This week sports editor Jerry Micco discusses the fallout from Ben Roethlisberger's injury and what the Steelers must do to tread water and stay alive in the AFC North race.
The Penguins will face the Lightning tonight in Johnstown's Cambria County War Memorial. The preseason game begins at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on NBC Sports.
We will have a post-game blog.
The Penguins' lines and pairings at today's morning skate were:
61 Sergei Plotnikov - 71 Evgeni Malkin - 72 Patric Hornqvist
14 Chris Kunitz - 7 Matt Cullen - 43 Conor Sheary
48 Anton Zlobin - 22 Kael Mouillierat - 11 Kevin Porter
45 Josh Archibald - 48 Tom Sestito
3 Olli Maatta - 2 Adam Clendening
28 Ian Cole - 8 Brian Dumolin
12 Ben Lovejoy - 53 Barry Goers
65 Steve Oleksy - 27 Will O'Neill
-Goaltender (No. 30) Matt Murray is expected to start with (No. 37) Jeff Zatkoff serving as backup.
The Lightning's lines and defensive pairings today were:
27 Jonathan Drouin - 91 Steven Stamkos - 24 Ryan Callahan
18 Ondrej Palat - 9 Tyler Johnson - 86 Nikita Kucherov
11 Brian Boyle - 90 Vladislav Namestnikov- 22 Erik Condra
23 J.T. Brown - 10 Mike Angelidis - 42 Jonathan Marchessault
6 Anton Stralman - 77 Victor Hedman
25 Matt Carle - 62 Andrej Sustr
29 Slater Koekkoek - 55 Braydon Coburn
-Goaltender (No. 50) Kristers Gudlevskis is expected to start with (No. 35) Kevin Poulin serving as the backup.
(Photo: Universal Pictures)
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While an official total wasn't available, most of the seats were filled at the Cambria County War Memorial in Johnstown for the Penguins' morning skate today.
Defenseman Ben Lovejoy offered his own estimate.
“I think no one in the town of Johnstown is at work today.”
With the Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning on hand for a preseason game tonight, Johnstown has come to life to see an NHL game being played in this quaint venue.
The Penguins drove from Cranberry by bus and were greeted by fans outside the arena despite a steady down pour.
“I really didn't know what to expect,” said goaltender Jeff Zatkoff. “Getting off the bus just seeing everyone, just the excitement around the town. Unfortunately, it was raining but guys stayed out there. People said they were lined up since 5 a.m. It's fun to see the excitement in the city and be a part of.”
Johnstown won an online ballot to host this event known as Kraft Hockeyville. Kraft has sponsored an identical event for many years in Canada. This is the first year it has staged it in the United States.
“Did you see the amount of people out there?” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “It's unreal. I don't know how to describe the pregame skate. I see why they were crowned Kraft Hockeyville.”
The event is aimed at helping promote hockey at a grassroots level.
“I think it's really important to do it in the United States,” said Cooper. “They've done it in Canada and it's been a smashing success. But to do it in the U.S. And see what's going on now is huge for the game. I think you get a little nervous because this is the inaugural event in the U.S. But if this is any indication, it's a big-time success. Hopefully they continue this because it does nothing but help the game.”
As a result of winning the ballot, the building, which opened in 1950, was given $150,000 for renovations. Still, it's a tiny venue compared to the state-of-the-art complexes most NHL teams inhabit these days. In order to get from their bench to the the visiting dressing room, Lightning players had to walk through the main concourse through a throng of fans. The dressing rooms, to be kind, are spartan.
For one day at least, players on each team seemed eager to deviate from the the luxurious accommodations they usually are afforded.
"It's a different atmosphere,” said right winger Ryan Callahan. '”The fans are right on top of you. It's exciting.”
Another draw to this building is its unique connection to an iconic hockey film.
“I think what makes this venue so special is the history behind it,” said Zatkoff. “Everyone is aware of the movie “Slap Shot” and being able to play in this arena with that history makes it that much more special.'
Released in 1977, “Slap Shot” was filmed primarily in Johnstown with the Cambria County War Memorial serving as the home building for the “Charlestown Chiefs.” The movie has become a must-see for anyone connected to hockey.
“It's a global thing,” said Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta, a native of Finland.
The “Hanson Brothers” - Dave Hanson as well as real-life brothers Jeff and Steve Carlson - took part in the morning skate today. Much like the young kids asking for their autographs in the concourse, Lightning players lined up in their dressing room to take pictures with the Hansons.
“It's hilarious,” said Lightning center Brian Boyle. “It's cool that those guys are in in here. It's surreal.”
Perhaps what's most surreal is that a National Hockey League game will be played in Johnstown, Pa. Much like the fictional town of Charlestown in “Slap Shot,” Johnstown lost its minor league team, also called the Chiefs, when the ECHL franchise moved to South Carolina. Today, a North American Hockey League team, the Tomahawks, are the primary tenant of the building in this sleepy Appalachian town.
“I'm from Prince George, British Columbia,” said Cooper. "So I'm from a small town. So are probably a lot of our players. So it's not like coming to small towns is any different. It's beautiful. The trees. The whole drive, all everybody talked about was the trees, how beautiful the colors were and they were turning. We don't get a ton of that down south.”
'”All the people that were at the airport to greet us and the people that greeted us coming to the rink. It's just really exciting. “
(Photos: Seth Rorabaugh/Post-Gazette)
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After a week off, Pitt was back at practice on the South Side this morning. Weather forced the Panthers inside, and here are a couple of notes on the proceedings...
- Well, before we get to the practice itself, it's worth noting that the Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation deemed Tyler Boyd worthy of an addition to the Biletnikoff Award watch list this morning. If you'll recall, Boyd was left off the preseason list due to his offseason DUI incident. This news, really, means nothing. Boyd's preseason omission was never going to have any bearing on him actually winning the award, and his addition today is just the powers that be acknowledging that Boyd is one of the best receivers in the country. Apparently the Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation is now satisfied with whatever penance Boyd has paid for his DUI. Moving on.
- As for the session itself, not a whole lot new to report. Alex Officer got the first team snaps at right guard during the media viewing window, ahead of Alex Bookser. It really seems like Brian O'Neill has solidified his role as the starting right tackle, and the position battle now is between Officer and Bookser for that right guard spot. Officer appears to have the edge now, but Pat Narduzzi has intimated that he wasn't thrilled with Officer's play against Iowa. Bookser obviously has a lot of talent and potential, but it seems like the coaches are still trying to work out where he fits. He might just be the odd man out for now.
- One of the biggest questions heading into Saturday is who will be the guy at running back, but it's going to be hard to discern too much from practice. Unlike other positions like, say, quarterback and offensive line, where it's easy to see who the first team and second team are, the running backs always tend to rotate a little bit more (just like an actual game). For what it's worth, today, it looked like the order was Qadree Ollison, Chris James, Darrin Hall. But that's worth very little, and we probably won't know who the leading carrier is going to be until Saturday.
- As usual, freshman QB Ben DiNucci looks like the one to mimic the opposing QB this week. Today he was wearing the No. 9 of Virginia Tech's Brenden Motley. This is obviously pretty standard procedure, but I think it's at least worth noting that Pitt opted not to have another guy back there (say, a wide receiver or a defensive back) to try and mimic Motley's mobility.
- Finally, a couple of practice videos (including some slow-motion action of Jordan Whitehead going up in an interception drill)...