A lot has been written about the “101st” best hockey player of all-time over the past 48 hours or so. From his well-documented escape from Russia to the NHL in 2006, to the stories you probably haven’t heard about along the course of his journey to 1,000 points, to him actually accomplishing the monumental feat two nights ago – it’s been one hell of a week for Big Gene (aka Evgeni Ma1kin).
Instead of writing something that’s already been covered a few dozen or so times this week about Malkin becoming the fifth Russian-born hockey player to record 1,000 career NHL points, I wanted to reflect upon something a little different – the exact moment we witnessed a superstar in the making.
The year was 2006 and the Pittsburgh Penguins were coming off of their third consecutive losing season in four years (thanks for the lockout, Bettman). But unlike the beginning of their previous three seasons, this one felt just felt like it was going to be different. For once, there was optimism in the air. However, it was nearly impossible to get your hopes up too high. After all, a constant cloud of uncertainty would mask that 2006-2007 season for months to come.
Sidney Crosby – a blossoming, young superstar out of Nova Scotia would be returning for his sophomore season, and there was also word on the street that another highly coveted prospect out of Russia would soon be joining him. At the same time, the lease on the old Mellon Arena was set to expire at the end of the season, and Penguins’ ownership was threatening to move the franchise to Kansas City if an agreement on a new arena deal couldn’t be reached before summertime.
It’s almost hard to believe this was all happening a mere 12 and a half years ago, but the reality of the situation was the Penguins’ 38th season was almost its last in Pittsburgh. And while this was all going on, a new generation of Penguins, post-Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, was being birthed.
Now, this might reveal my age a little bit here, but it’s amazing how fast time flies by. I can remember it like it was yesterday being a junior in high school whenever one of my roller hockey buddies told me about this “Malkin guy” that was supposed to be making his debut with the Penguins that fall. Nobody knew anything about him other than the fact that the Penguins drafted him 2nd overall two years previously, and that he was supposed to be “pretty good.” Only time would tell.
It all started on October 18th, 2006.
After separating his shoulder in a preseason game collision with former Penguin John LeClair (lol), Evgeni Malkin’s highly anticipated regular season NHL debut would have to be delayed for a couple of weeks.
But the wait would prove to be well worth it.
Nearly 40 minutes into his first-career NHL game, big #71 recorded his first goal.
It definitely wasn’t anything pretty, but how many guys can say they scored their first-career NHL goal in a. their first game, and b. against arguably the best goalie of all-time in Marty Brodeur? Not sure if there any.
Fast forward six days later, and the Penguins were hosting the Devils again after a 2-1 defeat to their division rivals just less than a week prior.
Late in a 3-2 hockey game, the Penguins were looking to secure an insurance goal in the final period of play to put the game away. And boy, did they ever get one.
In just his fourth-career NHL game, the 20-year old, Malkin, would undress the Devils’ defense before tucking away arguably one of the greatest goals of his storied career against – guess who – Brodeur again.
If Eddie Olczyk’s infamous “Shades of Mario!” call doesn’t give you chills, then you probably don’t remember what it was like to be a Penguins fan back in 2006.
As for the rest of us, It was at this exact moment, you knew the Penguins had something special up their sleeves with this Malkin guy. And perhaps, you may have even thought to yourself, there’s no way this team is ever leaving Pittsburgh.
Have a Thursday, folks.