A familiar and popular name is expected to be in the lineup tonight when the Penguins face the Maple Leafs at Consol Energy Center as Philip Samuelsson will make his NHL debut.
Also expected to be present will be the reason that name is familiar and popular for Penguisn fans. His father, former Penguins defenseman Ulf Samuelson, is making the trip to Pittsburgh to see his son's first taste of NHL action.
Ulf, currently an assistant coach with the Rangers, roamed the blue line for the Penguins in the early 1990s as a hard-hitting and antagonistic defenseman who helped the franchise claim its first two Stanley Cup titles. His style of play made him a villain everywhere outside of Pittsburgh where he became a fan favorite. Even hall-of-fame Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert claimed Ulf Samuelsson as his favorite player.
Philip, a second-round pick in 2009, will try to make his own name at the NHL level beginning tonight.
Earlier this afternoon, Ulf Samuelsson talked by phone about his son's NHL debut:
What's your reaction to your son being recalled?
"Well very exciting obviously. I know Philip has worked really hard. I think it should be a credit to him and a lot of credit to the Penguins organization and to [head coach John] Hynes and [assistant coach Alain] Nasreddine in Wilkes Barre. They’ve really taken their time and put in a lot of hours into this. Philip should be proud and they should be proud. I’m proud as a father."
What is the scouting report on him? How similar is he to how you played?
"He’s very good defensively. I think that’s his strength. He’s developed into one a top AHL penalty killer. He’s also had a shutdown role. That’s really similar to what I was. I think Phil is a better passer than I was. He sees the ice well. I think he’s a modern-day defending defenseman that is good enough to pass himself out of trouble a lot instead of trying to bang it out."
How involved have you been in coaching or developing him?
"It’s obviously a common interest we have. It’s really all about hockey our family. We have four kids and they’re all involved in hockey. So it’s obviously a topic that comes up a lot. Phil, he’s been with the Penguins, a great organization, a great system and place to grow and work. They’ve done the grunt work. I’ve just helped out here and there. He’s done a lot on his own."
How often do you communicate with him?
"A daily basis. That’s one thing, the communication in our family, we have cell phones everywhere. We’re keeping up with each other frequently. We’re a pretty strong-bonded family that way."
Will you be able to get to Pittsburgh for tonight's game?
"We’re going down here in about an hour so. My wife is here. My daughter is in from Sweden – she was over there trying out for the Swedish Olympic team - and my youngest son is also going to come down. The only person who is going to miss is my second oldest son, [Coyotes forward prospect Henrik Samuelsson]. He is in Minnesota trying out for the [United States World Junior Championship] team."
What does it mean that he's making his debut with the Penguins given your history with the organization?
"He’s trying to make his footing somewhere. He feels that our family has that history [in Pittsburgh] so it’s certainly special for Philip too. It’s a new era and everything down there. I certainly have a sweet spot in my heart for the Penguins organization. It really is special."
You made your NHL debut with the Hartford Whalers in 1984-85. What do you remember about your first NHL experience?
"I remember how hard it was. I played three years in the [Swedish Elite League] before I came here and I thought I was going to come waltz in and play. Being over there the last couple of years coaching in Sweden and being back over there the last couple of years coaching in Sweden and being back here you realize how good [NHL] players are. To me, it’s just amazing of the performances and the skill on a daily basis in the National Hockey League. I’m really thrilled and excited to be a part of it again. I think that to me is what I remember, how good players are in the National Hockey League."
It's very possible he will be in the lineup Wednesday when the Penguins face the Rangers in New York. What will the balancing act of being a father versus being an opposing coach be like?
"Well I told him I’m coming down now to watch his team play, not him play. I told him we’re not friends … maybe a little of friends today. Maybe, I’ll be harder Wednesday if he’s in the lineup. No… seriously, with coaching you’ve got to be really focused and on top of your game with matchups and taking it all in. When the game starts, you really don’t have a lot of time. I’m sure I’ll be looking at Philip if he’s in the lineup a couple of times and trying to regaine my focus. It will be a challenge."
(Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)