Thank You, Pittsburgh

At the start of last season, one of the guys put on this clip from the movie Semi-Pro in the locker room. If you’ve never seen the movie, Will Ferrell plays a washed up ’70s ABA basketball player named Jackie Moon, and he ends up boxing a grizzly bear as part of the post-game entertainment. Long story short, before Jackie gets in the ring with the Dewey the Bear, the animal trainer tells him that if he’s in any real danger, just yell out “Spumoni.” That’s his safe word.

So he gets in the ring and Dewey is just confused at first. Then Jackie karate chops him in the neck and the bear jumps up and starts attacking. Jackie’s yelling out “Spumoni! Spumoni! Not my hair! The only thing I care about is my hair!”

Flash forward to a game a few weeks later. I get caught out on a long shift with Rob Scuderi, and we are getting peppered. We just couldn’t get the puck out of our end or even get a whistle, and Marc-Andre Fleury is standing on his head making save after save. Flower is hooting and hollering after every shot like he usually does. And I mean we just can’t get the puck out. We’re so gassed. Finally, another shot comes in from the point and Scuderi yells out, “Spumoni! Spumoni!”

I’m in the corner just dying. We eventually get a whistle and I’m practically doubled over laughing, trying to hide it as I’m skating to the bench. If Scuds would’ve finished the scene with, “If you have a small child, use it as a shield!” they probably would’ve had to stretcher me off the ice.

My time in Pittsburgh came to an end yesterday when I signed with the San Jose Sharks, and guys like Rob Scuderi and Marc-Andre Fleury are part of what make it so tough to move on. Before coming here, I had spent my entire career in New Jersey. I had never been the new guy before, and in a lot of ways I think that was a challenge. Guys always talk about how it’s tough to go to a new team, but it’s especially awkward when you move to a team in your same division. When I came in and saw Max Talbot, I had a gut reaction, like “Man, I can’t stand playing against this guy.” I battled him for six years in New Jersey. Nobody on other teams likes Max because he’s so good at what he does.

A few weeks later, Max became one of my best friends in the room.

I came to Pittsburgh because I wanted to win a Stanley Cup, and even though it’s really disappointing that we never achieved that goal, I’m so thankful for my five years in Pittsburgh. I built a lot of friendships and grew a lot as a person.

I could go on forever, but there’s a few guys I’d like to thank.

Marc-Andre Fleury: Nobody comes to the rink in a better mood or with a bigger smile. For Flower to be such a positive, great person despite all the pressure of being the No. 1 goaltender on a Stanley Cup contender year after year is just amazing to me. He just wants guys to enjoy the game, and his goofiness reminds you that we’re all really lucky to be playing a kid’s game for a living. If there was a prank going on, Flower was probably behind it. He’s always the first one out on the ice, but whenever a rookie gets called up for their first game, Flower comes up to them and says, “Hey, we’re going to let you be the first one out tonight.” This year, one of the rookies came firing out all excited and Flower pulled up and stopped at the gate. So the kid was doing a couple warm up laps all by himself with the strobe lights and the music going. Hilarious.

Brook Orpik: Brooksy taught everybody what it meant to be a consummate professional. Most guys like to keep it light in the locker room, but you had to always make sure you were focused when it came to game-time, or Brooksy would let you know. Just a great leader by example. If you ever were looking for Broosky, he wasn’t hard to find. He was either in the weight room or stretching. You had to keep the diet clean around him, too. I remember we all ordered lunch one time and Matt Cooke had all these bags of Five Guys burgers delivered. The look on Brooks’ face was unreal. When I saw him in the red Capitals jersey last season, I almost couldn’t believe it.

Rob Scuderi: Scuds … I love you, dad.

Chris Kunitz: I’ve never seen a guy battle through so many injuries and still go out and run through walls with no complaints every night. When you talk about what it means to be a hockey player, Kuny is it.

Sidney Crosby: Pittsburgh is about as close to a Canadian city as you can get when it comes to their passion for hockey. The fans are always respectful, but they love coming up and telling you how much they love the team. Certain guys can only handle so much attention before it becomes a burden, but I have never seen Sid be anything less than courteous or humble despite all the demands on his time. To be the best hockey player in the world and handle yourself with that much class is something that really hit home for me. I’ve never seen such a talented person work so hard.

Ray Shero and Todd Reirden: My first two seasons in Pittsburgh, I wasn’t playing up to my expectations for myself. There were a lot of reasons, both professional and personal. You try to ignore the newspapers, but I was pretty down. To his credit, Ray came up to me and asked sincerely, “Do you want to be here?” A lot of general managers wouldn’t do that. I told him, “Ray, I want to win a Cup. I’m going to prove to you that you made the right decision.” Our assistant coach Todd Reirden spent countless hours in the film room with me showing me the player that I could be (solid positioning, great stick, crisp breakout pass). I ended up having probably my strongest year the next season.

There are many more people I’d like to thank, but most importantly, I’d like to thank the fans. You were all so supportive and passionate. When I arrived here, I was a defensive specialist — definitely not a household name. I used to have a joke when I was driving around town with friends and spotted someone in a Penguins jersey. “Hey, there’s a no. 7!” You see so many 7s in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, most have an 8 before or a 1 after. Sid and Geno run the town. Whenever I would see an actual Paul Martin jersey, I’d usually pop my head out the window and say hello.

I’ll never forget the kids who would come up to me and say, “You’re my favorite player. I want to play just like you.” That never stops being an incredible feeling.

So thank you, Pittsburgh. And hello, San Jose. I can’t catch a break. I’ve got some stiff competition in the team store with Thornton, Marleau, Couture, Burns … I might have to buy a bunch of teal no. 7 jerseys and circulate them around the city. Keep your eye out.