Work in Sports
Tugnutt wins over teammates, fans in Pittsburgh
Posted: Saturday April 29, 2000 09:33 PM
By Bruce Garrioch, SLAM! Sports
PHILADELPHIA -- The telephone rang in Ron Tugnutt's hotel room yesterday at 3 a.m. On the other end was an obviously intoxicated Philadelphia Flyers fan.
"You bleepin', bleepin', bleep," said the voice.
"Who are you looking for?" said Tugnutt.
"I'm looking for Ron Tugnutt," said the caller.
"Well, you've got the wrong room," said Tugnutt.
"Geez, I'm really sorry man," said the voice. "But you're still a bleepin', bleepin', bleep."
Now, there's no truth to the talk the voice sounded like Senators' GM Marshall Johnston, though he's probably cursing under his breath at the thought of having sent Tugnutt to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the deadline.
Tugnutt has already gotten under the skin of Flyers' fans by stealing Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-final with a 2-0 shutout here Thursday. He could probably run for office in Pittsburgh right now and stand a good chance of winning.
After leading the Penguins to a first-round series upset in over the Washington Capitals (4-1), the former Senators goaltender is continuing to prove his detractors wrong as the Penguins continue down their merry playoff path.
"Do I feel vindicated? No, we still have a long way to go before I can say: 'Geez, I've proven the skeptics wrong.' Right now, I'm just looking at this as, `let's see how far we can go' and we just want to continue to be tough to beat," said Tugnutt.
"You only get so many kicks at the can. Whenever you get the chance to be in the position to succeed like I am right now, you want to take advantage of it. This has obviously been a great opportunity for me."
Shipped to the Penguins at the trade deadline with defenceman Janne Laukkanen in exchange for goaltender Tom Barrasso, Tugnutt wasn't even supposed to be the No. 1 when he arrived in Pittsburgh.
Instead, he stood behind Jean-Sebastien Aubin until April 3 when Aubin went down with an ankle injury. Since then, Tugnutt has been the man and if he keeps playing this way, they'll soon be calling him The Iron Curtain in Pittsburgh.
"The guy has been playing great," said Penguins captain Jaromir Jagr. "It's easy to have confidence when you've got a goaltender who has been stopping the puck the way he has been. You just want him to keep it going."
Not bad for a guy the Senators gave up on.
When Tugnutt struggled to make the big saves in Ottawa this season, Johnston and coach Jacques Martin decided it was time to make a change. They brought in Barrasso, hoping his record as a money goaltender would help the Senators get past at least the first round of the playoffs.
Tugnutt, who was one of the Senators' most high-profile players when he was dealt, has seen his popularity increase even more in Ottawa since he was traded. The move is being second-guessed even more now that the Penguins are in the second round, Tugnutt is shining and the Senators are out courtesy of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"I don't take any pleasure [in their elimination]," said Tugnutt. "I'm not like that. I'm not that kind of guy. I've got a lot of friends there and I wanted them to succeed in the playoffs. I wanted them to do well.
"When they were tied 2-2 with Toronto, I phoned [massage therapist] Brad Joyal and I told him that 'you guys are going to beat those guys,' and I was cheering for them. I didn't want them to lose just because they traded me."
Good guy? Nope, great guy.
That's the big question about this trade: Did the Senators screw up their mix by bringing a volatile character like Barrasso into the room? The Ottawa players will tell you Barrasso fit in well, but his popularity was not universal.
There are some players that Barrasso wouldn't even acknowledge in the Ottawa room because he didn't like them on or off the ice.
There's not a player in the Pittsburgh room who will say anything bad about Tugnutt. In fact, it'd be hard to find any of his former teammates with anything bad to say, either.
"He's been great for us, but we're talking about two completely different people here," said Pittsburgh tough guy Matthew Barnaby, an Ottawa native. "Tommy is Tommy. He's got two Stanley Cup rings and he's the kind of guy that you either like him or you hate him. He's a friend of mine.
"Tugger is different. He's just a great guy and he's really fit in well with this team. We've got a lot of guys in this room who believe in each other right now and he's fit in well this group. He's played a lot of years in this league and he knows how important it is for a team to have confidence in the goalie."
Tugnutt organized a barbecue at a hotel where those who don't have homes in the Pittsburgh area live. Twelve players were there -- including Barnaby and defenceman Darius Kasparaitis --and a good time was had by all.
Being traded wasn't what Tugnutt wanted, but it happened and he is now making the best of it.
"The first week here was hard, because I didn't really know where I fit in and what my role was going to be," said Tugnutt. "Once I established myself here, I felt good about it. I've relaxed a lot more since I got here.
"The atmosphere is just different here. It's pretty intense in Ottawa. Here, they just go out and play. In Ottawa, they have a system that they follow to have success and you're supposed to stick to it. That's not a bad thing, it's just here it's different. Right now, I'd say this is the best place for me at this point in my career and that's only after being here a short time."
Tugnutt will admit the trade disappointed him at the time. It's been hard on his wife Lisa, along with children Matt and Jacob, because they remain at his home in Stittsville and make infrequent visits to Pittsburgh.
His only regret is he didn't get a chance to lead Ottawa in the playoffs. And though he sounds like a man who thought he should have gotten more respect while in a Senators' uniform, he insists it's not the case.
"As an organization they made a decision and you have respect that decision. I'm just disappointed because I was prepared to lead that team into the playoffs," said Tugnutt.
"But there were a few things that disappointed me. If I played one bad game, I would never play in the next game. You don't see that with other No. 1 goalies in the league. Patrick Lalime was having an outstanding year and I understand that.
"I just don't think I was really ... I just think I could have been the No. 1 goalie for that team going into the playoffs."
Still, there are no regrets. He's won a playoff round by stopping 152-of-160 shots, has a 1-0 lead going into Game 2 today against Philadelphia and, really, has the world at his feet.
Nobody is saying Ron Tough Luck anymore.
After clinching the series win over the Capitals, the first person to hug Tugnutt was Laukkanen. The two have become even closer friends since being traded together.
"I said to him: 'Is this fun or what?' " said Laukkanen. "He said to me: `You'd better believe it. I love hockey. I can't believe how lucky we are to be here right now.' "
Now, the only thing Tugnutt has to remember is to put a call block on his phone before he goes to bed at night. He's public enemy No. 1 in the City of Brotherly Love and if he keeps playing like he has, he'll never get any sleep.
"I've got some luck going my way," he said.