Give Sergei Gonchar a Hand Tonight When the Penguins Host the Senators

Mark RoseCorrespondent IOctober 18, 2010

It is easy to remember the bad times.  Not just in hockey, but in any aspect of life.  

Ask any poker player if they remember how they won their big pots in the past, and they won't remember the details.  Ask them about their bad beats and losses, and they'll tell you what everyone at their table was wearing that night.

The Pittsburgh Penguins host the Ottawa Senators tonight and the game will be headlined by the return to the Steel City of former Pens defenceman Sergei Gonchar.

Some fans like to focus on the negative aspects of Gonchar's tenure in Pittsburgh.  His rough first season with the team (who didn't suck that season?), and his pedestrian performance in last year's elimination at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens. 

Despite the general complaint that he was injury-prone during his Penguins' days he played in 65, 82, 68, 25 and 62 regular season games in each respective season in the 'Burgh.  The 25 games played in 2008-09 stand out, but let's not forget that when he was finally back in the later winter of that season, he was one of the biggest reasons for the team's turnaround which ultimately led to a third Stanley Cup banner being hung at Mellon Arena.  

Next to the coaching change that same season, the return of Gonchar and his play down the stretch and throughout the playoffs catapulted the Penguins into another dimension.

As big a role as Gonchar played on the ice, his affect on the team was just as valuable off of it.  Gonchar was a mentor to Evgeni Malkin and played a big part in the development of young defencemen like Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang.  He was an invaluable leader to the team and his on ice statistics speak for themselves.  He was, and still is, one of the best offensive defenceman in the game.

Over the summer, Gonchar and the Penguins could not come to an agreement in terms of contract length.  Sergei wanted a three year deal and Ray Shero just wasn't willing to offer more than two, an understandable point of view when dealing with an aging blueliner.  

After signing in Ottawa, Gonchar stated clearly that he has no plans of retiring and hinted he wanted to play past 40 years of age.  If Chris Chelios could play until he was 126, I don't see why Gonchar couldn't play until he was, say, 45.

So I choose to remember the good times.  His game winning goal in the third period of Game 3 in the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals; rebounding after a knee-on-knee hit by Alex Ovechkin early in those same playoffs; the shot of him and his daughter in the Pens' dressing room after the Cup win, a win that I don't think would have been possible without him.

Here is hoping that the Penguins and their faithful give Gonch a moment that he deserves tonight.  A short video tribute and a round of ovation for one of the greatest Penguins ever and a future Hall of Famer would suffice.

From there, we hopefully move to cheering as Crosby and Malkin skate circles around him and the Senators.