Penguins leaders take questions at Fan Fest
Mike Sullivan and Jim Rutherford passed on a chance to lift the Stanley Cup together during Penguins Fan Fest at PPG Paints Arena.
Well, they passed on the opportunity to lift a person in a Cup costume, anyway.
“I’m not sure if the two guys standing here are strong enough for that,” Sullivan said, “but you should ask our players that question. I’m sure some of them could do it.”
Talk of raising the NHL’s coveted chalice again proved popular during the Fan Fest session in which the Penguins coach and general manager answered questions from fans. Confronted with the fact that no team has repeated as the Cup winner since Detroit did it in 1998, Sullivan and Rutherford acknowledged the difficulty of the challenge, but they offered enough optimism to draw frequent applause from their audience.
“The first thing is we don’t listen to all the predictions, all the noise that’s out there, what people say about who’s going to win and who’s going to this and that,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to have a really forward-thinking, forward-looking approach to this year. I think there’s going to be a lot of obstacles. First and foremost, there’s a lot of good teams in the league. It’s hard to win, regardless of whether you won the year before or you didn’t.
“The thing that excites me the most about this opportunity is the quality of the people that we have in our room. … You have to have talent (to repeat), for sure. But we’re fortunate to have a team, I think, that has quality people, first and foremost, and they just happen to be great hockey players. And I think because of that, we’ll be ready to meet any challenge that comes our way.”
Rutherford recounted the story of how he told his wife about his decision to take the Penguins general manager job in June 2014. He said he considered the Penguins two years away from a Cup at that time — fans particularly enjoyed the accuracy of Rutherford’s prediction. And winning, he said, seemed quite sustainable with the franchise.
“I believe that we’re going to win again in the very near future,” Rutherford said. “That’s the goal. Hopefully we can see (Sullivan) raise it more than once.”
They made no grand promises, of course. When a young man asked whether the Penguins intended to claim the Presidents’ Trophy, which goes to the best team in the regular season, an awkward silence followed from the crowd.
“We’re thinking about Thursday,” Sullivan finally said with a smirk.
One of the few assurances offered by Sullivan and Rutherford regarded the Penguins’ style of play. They indicated that what turned the team into a title contender in 2015-16 — speed and youth — will not disappear in 2016-17.
Sullivan expanded on that thought while explaining the two words on the Penguins’ training camp T-shirts: “Fast” and “Fearless.”
“When you look at how our team played throughout the course of the playoffs last year, there probably aren’t two adjectives that described us better than those two things, I think,” the coach said. “We played a lot of teams that tried to pound us physically. They think that’s the tactic to beat us.
“And it takes a lot of courage on behalf of our players to play through that and not get caught up in their game, to try to stick to our type of game and our style of play, which is a speed game. So right away in training camp this year, we’re trying to reinforce that message once again.
“Speed, for me, is at the foundation of what Penguins hockey is. We’re constantly trying to reinforce that message.”