by Brian Coe || AHL On The Beat Archive
|Todd Reirden made his NHL debut with Edmonton in 1998-99. (Photo: Getty Images)|
The Pittsburgh Penguins made one of the biggest deals at the National Hockey League’s trade deadline, acquiring veteran forward Bill Guerin from the New York Islanders for a conditional draft pick.
To be sure, fans in Pittsburgh are excited about the deal. But Guerin’s biggest backer might reside with the organization’s American Hockey League affiliate.
“Huge Bill Guerin fan,” said Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Todd Reirden with a broad grin. “For me, that’s a guy in the past that made a huge impression on my life, that I still go back to today. For me, A-1 character.”
A first round draft choice by the New Jersey Devils in 1989, Guerin appeared in a total of 40 AHL games before landing a permanent spot in the NHL in 1992-93.
Reirden, by contrast, found himself grinding away in the minors for a five year span (1994-99), suiting up for eight teams in three leagues before being called up by the Edmonton Oilers during the 1998-99 season, the same team that had traded for Guerin earlier in the year.
Reirden said the NHL vet made an impression right from the get go.
“I played my very first NHL game in Phoenix against the Coyotes,” said Reirden. “It was well documented I was 27 years old and hadn’t played an NHL game at the time.
“I started the game, and I remember Billy making some comments before it that I was getting to start the game that night against [Jeremy] Roenick and [Keith] Tkachuk and these guys.”
|Bill Guerin has scored more than 400 goals in nearly 1,200 games during his NHL career. (Photo: Getty Images)|
The Oilers ended up winning the game that night, but it was what happened in the locker room after the victory that really sticks in Reirden’s mind.
“[Guerin] grabbed the puck,” he recalled. “Most times when someone plays his first game it’s ‘Congratulations on your first game,’ and he throws you the puck. But I’ll never forget the comments that he made.
“He took his time, said ‘Everyone stop getting undressed. I want to point something out that occurred today. There’s this guy that battled for the last four or five years to prove people wrong to get his chance to play in the National Hockey League. I just want to make sure that everyone understands that this guy has earned every bit of the chance he got tonight. I want to present him with this NHL game puck.’”
Reirden was taken aback by the kind gesture in front of the team.
But that’s not the only bond the two share.
“And then on my first goal, first NHL goal, he gave me a real good pass,” recalled the former blueliner. “I joined the play as a defensemen, it was a three-on-two and he threw a backhand saucer pass to me just inside the blue line. I somehow fooled the goalie top shelf.
“So I have that puck on the wall at my house at home. It has my name on it and says assisted by Bill Guerin on it. … Sure I remember him for that pass, but I remember him more for the way that he took the time out to point out the way that I got to the NHL.”
But according to Reirden, Guerin’s kind words that night in Phoenix are hardly out of character.
“There’s a million other things about Bill Guerin I could go on for days about … his leadership, in terms of making sure young guys are taken care of. He takes you out to dinner, makes sure you’re with four or five other guys. You’re in a brand new situation, and he makes sure you’re never alone and by yourself, and you feel part of the group.
“It always means a lot when you’re included by someone you’re on a new team with, but when it’s your top player, it’s even more.”