Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Congrats to Bill Guerin

Originally written 06/13/2009

For the second time in 14 years, Bill Guerin of Boston College will have his name engraved on hockey's greatest prize, the Stanley Cup. For the first time ever, younger BC alums Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi will join him as their Pittsburgh Penguins outlasted the defending champion Detroit Red Wings, 2-1, in the seventh and deciding game on Friday night before just over 20,000 fans at Joe Louis Arena in southeastern Michigan. Guerin didn’t figure in the scoring in the series finale, even though he finished third on Pittsburgh's playoff scoring scroll, but still won his first Cup since 1995 with the New Jersey Devils, the club that drafted him fifth overall (in the world) in the summer of 1989.

I met Billy later that year when he was a freshman at BC and I was a junior sports writer for The Heights student newspaper at the Catholic institution in Chestnut Hill, Mass. I remember how big he was (6-2, 220) and how strong his handshake was (felt like my hand was fractured), and I was certainly glad I wasn't an opposing player for, say, Boston University. He hit like a freight train and had a rocket for a shot, and really established himself as a sophomore when he scored a league-high 22goals as he helped BC to a pair of NCAA Tournament berths. I still have the flag-on-a-hockey-stick somewhere that Billy waved around the Conte Forum ice after BC ousted Minnesota in the 1990 NCAA quarterfinals, when that round was still played on campus sites.

Billy left BC after two seasons to turn pro, and I didn't see him again until the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs when I was a media relations intern with the Devils and he was beginning to establish himself as an NHL player. He was still the same guy I knew from college, gregarious and easy-going, who wasn't too good for you because he was now a big-time athlete. I haven't seen him in the 15 years since, as he has gone on to skate for seven more NHL organizations, including the Penguins after joining them at the trading deadline this spring from a hapless organization on Long Island. Listening to him on TV these past few weeks as Pittsburgh progressed through the playoffs, though, it's clear he's still the same old Billy, even at age 38.

And now he's a Stanley Cup champion again. My brother and father and I stood here in Jersey and applauded as he skated the Cup around the ice in Detroit on June 12, not only for winning the greatest trophy in all of sports, but for making Boston College and Eagle Hockey proud once again. His photo, alongside that of Orpik and Scuderi, will surely grace one of the inside covers of the 2009-2010 BC Hockey Media Guide, along with the familiar catchphrase, "The Road to the Stanley Cup begins in Chestnut Hill".

Congratulations, Billy. Sometimes good guys do finish first.

(On the other side, the Red Wings have to make a place for Michigan State alum Justin Abdelkader next season - he's young, but he could have given them some jump in the finale as Detroit looked sluggish from the middle of the first period on. Lord knows the kid was up to the task after scoring insurance goals in both Games 1 and 2 of the Finals, the first two goals of his NHL career. Some of the older Wings looked tired as Game 7 wore on, and Detroit needs some new blood in the lineup on a more consistent basis. It's understandable to want to go with experienced guys who got you to the summit before, but some of those skaters are nearing the end of the line and new blood like Abdelkader is definitely needed. Hopefully he graduates full-time from Grand Rapids (AHL) this fall and wears the Winged Wheel for good.)

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