Former Spartan is enjoying experience
Injury kept Hall out for most of regular-season
“You know, I think every little kid that grows up playing hockey dreams of scoring a goal in the playoffs or to win the Stanley Cup,” Hall said. “And I don't think that there's no one way you dream about scoring it, you just kind of dream about the celebration.”
Hall’s name should sound familiar to hockey fans in Michigan – he was a captain for legendary coach Ron Mason at Michigan State. In four years at MSU, the Kalamazoo, Mich., native recorded 79 goals and 47 assists, and captained the squad in their 3-3 tie against Michigan in the ‘Cold War’ game played outdoors at Spartan Stadium in Oct. 2001.
Hall’s journey to the Stanley Cup finals had a few detours in his seven NHL seasons. After four years in Nashville, Hall went to the New York Rangers for the 2006-07 season, then halfway through the year he was traded to Minnesota.
Prior to the start of the regular-season, he signed on with the Penguins, after he was invited for a professional tryout during the preseason.
Hall missed 31 games this season, after having sports hernia surgery. He returned to the lineup on April 2, Pittsburgh’s second-to-last game before the playoffs. The 27-year-old has played in 14 of the Penguins’ 17 postseason games.
“It's always tough when you get injured, especially for a long period like that, having surgery and rehabbing and coming back,” Hall said. “It was a tough process at the time, trying to get it diagnosed, and then trying to make the right call. What kind of surgery? What exactly do we need to do?”
Hall was quick to thank everyone who helped him speed his recovery in time for the playoff run.
“It's just a credit to everybody, the trainers and the doctors and strength coach we have,” Hall said, “to get me back in time and give me a chance to work my way back into the lineup.”
Hall’s goal at the 7:18 mark of the third period on Wednesday made him the ninth different Penguins player to score a game-winning goal in the playoffs. He said he was just in the right place at the right time.
“It was, like I said, one of those situations where you never get to pick and choose what situation you end up in,” he said. “You just do everything you can out there and just a great feeling.”
FOLLOW THE LEADER: In Game 3, Sidney Crosby demonstrated why he was given the ‘C’ at such an early age. At just 20 years old, Sid the Kid is the youngest player to captain a team in the Stanley Cup finals, and Wednesday, he took over the game.
On Thursday, Crosby was given a rare off-day from the media spotlight after his two-goal performance in Game 3, but his Penguins’ teammates had plenty to say about their leader:
“He was Sidney Crosby,” Maxime Talbot said. “You know, we don’t expect anything less than that. Maybe that’s stupid to say, but that is what he is. He is a gamer, he is a warrior, he is the leader of our team … we couldn’t not play with him, because he was bringing so much, he gave us life, he gave us energy.”
“He's a pretty quiet guy, generally,” Hall said. “He's not a cheerleader on the bench or in the locker room really. He doesn't say much. He just goes out there, and I think we've all said it before. It's great to see one of your captains be one of your hardest workers out there.”
Last night wasn’t the first time Crosby rose to the occasion in high-pressure situations this year. In front of 70,000-plus fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium on New Year’s Day, Crosby scored the game-winning goal in a shootout during the Winter Classic against Buffalo. During his post-game press conference, however, Crosby said the two didn’t even compare.
“I mean, you're in the playoffs,” Crosby said. “Not taking anything away from the Winter Classic, it was a great experience. But this is when you're playing for keeps, and this is when it means the most. So this one (Wednesday) was a big one.”
BRUISING BROOKS: Brooks Orpik made his presence known in 23 minutes of ice-time in Game 3 with seven hits and four blocked shots. However, the most important performance may have came on one shift in the third, when the Pens’ defenseman ran around his own zone and threw four (possibly five, it’s under debate) bone-crunching hits on Red Wings’ forecheckers, sending Mellon Arena into a frenzy.
“The opportunity was there, and when it's there, this time of the year you really want to make them pay,” Orpik said. “But like I said, that's kind of my role on the team. There's a lot of other guys that do the same thing. It's something we can just energize the team and crowd with.”
Many of the players were talking about Orpik’s big shift after Wednesday’s game, and on Thursday, center Maxime Talbot still loved it.
“That was awesome,” he said. “It was probably one of the loudest moments I've seen this crowd going. It was great. Just having the crowd on your side screaming and stuff. It was amazing.”
Gill, who was brought to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline to help clear out the net-front and crease, said Orpik’s able to play the way he does is because of his quickness.
“It’s always impressive to see a guy that big be that fast,” Gill said. “I can be big, but to get those hits you have to be fast and he can put that together.”
Coach Michel Therrien said Orpik’s shift not only excited the players, but the coaching staff.
“There's no doubt,” Therrien said. “And with Orpik, the way that that defenseman is coming along the last three years, I'm really excited for him.”
Therrien coached Orpik at the Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre before they both came to Pittsburgh.
“There's players that you end up starting coaching them,” Therrien said. “You see where they were, and you see where they are right now. We always know that Brooks Orpik was a physical defenseman. He needed to learn when it was time to be physical. A couple of years before you get the tendency to be out of the position. Right now he understands more about his position. He knows the play is going to come in front of him.
“We've got so much confidence in that guy that we're paring him with Sergei Gonchar, and most of the time they play against top players, because we know that he could punish those top players, and without getting caught out of position. So that guy, from a coaching standpoint, I'm so pleased about his development the last three years.”
THERRIEN’S OTHER KIDS: Therrien was an hour and a half late to the scheduled media availability time, because he was playing dad, not coach.
“Sorry I got caught up,” Therrien said after taking his seat at the podium. “I had to go back to school and pick up my daughter.”