This interview originally appeared on www.openingfaceoff.net on June 22, 2011.
During the Stanley Cup playoffs, one moment or player can be said to have changed the course of history. In 1991, the Pittsburgh Penguins were down three games to two to the New Jersey Devils, and leading 2-1 in Game 6. Penguins starter Tom Barrasso had suffered an injury, and backup goalie Frank Pietrangelo was pressed into service in this elimination game. With his team nursing a 2-1 lead, Pietrangelo made a glove save that preserved the one goal lead, snagging a Peter Stastny shot from point blank range, with a gaping 4 x 6 goal the target. In Penguins legend, that stop became known simply as “The Save.”
Pittsburgh went on to win that game, and also won Game 7, eliminating the Devils and propelling them further into the playoffs, in which they eliminated the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, and Minnesota North Stars en route to their first Stanley Cup championship.
What happens if Pietrangelo doesn’t make that save? The Penguins had struggled all series against the Devils, and had Stastny tied that game up, the odds were that New Jersey would have gone on to win the series, and Pittsburgh would not even have been a memory in that year’s playoffs. For many Penguin fans, Pietrangelo saved the entire Cup run with his Game 6 heroics.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with Mr. Pietrangelo, and had the chance to ask him about his role on that team, and his memories about 1991. For those who remember, Pietrangelo was acquired by the Hartford Whalers for the 1992 playoffs, and almost singlehandedly eliminated the Montreal Canadiens, losing in double overtime of Game 7. Frank Pietrangelo remains a legend in Pittsburgh Penguin history. His contributions to the 1991 championship are immeasurable.
Many thanks to Mr. Frank Pietrangelo for his time and contribution!
And now, introducing in goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins, #40, Frank Pietrangelo!
Justin–When Tom Barrasso got injured and couldn’t start Game 6 against New Jersey, how much notice were you given that you would be the starter for a possible elimination game? What went through your mind?
Frank–Tom was hurt in game 5, and we knew that he would not be able to play the rest of the series, so I knew right away that I would be playing game 6. As for what went through my mind- I was excited to get an opportunity to play on the “big stage”.
Justin–Walk us through “The Save.” Did you have a bead on it the whole way, or was it purely as reactionary as it appeared?
Frank–The save was a reaction. When the original shot from the point came in on me, it was bouncing so I couldn’t get a good grip on it. The rebound went out to the slot and I just reacted the way I would normally to a rebound- just tried to get something in front of the puck to make the save.
Justin–Describe the atmosphere in the Pittsburgh locker room during the 1991 playoffs. Was there one specific player who kept things light, or was that a team effort as well?
Frank–The dressing room was great during the 1991 playoffs. We were like a family, everyone cared about each other and everyone helped each other out. We were youthful and energetic and learning everyday as the playoffs went on. It was a great atmosphere. I don’t think anyone in particular really kept things “light” so to speak, but the addition of Joe Mullen and Bryan Trottier, and the presence of Paul Coffey (3 veteran guys who had won the Stanley Cup in the past) really helped the younger players.
Justin–What kind of leaders were in the room? Was there one specific player who was the team leader, or did the responsibility fall on several players?
Frank–I think the above answer kind of hits on this question a bit. Throw in Mario of course and then Ron Francis- there was a ton of leadership on this team. Look at how many Hall of Fame players were on this team. Not to mention veterans like Larry Murphy, Ulf Samuelson, etc, etc.
Justin–Was there one specific moment during the playoffs that really united the locker room?
Frank–I think there were many great moments that brought us together, but we were a “team” long before the playoffs started. I think when you look at teams that have success, the important bonding process must happen before the success shows on the ice. This team was very close, and to be honest with you still is today. So in my opinion winning is the final piece of what transpires during the season and over time.
Justin–Sitting on the bench, watching the final moments of Game 6 in Minnesota tick away, what was going through your mind?
Frank–Well it was 8-0 after the 2nd period, so we knew between periods that we were going to win the Stanley Cup…lol. But we were just trying to keep our emotions in check until the final buzzer. It was a great feeling, one that is indescribable to be honest with you, and one that gets magnified as time goes on.
Justin–Who do you credit for pulling the team together after two losses in Boston in the Conference Finals?
Frank–After our 2 losses in Boston, Kevin Stevens came right out to the media and said we were going to win the series. I think he went as far as to say we wouldn’t lose another game in the series. Regardless, this was a bold statement from Kevin, and one that we all felt but he was ballsy enough to speak. We had a lot of Boston born players on our team, so this was an important series for a lot of our guys.
Justin–You were a teammate of a teenage Jaromir Jagr in 1991. What was it like watching him grow into his skills in the playoffs, and did you imagine he would become the player he did?
Frank–Jaromir was a great player and a hard worker. I think every one of us knew he would be the player he turned out to be. He had a great work ethic, a tremendous love for the game, and most importantly he had talent oozing out of him. By having Mario in the same dressing room with him, and on the ice daily with him, Jaromir got to learn from the best, so it was no fluke that he would be the player he became.
Justin–What kind of emotions did you feel when you were called into action in Game 5 of the Finals? Every Canadian hockey player dreams of playing in the Finals; what went through your mind?
Frank–I hadn’t played for a while prior to game 5- my last appearance was in game 2 of the 2nd round (Washington), so it was not easy to go in and play after being inactive for so long. But having said this, once again I got an opportunity to play in a situation that I had dreamed of my whole life- a chance to play in the Stanley Cup Finals. Having said this, Tom was injured during the first period of the game, so there wasn’t a lot of time to prepare- just get in there and go get ‘em type of thing. But that was my role, and I cherished the opportunity to play and help the team win.
Justin–What keeps you busy these days? How are you enjoying Hill Academy?
Frank–This past year I was the General Manager and Coach of The Hill Academy Prep Hockey Team. It was a great experience and a number of our players received NCAA scholarships and/or opportunities to play in the OHL for next season. I have been at The Hill Academy for the past 3 years, but I will move in another direction for next season. I have coached minor hockey since I retired in 2000, and next season I will join the JR coaching ranks. I enjoy coaching and giving back to the game that has given me so much.