Whether it has been due to the sheer number of games the Pittsburgh Penguins have contested in the previous seasons, or by some other force of nature, the team has made as many headlines for the injuries they have sustained as the success they have achieved.
At the conclusion of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs it was announced that former Pittsburgh Penguins centre Nick Bonino had suffered a broken leg in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. The injury occurred in the first period when Bonino blocked a P.K. Subban shot. He gutted it out for the next two periods and attempted to practice a couple days later, proving that hockey players are a special kind of tough.
Here is a look at some of the most notable injuries that have put Penguins players out of action over the history of the franchise.
Sidelined Superstars, Surgeries & Early Retirement
Mario Lemieux (broken bone in hand) was not the only Penguins star to suffer a serious injury in game 2 of the 1992 Patrick Divison Final. Hall of Famer Joe Mullen found himself the victim of a controversial blind side hit by New York Ranger Left Winger Kris King.
The hit occurred moments after Mullen narrowly avoided being tripped by Rangers forward Paul Broten. Mullen strained a knee ligament that required surgery, putting him on the shelf for the duration of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and well into the 1992-93 season. King was not given a penalty on the play, and the Penguins would find themselves with two key players out of action.
On Nov. 18, 1981, a collision with St. Louis Blues forward Mike Crombeen left defencemen Mario Faubert with a broken fibula and tibia. Faubert tried to muster a return for the following season but was forced to retire. Faubert, the 62nd pick in the 1974 entry draft appeared in 242 games over seven seasons with the Penguins and was instrumental in helping Randy Carlyle claim the Norris Trophy at the conclusion of the 1980-81 season.
Chicago Blackhawks Defensemen Michal Rozsival could not catch a break during the 2003-04 season while he was a member of the Penguins. In the early stages of training camp, he reaggravated a knee injury that was sustained during an offseason workout. The initial projection for his absence from the lineup was two months following a successful surgery to repair his meniscus.
He reinjured the same knee during the first game of a two game reconditioning stint with the Wilkes/Barre Scranton Penguins, requiring season ending reconstructive surgery. He made a full recovery and spent the 2004-05 NHL lockout season playing in his native Czechoslovakia.
Friendly Fire Drops Legendary Penguins
Sidney Crosby found himself with broken jaw on March. 30, 2013 vs. the New York Islanders. The Penguins went to work early in the first period when Brooks Orpik unloaded a slapper from the point, that deflected off an Islanders defender and squarely into Crosby’s kisser. The broken jaw was almost the least of Crosby’s concerns as he faced several surgeries to repair almost half the teeth in his mouth and damage to his tongue.
Crosby was out of action for a little over a month, making his return on May 3, 2013, for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarter Final vs. New York Islanders. In typical Crosby fashion, he notched two goals in the first eight minutes of the game. The Penguins dropped the game, but Crosby proved he was not going to let a titanium plate or face shield slow him down.
Center Paul Gardener was the recipient of a broken jaw in a game vs. the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 13, 1982. The incident occurred after Gardener gave Jets winger Doug Smail a cross check to the face. Smail had just returned from a broken jaw and in the resulting mealy, Jets right wing Jimmy Mann left the bench and suckered punched the Penguins leading scorer, breaking his jaw in two places.
Mann was fined $100 and received a 10 game suspension for the mugging. Many felt that was the beginning of the end to Gardener’s NHL career, as he would only appear in 14 more games over the next two seasons with Washington and Buffalo.
Arizona Coyotes Head Coach Rick Tocchet found himself a victim of a friendly fire incident while a member of the Penguins. On March 10, 1992, in a game vs. the Chicago Blackhawks Lemieux shot the puck and caught Tocchet in the face on a delayed offside call.
He would return to score two goals including the winner, as the Penguins claimed a 4-3 victory. The broken jaw was not diagnosed until the next day when Tocchet visited the dentist experiencing some discomfort. Tocchet would only miss one game of action.
In late December of 2006, Penguins Right Winger Nils Ekman absorbed a routine check into the boards from a Toronto Maple Leafs defender, that dislocated his elbow. He missed a quarter of the season rehabbing the injury, making his return to line up on March 6, 2007, against the Ottawa Senators. Ekman would only appear in three more NHL games.
These are just a few examples of type of punishment hockey players bodies endure. Whether it is commitment to one’s self, to each other or to the game. We do not fully know what makes a hockey player such a special breed able to withstand the constant physical bombardment of the game, and vigorous rehabilitation that accompanies injuries . One thing is for sure. There is tough and then there is “Hockey Tough”