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Jim O’Brien: Larouche lucky to still be in step with Penguins

October 18, 2012
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Jim O’Brien: Larouche lucky to still be in step with Penguins

By Jim O’Brien, Columnnist, Pittsburgh Business Times

Pierre Larouche was one of the greatest scorers in the National Hockey League, as a high-flying forward for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens.  He scored 50 goals in a season twice, once with the Penguins and once with the Canadiens, and had 48 one winter with the Rangers.

He was the first player to score 50 goals for two different teams in the NHL, and the youngest (at 21) to do so until Wayne Gretzky broke his record in 1980.  Larouche was the first draft choice of the Penguins in 1974 and scored 53 goals a year later.

Sidney Crosby and Yvgeni Malkin have each scored 50 goals in a season, but only once.  Larouche was a gifted player with speed and elusiveness and a deft scoring touch.

Yet on this fall morning, Larouche was moving about the glistening hardwood floors of the family room in his home in Mt. Lebanon like a four-year-old skating on ice for the first time. He put his right hand at the base of his spine and complained, “It’s still stiff. I can’t play golf for awhile.”

He was on the mend from back surgery a few weeks earlier.  Larouche pulled up a gray Penguins’ sweatshirt and showed the 10-inch scar just above his buttocks.  “I’ll be 57 (on Nov. 16) and Mario is 47, and we were just talking about where the time has gone.”

Mario, of course, is Larouche’s boss, Mario Lemieux, one of the NHL greats and one of the principal owners of the Penguins. If Larouche were wearing a black and white tuxedo, as he does at fund-raising dinners, he could be an extra for the movie “March of the Penguins.”

Larouche says he’s been lucky – his nickname was “Lucky Pierre when he played in the NHL – to still be a part of the Penguins, marching stiffly or when he’s rehabilitated his back and is able to play golf again.  That’s his passion along with hockey these days.  He has a one stroke handicap at The Club at Nevillewood, and once came close to qualifying for the U.S, Open.

He’s a goodwill ambassador for the Penguins and he’s still on their payroll.  I suggested he worked hard during his playing days at being a good guy which led to his present position.          “It wasn’t work,” he said.  “I learned that from my mother.  Everybody is important. She taught me to treat people like I wanted to be treated. That’s easy for me.  I think you have to get up awfully early to be a jerk.”  He tried selling insurance after he retired as a player, “but that wasn’t me.”

Asked to explain his promotional role for the Penguins, Larouche allowed, “My first and foremost job that I do for Mario and the Penguins is to take care of the corporate sponsors.  Whether it be participating in any event or fund-raising effort the team is involved in, or making sure all their needs are met while they are at the games, or just playing a friendly round of golf.

“Along with Mario, I am host to any celebrity or government official, including those from Canada, that attend a Penguins’ game and sit in Mario’s box.

“As part of the All-Time Team, I support the Penguins by doing public relations events and attending community affairs.  This can range from going to Children’s Hospital to see the kids or signing autographs at The Regatta.  I am humbled by the fans that remember my playing days with the Penguins, and wish to share their memories with me.  In brief, I have the best job in the world and definitely the best boss in Mario.”

The NHL was in a lockout and the pre-season schedule had been canceled.  Larouche hoped the owners and players could settle on a new contract:  “There’s a lot of money out there, and you’d think they could figure out a way to share it equitably.”

Pierre and his wife Cindi and Mario and his wife Nathalie will host a fund-raising dinner – A Night of Hope for Mother’s Hope Foundation that supports children’s care around the world –at the Omni William Penn on Nov. 17.  Penguins Marc-Andre Fleury, Kris Letang and former Penguin Mark Recchi will appear as well.

Larouche also has a special interest in cancer research because Cindi overcame a cancer scare in 1979, and Mario had two bouts with the Hodgkin’s lymphoma form of cancer, first diagnosed in 1993.  The Larouches have no children, yet Pierre will be hosting a golf outing for the 24th year in New York to raise funds for the prevention of child abuse,

“I’ve been fortunate in my lifetime,” said Larouche.  “I like to give back.  I’m still Lucky Pierre.”

Pittsburgh sports author Jim O’Brien has a new book out called “Immaculate Reflections.”  Check his website at www.jimobriensportsauthor.com.  His e-mail address is jimmyo64@gmail.com

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