The year 2000 is quickly approaching. By any definition, a new millennium symbolizes abundant change. What does the future hold? Some predict it will bring the end of the world, while others, more optimistic in outlook, believe 2000 will herald the beginning of a technological golden age, the beginning of a glorious new era. For sports fans it is a chance to fondly reflect on the past, dynasties and heroes alike, and move towards a brighter tomorrow. If the legends of yesterday have been surpassed in terms of skill, imagine the significance and impact of those yet to come. Who will they be?
Michael Jordan will forever be remembered as one of the finest and fiercest competitors in basketball history. The symbol of pure brilliance and centerpiece of 6 NBA crowns, his legend will live on for an eternity. Sadly however, interest in basketball has plummeted since Jordan announced his retirement. Superstar talent still exists, but it is hard to determine who exactly caught the torch.
In hockey it’s an entirely different situation. Wayne Gretzky, one of the greatest players to dawn a pair of skates, kept the game alive and interesting, even after the legends of yesterday bid farewell. Mario Lemieux could be credited for doing much of the same. With both gentlemen off the ice, or in Mario’s case watching from the owner’s box, it was time for another talented soldier to climb the ranks and keep the legacy alive. Who better to do so than a player who not only lit the lamp in the final moments of Gretzky’s last game, but also helped capture back to back Stanley Cup titles alongside the legendary “66,” a teacher of sorts.
Born in Kladno, Czech Republic on February 15, 1972, Jaromir Jagr was destined for great things. He started skating at the age of 3 years old and started turning heads by the time he was 6. Much like the stories we’ve all heard about other hockey greats, Jaromir’s talent was apparent at a very young age. In 1990, the Pittsburgh Penguins selected this incredible athlete as their first round choice (fifth overall) in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. His first season in the National Hockey League, Jagr set a record for the most assists by a rookie in Stanley Cup Finals history. Since then, his magical ability has continued to grow. Now just 27 years of age, he proudly captains a talented team in Pittsburgh, and has been referred to as the greatest player in the world.
If Jaromir Jagr is the future, then who will fill his shoes, or should I say skates, when he leaves? Is it probable to find a successor within the Penguins organization … perhaps. While Jagr still has a great deal of brilliance left inside of him, its only natural to wonder who will take his place.
Amongst the candidates are forwards Aleksey Morozov, Robert Dome and Milan Kraft. Each player approaches the game differently. Even though their talent shines through on an individual level however, they are bonded by moments of struggle. Still, there’s a lot of promise on that list
Statistically speaking Kraft holds the lead, but numbers don’t always reveal the true story. Gifted yes, but he hasn’t been tested by NHL standards. How can you name him the crowned prince when he hasn’t even entered the castle? Will high expectations lead to a sobering fall or will an athletic hero emerge? Time will be the judge. For now, Kraft’s best bet is to keep himself open and leave room for the maturing process.
Robert Dome, on the other hand, has matured a great deal over the past year. Finally accepting responsibility for the player within, he is proudly displaying some dedication. There’s never been any doubt when it comes to how talented Dome is, but there has in the past been doubt placed on his commitment to the game. The past behind us, it will be interesting to see whether or not consistency can lead to a dazzling NHL career.
While Kraft and Dome polish their game, Aleksey Morozov is turning up the heat and eyeing the future. Drafted in the first round (24th overall) of the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, Morozov has been plagued by inconsistency both on and off the ice. No one said adjusting to North American hockey would be easy. All that is about to change however, as the true prospect, the player Pittsburgh has been anxiously waiting for, takes his place in front of the spotlight. Quick on his feet, soft with his hands, and no longer afraid to fight for the puck, this energetic winger and Moscow native is proving his worth in the kingdom of Penguins. And he’s only going to get better. Considering he’s now under the direction of a new coach (Herb Brooks) who favors European-style hockey, there’s no reason to believe any different. His teammates would agree this young man is their brightest hope of keeping the torch alive in Pittsburgh. From Lemieux, to Jagr, now on to Morozov… One never knows. He certainly has the ability.
With the new millennium come the legends of tomorrow. It’s too early to know for sure, but it could also mean the arrival of Penguin dynasty who will boldly leave their mark on the next century. One era is almost over, but another has just begun.
(all stats. as of 12/19/99)
GP W L T PTS
Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL) 30 12 15 3 31
Wilkes-Br/Scranton (AHL) 29 8 16 5 22
Wheeling Nailers (ECHL) 26 8 16 2 18
Top 5 – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Stats:
GP G A PTS PIM
John Slaney 18 10 13 23 9
Dennis Bonvie 28 2 20 22 205
Tyler Wright 25 5 15 20 86
Greg Crozier 27 11 6 17 6
Martin Sonnenberg 23 7 10 17 45
Penguins Prospects in Pittsburgh Stats:
GP G A PTS PIM
Michal Rozsival 30 1 7 8 10
Andrew Ference 26 2 4 6 18
Robert Dome 13 1 3 4 0
Tyler Wright 2 0 0 0 2
Hans Jonsson 24 0 0 0 4
Martin Sonnenberg 3 0 0 0 0
12/15/99- The Pittsburgh Penguins loaned goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)
12/18/99- The Pittsburgh Penguins recalled Tyler Wright of the Wilkes-Br/Scranton Penguins (AHL)
12/19/99- The Pittsburgh Penguins recalled Jean-Sebastien Aubin, Robert Dome, and Martin Sonnenberg of the Wilkes-Br/Scranton Penguins (AHL); John Slaney named to the 2000 AHL All-Star game as a member of the Canadian All-Star team
Upcoming games (times are EST):
Mon. 12/20/99 7:30 Pittsburgh at Montreal
Tues. 12/21/99 7:30 Pittsburgh at New York Isles
Thurs. 12/23/99 7:30 Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh
Sun. 12/26/99 8:00 Pittsburgh at Chicago
Weds. 12/29/99 7:00 Pittsburgh at Washington
Thurs. 12/30/99 7:30 New York Isles at Pittsburgh
Sun. 1/2/00 7:30 Detroit at Pittsburgh
Wilkes-Br/Scranton Penguins –
Weds. 12/22/99 7:35 Hershey at Wilkes-Br/Scranton
Sun. 12/26/99 6:00 Wilkes-Br/Scranton at Hershey
Mon. 12/27/99 7:35 Philadelphia at Wilkes-Br/Scranton
Weds. 12/29/99 7:30 Wilkes-Br/Scranton at Syracuse
Thurs. 12/30/99 7:05 Wilkes-Br/Scranton at Worcester
Weds. 1/5/00 7:05 Wilkes-Br/Scranton at Philadelphia
Wheeling Nailers –
Thurs. 12/23/99 7:30 Huntington at Wheeling
Sun 12/26/99 6:00 Toledo at Wheeling
Tues. 12/28/99 7:00 Wheeling at Huntington
Thurs 12/30/99 7:30 Huntington at Wheeling
Friday 12/31/99 6:00 Wheeling at Johnstown
Sun. 1/2/00 2:00 Trenton at Wheeling
Editor’s note: I will be on a slight break overseas until January 5th, 2000 at which time I’ll do what I can to get you updated on the latest news and notes from the Penguins organization. Until then … I would like to take this opportunity to wish the Pittsburgh Penguins, their minor league affiliates, and hockey fans around the world a very Merry Christmas and a properous New Year.