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Penguins Penguins sign South Hills native Malone

Son of team's head scout could be first area-trained player to reach NHL

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Right winger Ryan Malone, a South Hills native, yesterday became the first product of the Pittsburgh area to sign a contract with the Penguins.

South Hills native Ryan Malone has signed with the Penguins. (St. Cloud State University)

And, should he reach the NHL soon, a more prominent place in local hockey lore awaits.

"Getting a chance to be the first NHL player who was born and trained in our city would such an honor," Malone said. "I know when I was growing up, the most anyone hoped for in our area was to get to a college team somewhere. To have someone get to the NHL ... it would be unbelievable."

Two players born in the Pittsburgh area have reached the NHL: Gerry O'Flaherty was a left winger in 1971-79, and Bob Beers was a defenseman in 1989-97. But O'Flaherty left the city before his first birthday, and Beers left West View for the Buffalo, N.Y, area by age 9.

No player born and trained in the Pittsburgh area has participated in an NHL game, but that appears certain to change.

Malone, son of Penguins head scout and former forward Greg Malone, was born in Peters Township and played at Upper St. Clair High School through his junior year. He was the Penguins' fourth-round pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, and went on to four successful years of college hockey. He is 22, older than most newcomers, and only has to impress at training camp or, more likely, with the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre to reach the NHL.

He probably will have to hurry to be the first Pittsburgh area product in the NHL. Center R.J. Umberger, born and trained in Plum, is on the verge of leaving Ohio State University to sign with the Vancouver Canucks, the team that made him its first-round pick in the 2001 draft.

"It would be great if I were to get there first," Malone said. "But I certainly hope R.J. makes it, too. And others in the future."

Malone allowed that "it's kind of funny" that he has such an opportunity, given his low profile while developing in the Pittsburgh area. Although he was among Upper St. Clair's top players, he failed to make the cut for the traveling Jr. A Penguins, working instead with the Jr. B team, and he was left off the Team Pittsburgh all-star collection which participates annually in a prestigious national tournament in Chicago.

"Kids who remember me from back then are just going to laugh," Malone said. "I wasn't that good. My skating needed a lot of work, and I needed to fill out."

He attended Shattuck-St. Mary's High School in Minnesota for his senior year to address those deficiencies, and he spent the following year with Omaha of the United States Hockey League before being drafted by the Penguins.

But it was at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota where he blossomed. He had only 16 goals in 74 games during his first two years before a breakout junior season of 24 goals and 25 assists in 41 games. As a senior, he was limited to 27 games by various injuries but still had 15 goals, 20 assists and a team-high 85 penalty minutes. Highlights were hat tricks against perennially strong North Dakota and Denver.

"It got to the point where I was just dressing for games against tougher opponents," Malone said. "I was just trying to be our team's go-to guy when I was out there."

That showing prompted the Penguins to give him a three-game tryout in Wilkes-Barre near the end of the past AHL season. He had an assist in his debut game and, by accounts, did not look out of place.

He figures to spend next season with Wilkes-Barre, although his 6-foot-4, 220-pound stature and ability to shift to center might draw him a long look from the Penguins at training camp, given the organizational dearth of size and strength up the middle.

Malone's strong suits are his eagerness to rush the net, touch with the puck and general toughness, and those are the traits he hopes will afford him a chance to play for the team that has always been his favorite.

"It would be a dream come true, and I'll do anything to make it happen," Malone said. "I'll score, fight, whatever. I told Craig Patrick when he signed me that I was here when we won the Cup in '91 and '92, and I would do anything to help make something like that happen again."

NOTES -- Team officials do not expect Mario Lemieux to make an announcement regarding his playing status this week. He is participating in a celebrity golf tournament Friday through Sunday in Lake Tahoe, Nev., and already is there. ... Defenseman Dick Tarnstrom will file for arbitration today, the NHL deadline to do so, but he and the Penguins have until the start of their hearing in early August to settle on a contract. ... Jeff Barrett, president of the Penguins' affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, yesterday was named AHL Executive of the Year by the league. The Baby Penguins have been among the league's most successful franchises in their four years. ... Malone's contract is for three years and includes a provision where he is paid a fraction of his salary for time spent in the minor leagues. ... The NHL is expected to release its 2003-04 schedule tomorrow.


Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1938.

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