Penguins rookies are two of a kind

Dynamic duos. They are numerous in the world of professional sports.

Think of Joe Montana, and Jerry Rice automatically comes to mind.

Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dominated the basketball world in the 1980’s.

And Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr became one of the most feared one-two punches in the NHL during the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup days.

Now, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins defensemen Noah Welch and Ryan Lannon have nothing on any of those pairings yet, except when it comes to longevity.

You see, the rookie blueliners have been suiting up along side one another for more than half of their lives.

“We were teammates when we were eight or nine, we were D partners,” said the 23-year-old Welch. “[Lannon’s] dad was the coach and we used to do sleepovers every weekend. We were pretty good friends.”

“We played with each other more or less up until high school, against each other in high school, and then we were roommates the last three years in college,” said Lannon, 22. “So it’s pretty much forever.”

Not only has the relationship been a long one, it has been very successful for both players.

Lannon and Welch began their hockey playing on the rinks around Boston, playing in youth leagues and on travel teams together. The duo was briefly broken up during their prep school years (Lannon attended Cushing Academy; Welch, St. Sebastian’s), but even while they were on different teams, they were somehow still connected.

Ryan Lannon teamed with his childhood buddy for four years at Harvard before both got to Wilkes-Barre this fall.

“We played against each other in the prep school finals [in our senior seasons], which was a pretty big deal,” Welch remembered. “Both teams were undefeated going into it, and both of us were the captains. Both wore the same numbers, both played the same position. And both good friends.”

That friendship continued during the next four seasons, when Lannon and Welch were roommates and skated together with the Harvard Crimson. Heck, they both even took the same course of study in government while at the prestigious school.

“We helped each other through,” laughed Lannon. “Two brains combined for one degree.”

They also combined to rack up awards while at Harvard. Welch was a member of the All-ECAC Team in 2002, was named All-ECAC during his senior season, and served as the team captain in 2005. He also recorded 75 points (23 goals, 52 assists) in 124 games at the school.

Lannon wasn’t quite as offensive-minded as his teammate, but still managed to chip in with 38 points (4g, 34a) in 135 career games, second most in team history. He was named the U.S. College Hockey Online Unsung Hero during his senior season, was an All-Ivy League selection and led the team with a plus-25 rating.

It looked like the teammates might finally be broken up when their respective draft days came around. But one year after Welch was taken 54th overall by Pittsburgh in the 2001 Entry Draft, Lannon was selected by the Penguins in the eighth round. Go figure, it was Welch that was the first one to break the news to Lannon.

“He actually called me, I was on the beach and I wasn’t expecting to get drafted,” said Lannon. “I got back from the beach and I had two voice mails. The first one I got was from Noah, and I thought he was kind of messing with me. Then when my mother called, I figured it was true, so it was pretty cool.”

The Boston boys have made a seemingly smooth transition to the pro game in Wilkes-Barre, both at the rink and away from it.

Lannon and Welch have been key components to the Penguins 11-0-1-0 start. Welch was tied for the league lead with a plus-12 rating as of November 10, while Lannon was just one click behind at plus-11, most impressive numbers for first-year pros.

Impressive, apparently, to everyone but Lannon.

“I know Welchie cheats, he jumps out to celebrate whenever we score,” he joked. “I don’t really contribute much offensively. But I’ve been fortunate and I’m glad that it’s not the other way around.”

Off the ice, things have been status quo for rookies.

“It’s been as smooth as it could be,” said Lannon. “Going off to training camp together, being roommates out here, all that stuff is pretty familiar.”

“Just knowing someone and being able to get away from hockey and get away from the rink, talk to someone about things other than hockey, is good,” noted Welch. “We both mentioned it right before we came to Pittsburgh [for training camp]. We stopped over in New York City and said that this is great that we get to do this together. It’s one of your boys. You’re having fun, you’re playing pro hockey for the first time with one of your best friends. It’s a good feeling.”