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Penguins Penn State graduate impresses Penguins

Saturday, September 15, 2001

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Alon Eizenman earned a degree in finance from Penn State, compiling a dizzying grade point average in the process.

Those who know him are convinced he will be a roaring success in the business world, at some point.

But, at least for the foreseeable future, Eizenman is interested in making a living in pro hockey and won't need his impressive academic background to understand he has a legitimate chance to earn a contract from the Penguins. He just needs to grasp a little basic math.

Like how the Penguins, who operate franchises in the American and East Coast hockey leagues, need an extensive depth chart to provide personnel for themselves and their minor-league teams.

"We have three teams to fill, so we have to add some people to our depth throughout the organization," General Manager Craig Patrick said. "There are openings all throughout our organization."

That doesn't mean Eizenman, who is in camp on a tryout, is guaranteed a job. If the Penguins simply were seeking people to fill out rosters, they would hand out contracts at shopping malls.

Eizenman, though, has credentials that make him a legitimate candidate. And he has caught the attention of the guy who has the final say on personnel matters.

"I've watched him for the last four years, off and on," Patrick said. "Not a lot, but enough to realize he's got a good skill level."

Patrick is somewhat familiar with him because Eizenman, a forward, is the latest player to move down the pipeline from Penn State to the Penguins. Patrick came to know the program when his son, C.J., played there.

But while a player or two from Penn State has turned up in the Penguins' camp on tryouts for the past several years, it wasn't until last fall that one impressed management enough to be given a contract.

Goalie Mark Scally, a Moon High School graduate who spent most of 2000-01 with Wheeling in the ECHL, made that breakthrough. Eizenman said he stayed with Scally during the week before camp and that Scally's success last September boosted his own confidence about his job chances here.

"Anytime somebody from the program you came through makes an impact, it gives you a little bit more hope, gives you a little bit of encouragement," Eizenman said. "And also gives you a sounding board to bounce fears and excited thoughts off of."

Eizenman was a core player on a Penn State squad that won three national club championships his four years at University Park. A solid two-way player, his greatest offensive asset is playmaking.

"If paired with wingers who can put the puck in the net, I can certainly get them the puck," Eizenman said. "I scored over 30 goals one year at school, but that's pretty much because the team needed it. I'm not primarily a goal-scorer, but I'm happy to do whatever the team needs."

One Penguins scout volunteered earlier this week that he was struck by Eizenman's quickness, and he hasn't looked out of place in either of the scrimmages in which he's participated.

"I know he's skilled," Patrick said. "I didn't know how his character would hold up in this environment, but so far, he's looked good."

Eizenman's parents are from Israel, and he lives in Toronto. That means he hardly was a natural to play hockey at Penn State. But when he completed high school a year ahead of schedule and had hockey experience only at the Midget level, he sent out letters to a number of colleges that play below the Division I level.

He piqued the interest of Penn State's staff, and it quickly became apparent that their needs meshed nicely.

"We kind of found each other," he said. "And it was a really good fit for me."

Eizenman believes the level of play at Penn State compares favorably to some lower-echelon Division I schools, and, while that doesn't begin to approach the caliber of competition found in the NHL, he's not entirely on alien turf when surrounded by pros at the Penguins' camp.

Before reporting to camp, he skated with a number of NHL players, including Sergei Berezin, Nik Antropov, Dmitri Khristich, Adam Mair, Glen Metropolit and Craig Billlington.

At least one other NHL team considered inviting Eizenman to camp, and he fielded calls from several minor-league clubs. For the moment, though, he's focused on having a productive camp and claiming a niche somewhere in the Penguins' organization.

"It's an excellent experience, and I'm enjoying myself immensely," he said. "Where I fit in, that's up to the management and the coaches. I have a really tough time gauging my play and my ability. Even if I do play well, if I don't fit in with the organization's plans, I'm kind of out of luck."

But he wouldn't be out of hope. Eizenman believes he has a place in pro hockey. He just has to find it.

"I'm committed to playing hockey this year," Eizenman said. "And, hopefully, for years after. The dream is alive."

NOTES -- The injury to defenseman Josef Melichar's right knee was diagnosed as a mild sprain. Early indications are that he will be out about a week, although he might be able to resume skating in a few days. ... The Penguins' preseason game against their Wilkes-Barre minor-league team next Saturday at First Union Arena will be televised on Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh. The game, which will be announced by Mike Lange and Ed Olczyk, will be broadcast even if the Penguins alter their schedule and face an NHL club that night.

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