Savoring the moment



The group picture of the Pittsburgh Penguins gathered around the Stanley Cup they won Friday night in Detroit will soon be ubiquitous in the Steel City. It will be plastered on everything from cereal boxes to T-shirts to posters and sold to fans hungry for memorabilia.

But hidden on someone's digital camera is another picture, one that won't be used in merchandising but one that has meaning to those who posed for it.

Late Friday night, long after captain Sidney Crosby took the first sip of champagne but before the team's charter left for Pittsburgh at 2:45 a.m., a group of six taxi squad players and a coach gathered around the Stanley Cup in the Penguins locker room for one last photo.

It was a team picture of sorts for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins who have been practicing with the parent club for the last month or so - defenseman Ben Lovejoy (Orford, N.H.), goalies John Curry and Brad Thiessen, forwards Jeff Taffe, Chris Minard and Dustin Jeffrey and coach Todd Reirden.

"I think (Dan Bylsma) was around too, but I don't know if he qualifies," Lovejoy said. "He's definitely graduated by now."

The taxi squad players had been taking the ice for 9 a.m. practices regularly since Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was eliminated from the Calder Cup playoffs last month, just in case injuries struck.

Two days before Game 7, after one of those practices, Reirden delivered some exciting news. If the Penguins won, the taxi squad would be allowed on the Joe Louis Arena ice to celebrate.

"As if we weren't already cheering hard enough, that made us the biggest cheerleaders in Detroit," Lovejoy said.

The players watched most of Game 7 in their suits from the concourse Friday night, but as the Penguins carried a 2-0 lead into the third period, they were faced with an interesting dilemma.

When was it appropriate for them to head to the locker room to get their jerseys and skates on? They didn't want to jinx anything.

With 13 minutes to go, they made their move.

"We were getting our gear on and all of a sudden they score," Lovejoy said. "It was like, 'Oh my God. That's our fault. We did that.'"

Thanks to some prodding from veteran scratches Petr Sykora and Philippe Boucher, the taxi squad resisted the temptation to change back into their suits for good luck. A few minutes later, the clock struck zero and the Penguins were Stanley Cup champions.

The practice squad players decided etiquette dictated they wait a few minutes before joining the celebration.

"We didn't go right on the ice and jump on the pile. We wanted to wait until after the handshakes," Lovejoy said. "Could you imagine if I got in line and shook Niklas Lidstrom's hand? He'd look at me like I had three heads."

Finally, the practice squad players joined the party. They knew they were allowed to be on the ice, but they weren't sure it was OK for them to get in line to handle the Cup.

"Did we want to touch it?" Lovejoy said. "Did we really earn it?"

Their concerns were quickly laid to rest in a dramatic way.

"Mario (Lemieux) came over to Taffe and said, 'Go get it,'" Lovejoy recalled. "I think he could tell we were being cautious."

None of the practice squad players appeared in 40 of Pittsburgh's games in the regular season or one game in the finals, so they won't have their names inscribed on the Cup. Lovejoy said he doesn't know whether they will receive championship rings or get their day with the trophy either.

But none passed on the chance to lift sport's most famous trophy over their heads for a few moments Friday night.

"It was so cool," Lovejoy said. "You just want to make sure someone gets a picture so you can prove to your friends that you actually did it. It was awesome."