Published On: Thu, Mar 8th, 2018

The Retro: Tocchet talks pranks, '90s Penguins, and Mario's emotional return

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Over the course of the 2017-18 season, theScore will run a series of interviews with former players in which they recall some of their greatest career moments. This edition focuses on Rick Tocchet, the current Arizona Coyotes head coach who won the Stanley Cup once as a player and twice as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On what he remembers about his first NHL game:

I’m pretty sure it was against the Washington Capitals, and obviously making the (Philadelphia Flyers’ roster in 1984-85) was a thrill, but I think we had a five-on-three and (head coach) Mike Keenan put me on the point on the power play, and that was probably the most scared I’ve ever been.

I don’t remember ever being on the point on the power play (before that), and he stuck me out there on a five-on-three, so that was one memory. Also, I took a penalty in the game, came out of the box, and got a breakaway, (but) didn’t score, so those were the two things I remember.

On who influenced him most as a player:

Mark Howe and Brad McCrimmon were really instrumental, just on the way they approached the game and being a professional, and Dave Poulin, who was our captain (with the Flyers). Everybody in that organization (helped me), but those three guys were really good for me, teaching me to become a pro.

On the biggest trash talker he ever encountered:

Claude Lemieux was pretty good at it, (as a) trash talker and an agitator. Dale Hunter a little bit, more as an agitator but still, he’d be chirping. Those two guys were pretty good at it.

On being part of the Stanley Cup-defending Penguins in 1991-92:

(Toward the end of my time) with Philadelphia, they were kind of rebuilding, so when I got traded, it was almost like (joining) an All-Star team, there were so many Hall of Famers on that (Penguins) team, so for me, it rejuvenated me in the sense that, ‘Hey, I’ve got a chance to win the Cup.’ This (wasn’t) a rebuilding program where you had to stick with it for three years. Winning was now, and that was an incredible feeling to be part of that.

On the dressing room atmosphere of March 2, 1993, when Mario Lemieux returned from his cancer treatments:

That was one of the (career) highlights for me, to experience not only the human being Mario Lemieux coming back and defying (the odds) – he didn’t skate that much because of the treatments, and to be able to come back and play at a high level (was remarkable) – but to me, it was the ovation he got in an archrival building in Philadelphia.

As the visiting team, (it was) the most fun place to play, because they’re good there about getting on the (opposing) team’s best player, and for them to give him a standing ovation, it was just … it actually gives me goosebumps to even think about it.

On the hardest part of playing for six teams in an eight-year span:

Getting acclimated (to a new place). You’ve got new friends, more people in your life, and the people who were in your life aren’t in your life as much any more. So some players have a tough time adjusting … I’d been traded, so I was kind of used to it.

It’s the family that gets affected, (and some) people don’t understand … the pressure of the family, but for me, it wasn’t as bad as other players because I dealt with it a little differently. To me, it was a job, and your job is important, but there are other aspects that sometimes players don’t understand. There’s family, and there are other issues. It’s not just about yourself.

On the most underrated player of his era:

Keith Tkachuk, when I was in Phoenix (with the Coyotes), the way he played the game. He played a hard game. I noticed the years I was there (1997-98 to ’99-2000) how hard he played and the way he could score. Before (I got there) he had 50 goals, and the way he’d score in the tough areas (was admirable). So … I just always thought, ‘This guy’s a really good hockey player.’

On the best hockey story he hasn’t shared with many people:

I liked the pranks, and there were a lot of different types of pranks and stuff like that. (One time) we were in Philadelphia, and I’m not going to name names because it’s embarrassing, but we told one rookie that when you go over the Walt Whitman Bridge – which has a toll – because you play for the Flyers, you don’t have to pay, all you do is yell ‘Flyers’ at the toll basket, and the gate will go up.

So the player went to the bridge, and there was another player with him who confirmed the story. (The rookie) went up and said, ‘Flyers!’. Well, it didn’t open up, and he yelled it again, ‘Flyers!’ So now people are honking their horns, telling them they’ve got to move.

So one of the managers of the toll company goes, ‘What’s wrong?’ and (the rookie) says, ‘I play for the Flyers. I yelled it into the basket.’ And the guy goes, ‘I don’t care who you play for, you’ve got to put a dollar in!’ and (the rookie) started getting into an argument with the guy, so I thought it was a pretty funny joke. But little did he know it was a prank, so that’s something people don’t know about. That was a good prank.

Rapid Fire

Best player he ever played with: Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux

Best player he ever played against: Gretzky and Lemieux

Best goalie he ever played against: Martin Brodeur

Best coach he ever had: Best bench coach: Scotty Bowman. Best coach for me: Mike Keenan.

Favorite arena and/or city to play in: Madison Square Garden

Fact File

Born: April 9, 1964, Scarborough, Ontario.

Drafted: Sixth round (121st overall), 1983, Philadelphia Flyers

Teams: Philadelphia Flyers (1984-92, 2000-02), Pittsburgh Penguins (1992-94), Los Angeles Kings (1994-96), Boston Bruins (1996-97), Washington Capitals (1997), Phoenix Coyotes (1997-2000).

Awards: Stanley Cup (1992 as a player, 2016 and 2017 as an assistant coach)

Other entries in this series:

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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