This October, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins will begin their 15th season in the American Hockey League. The team’s history has been marked by three trips to the Calder Cup Finals, 12 Calder Cup Playoff appearances and several players and coaches developing careers in the NHL.
Many players and coaches have passed through the team’s Wilkes-Barre Township arena over the years, and fans have witnessed moments for the record books. But if we wanted to sump Baby Penguins history in just 15 unique facts, how would we do it?
You’re about to find out.
Here are 15 facts about the WBS Penguins as the 15th anniversary season draws closer.
1. The Penguins’ arena is currently known as the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, not to be confused with the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. However, during the team’s tenure, it’s also been known as the Northeastern Pennsylvania Convention and Civic Center, the First Union Arena and the Wachovia Arena.
2. The team’s first home game was played on November 12, 1999 against the Kentucky Thoroughblades, a now-defunct team who were affiliated with the San Jose Sharks. They have since been known as the Cleveland Barons and Worcester Sharks, and the Pens have played both franchises during the regular season.
3. The Pens hosted the AHL All-Star Game in 2001. One of the team’s own, John Slaney, suited up for the event, but was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers before the game. Regardless, he still represented the Penguins before departing to the Flyers’ AHL affiliate at the time, the Philadelphia Phantoms.
4. The Penguins have earned a reputation for coming back when the odds are stacked against them in the playoffs. In 2004, they came back from a 3-1 deficit in the East Division semifinals against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. They’ve also come back from a 2-0 disadvantage in the 2005 division semifinals against the Binghamton Senators, starting with a goal from Colby Armstrong in triple overtime of Game 3.
Then, in 2008, they were down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but defeated the Portland Pirates in overtime of Game 6 and with 30 seconds left in regulation in Game 7 to advance to the Calder Cup Finals.
Most recently, the Pens became just the third team in AHL history to win a series after being down 3-0, defeating the Providence Bruins in the conference semifinals in a fight-filled, physical final four games to play the Syracuse Crunch in the conference finals.
5. In 2009 and 2011, the Baby Penguins have hosted the Black and Gold Game, an exhibition that puts Pittsburgh Penguins players against its AHL prospects. The Stanley Cup was on display before the 2009 event, and tickets sold out before the general public could get access. Both games featured Pittsburgh stars such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang wearing Wilkes-Barre/Scranton jerseys.
6. Dennis Bonvie, a popular WBS Penguins enforcer, has two Stanley Cup rings as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks scouting staff. He has also chosen to make his home in the Wilkes-Barre area and has a successful business called Bonvie’s Old Forge Pizza, which sells the famous Pennsylvania dish in area grocery stores. He was a part of two other downtown Wilkes-Barre businesses, Blue Chip Gourmet and Bonvie’s Beefy King, that ended up closing.
7. Former Penguins defenseman Darcy Robinson collapsed on the ice during an Italian hockey game in 2007 and passed away on his way to the hospital. He was 26 years old at the time of his death. A memorial photo and banner are displayed at the team’s practice rink, the Ice Rink at the Coal Street. The banner was signed by Penguins fans and originally hung in the arena.
8. The Penguins will go into their 15th season without popular play-by-play broadcaster Tom Grace, who recently accepted a job with the Florida Panthers. Grace was the announcer for all but two seasons of the Pens’ tenure. He will be replaced by Mike O’Brien, who was the color commentator for the last two seasons.
9. Tom Kostopoulos, one of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s most popular players and captains, played a second stint with the team in the 2012-13 season before being picked up by the New Jersey Devils on waivers. He is the team’s all-time leader in career goals (97), points (246) and games played (318).
10. Three former Penguins head coaches have gone on to lengthy coaching careers in the NHL. Michel Therrien coached Pittsburgh from 2005 to 2009 and has since moved on to the Montreal Canadiens. Todd Richards has been with the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets, while Dan Bylsma has been behind the NHL Penguins’ bench since succeeding Therrien in 2009.
Todd Reirden, who took over upon Bylsma’s promotion, is currently an assistant coach in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, former WBS assistant Mike Yeo is the bench boss in Minnesota. Yeo was hired after Richards was let go from the Wild after the 2010-11 season.
11. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2009 Stanley Cup roster featured several players who had spent time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, including Rob Scuderi, Tyler Kennedy and Marc-Andre Fleury. Bylsma also made history by becoming the second midseason coaching replacement to win a Cup.
12. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton currently holds the longest active playoff streak in the AHL, having made the postseason for 11 straight years going back to 2002-03. The Pens last did not qualify for the playoffs in 2002. In that time, they have won the East Division three times and had the AHL’s best record in 2010-11. They’ve also gone to the Calder Cup Finals in 2004 and 2008.
13. Tux, the Penguins’ beloved mascot, has earned national attention by making a cameo on the Today show with a sign cheering on the Pens as they got the 2012 postseason underway. He’s also made an appearance at a WWE show in Wilkes-Barre, and a campaign encouraged Penguins fans to vote him as the mascot for the “12 Days of Giveaways” promotion on Ellen. He wears No. 99 to commemorate the team’s first season in Wilkes-Barre.
14. The Baby Penguins played a game at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on December 30, 2010 against the Hershey Bears as part of the lead-up to the 2011 Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capital’s, Hershey’s NHL affiliate. The Bears won the game by a score of 1-0.
15. On a scene in NBC’s The Office, Steve Carrell’s character, Michael Scott, receives a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton jersey for a birthday gift. It is customized with No. 1 and “From Dwight” on the nameplate. Dwight was played by Rainn Wilson in the series, which ended this past May.
Alison is currently covering the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL for The Hockey Writers after writing about the NHL’s New Jersey Devils from 2011-2012. She is currently employed for the fast growing sports website Bleacher Report as a quality editor and hopes to one day have a media relations career with a professional hockey team. Follow her on Twitter @AlisonM_110.