. As the end of the season drew closer, he got his team to claw and scratch their way into a playoff spot. But in the first round against the Flyers, very few gave them a chance. The Flyers had six 20 goal scorers and would be too much for the Penguins to contain. Not so fast. In the second round they had to face off against arguably the best player in the game. Ovie and the Capitals were supposed to overpower the Penguins. Guess again. In the Third round, the Carolina Hurricanes were one of the hottest teams down the stretch. They had just knocked off the best team in the east and were set to do the same thing to the Penguins. I don’t think so. And in the Finals, the dreaded Detroit Red Wings were the defending Stanley Cup champions. They were virtually unstoppable at home and they had already defeated the Penguins the year before.
By Jason Ioli