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Penguins Penguins Notebook: Lemieux shines in minor role

Sunday, September 23, 2001

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

WILKES-BARRE -- He is precisely the kind of player the Penguins like to see pass through their minor-league system.

Rangy and smart, well-conditioned and highly motivated.

To say nothing of being a certified Hall of Famer.

OK, so perhaps it will be awhile before anyone with Mario Lemieux’s pedigree turns up in a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins sweater again -- actually, it probably never will happen -- but he gave the folks at First Union Arena a little something to remember him by last night.

Lemieux, playing for the Baby Penguins in an exhibition game against the Penguins, scored the first goal, although he couldn’t prevent the Penguins from pulling out a 4-3 victory on Jan Hrdina’s goal at 3:49 of overtime.

Lemieux, who spent the game on a line with Kris Beech and Tom Kostopoulos, played well enough to earn a promotion back to the parent club -- not that he was on the bubble before last night -- and is one of 32 who will be with the Penguins when they resume training camp at Mellon Arena tomorrow. Their NHL roster looks like this:

Goalies -- Johan Hedberg, Jean-Sebastien Aubin, Sebastien Caron.

Forwards -- Lemieux, Hrdina, Beech, Kostopoulos, Robert Lang, Martin Straka, Alexei Kovalev, Kevin Stevens, Stephane Richer, Aleksey Morozov, Milan Kraft, Dan Lacouture, Krzysztof Oliwa, Eric Meloche, Michal Sivek, Toby Petersen, Billy Tibbetts, Shane Endicott and Bob Errey.

Defensemen -- Darius Kasparaitis, Andrew Ference, Hans Jonsson, Michal Rozsival, Josef Melichar, Ian Moran, Ross Lupaschuk, Brooks Orpik, Michel Petit and Mike Wilson.

Center Wayne Primeau and defenseman Janne Laukkanen, both of whom are injured and did not accompany the Penguins to Wilkes-Barre last weekend, were not listed with the 32 who will travel back from Wilkes-Barre.

Lemieux gave the Baby Penguins a 1-0 lead at 6:52 of the opening period, when he punched a loose puck past Hedberg from the lip of the crease during a power play.

Lang pulled Penguins even at 16:55, flipping a shot over Caron, and Morozov gave them a 2-1 lead at 17:36. Just 21 seconds later, Lupaschuk tied the score, 2-2, by hammering a slap shot past Hedberg from about five feet inside the blue line.

Neither team scored in the second period, but Lemieux had a chance to break the tie with 8:14 left in the third. But he was unable to beat Aubin, who had replaced Hedberg at 9:49 of the second.

The Baby Penguins moved back in front at 14:04, when defenseman Peter Ratchuk lashed a slap shot past Aubin from the top of the left circle. Seconds earlier, Caron had denied Morozov on a breakaway to keep the score tied.

Morozov made it 3-3 at 17:19, sticking a shot under the cross bar from about five feet in front, and Hrdina ended the game when he took a feed from Kraft and buried it behind Caron from about 10 feet.

Security checkpoints

Mellon Arena officials plan strict enforcement of existing security policies for the Penguins’ exhibition game against Atlanta at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow.

Doug Hall, general manager of the building, said that fans will not be allowed to enter the arena with backpacks or coolers and fans carrying large bags, purses or handbags should expect to have them searched.

“My advice to fans is to come little bit earlier [than in the past] and to expect a little bit longer delays [getting into the arena],” Hall said. “And to not bring anything questionable.”

Major setback?

The selection of Gov. Tom Ridge to head the newly formed Office of Homeland Security in Washington has been applauded in most corners but might prove to be a major setback for the Penguins.

Ridge has been a strong supporter of a new arena for Pittsburgh, and it’s hard to imagine how removing him from the state’s political mix could work to the Penguins’ advantage.

“He’s been a good supporter,” said Lemieux, the team’s owner. “As long as I’ve known him, he’s been very supportive of anything we’re trying to do in Pittsburgh. We’re just going to have to wait and see what happens.

“We’re going to have to work with whoever is there, but it’s nice to know in advance that somebody supports what you’re trying to achieve.”

Injury hampers Errey

Bob Errey is 37 years old. He broke into pro hockey in 1983 and has been around long enough to understand how things work in the NHL. To know that guys his age who go to training camp on a tryout must overcome wicked odds to earn a contract.

And that getting a couple of injuries in the first 10 days of the preseason can only make a difficult job even tougher.

Errey, who missed parts of two days last week because of a groin problem, got a similar injury in the first period of the Penguins’ 5-2 loss in Toronto Friday, when he tried to make contact with Maple Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph behind the Toronto net.

Errey doesn’t believe the injury is serious and hopes to be back on skates soon -- “We’ll just have to see how it feels Monday,” he said -- but any setback is significant for a guy in his situation.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” he said. “Definitely frustrating.”

In retrospect, Errey believes he might have returned from his first groin strain a bit prematurely, mostly because he believed it was critical to show how he could perform against NHL competition.

“I tried to rush back from the other one, because I felt they wanted to get me into game situations,” he said. “I never really took any time off for the original [injury].”

It’s conceivable his latest injury might ultimately mean the end of Errey’s comeback attempt. That it will convince management that, no matter what he might be able to contribute on a third or fourth line, his body just won’t be able to hold up under the rigors of playing in the NHL.

Errey, predictably, doesn’t share that perspective and is convinced he can be a valuable member of the team. And he hopes, even though he might not get as much work as he’d wanted in camp, his track record will help to convince management that he’s worth keeping.

“I think I’ve left my mark on camp so far,” Errey said. “The initial couple of shifts [in Toronto], I showed what I can do -- killing a penalty, blocking a shot. You just do what you can when you’re out there.

“I know I can play. That’s all I can do.”

Richer makes points

Veteran winger Stephane Richer has made believers out of a lot of skeptics with his work the first two weeks of training camp. He even seems close to locking up a spot on Lemieux’s right side.

His commitment has been impressive, and his offensive talents do not seem to have eroded much.

“He looks pretty good to me,” Lemieux said. “He’s got a big cannon. When he gets it, he’ll shoot it.”

Richer came to camp on a tryout but, barring injury or a complete collapse in the next 10 days, looks like a virtual lock to be in the Penguins’ opening-night lineup.

That means General Manager Craig Patrick will have to work out a contract with him, but it doesn’t sound as if the negotiations will be particularly difficult.

“I’ve never really thought about it,” Richer said. “I know I have a lot of things I have to prove. I’m really pleased, so far, with what I’ve been doing.”

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