Pittsburgh coal may be dead, but the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins are the “energy” story of the year—maybe the century.
At the turn of the New Year, the Penguins were deader than a rusty, retired coal plant. The team appeared to be out of the playoffs and armchair pundits like me were saying that Penguins Captain Sidney Crosby was a spent force. Now, those same plucky Penguins have been producing more energy than a matter/antimatter reactor and moved at warp speed to take the Stanley Cup back to the Steel City.
It’s a story that has a lot in common with the U.S. energy sector. Eight years ago, the political debate in America was about us becoming more energy efficient and the need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Now, the U.S. energy sector is booming thanks to shale gas and the country is on the verge of becoming an oil exporter. Even dirty old coal has cleaned up its act and still has a valuable place in the U.S. energy generation stack. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and other oil producing nations of the Middle East are pondering ways to transition their economies away from an unhealthy reliance on oil to become knowledge-based economies.
The Penguins’ run to the Cup is an unlikely story about a likeable bunch—even to a lifelong Philadelphia Flyers fan like me. The Pens’ melting pot mix is about as eclectic as the U.S. energy generation stack. Mike Sullivan, a kid from Boston, took over as head coach in mid-December, coming up from being coach of the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, affectionately called the “Baby Pens” by fans. Now, in front of him on the bench are a waddle of former Baby Pens who are playing lights out for the Penguins proper—Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnackle, and Matt Murray. Murray, the 22-year old rookie goalie, is as cool as a cucumber and is looking like a combination of 1945 Hall of Famer Georges Vezina (“The Chicoutimi Cucumber”) and Ken Dryden, who won six Stanley Cups with the Canadiens from 1971 to 1979. Then there are the “retreads,” jettisoned from other teams and landed by the Pens, think Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Eric Fehr. To complete the gang are the veteran Penguin “usual suspects” like Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Olli Maatta, Kris Letang, and Chris Kunitz. Crosby is playing like Superman in the playoffs and is proving me as wrong as those energy experts who predicted we would have run out of natural gas by now.
The Pens are as American as Apple Pie to boot; the majority of the roster are U.S.-born players. I predicted on Twitter back in March that the Cup would return to Pittsburgh. This rag-tag team of baby Pens, retread Pens, and veteran Pens who won this Cup are the best hockey story in North America since “do you believe in miracles” in 1980, when the U.S. Olympic men’s ice hockey team pulled off one of the biggest sports upsets ever by beating the Soviet Union.
The lesson from the Penguins and the U.S. energy sector is the same: never count out a fighter too soon. So “Elvis has left the building” and we do get an Ethane Cracker and a Stanley Cup in the same week!