By Doug Halberstadt
Among the fringe benefits that come with writing a sports column is the opportunity to meet some very interesting people. Last Friday night (March 29) at the Rockford IceHogs game, I had one of those occurrences.
I was seated in the press box next to the pro scout from the Tampa Bay Lightning. His name is Greg Malone. After a brief conversation, it became evident to me this was the same Greg Malone who was a center in the National Hockey League for 11 years. In 1976, he was a second-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was the 19th overall player taken that season.
After seven successful seasons with Pittsburgh, he was traded to the Hartford Whalers. He spent three more productive years in Hartford. The final two years of his professional career were spent with the Quebec Nordiques. He played a total of 704 professional games. He tallied 191 career goals and 310 assists for 501 total points.
We talked throughout the entire ’Hogs game. He shared stories about guys he played with and against. He told me of some devastating injuries he incurred on the ice. A blown-out knee and having his nose broken more times than he could recount were the ones that still bothered him at times.
He answered my questions about his salary as a rookie and what he made at the pinnacle of his career. He did ask that I not share those figures publicly. But I can tell you they pale in comparison to the salaries paid to players today.
I told him I grew up a Chicago Blackhawks fan, and he immediately told me how he could never beat Stan Makita in a face-off. “Other guys in the league would use their bodies and try to muscle you away from the puck,” he said. “Not Makita. He beat you with his fast stick. I could never get the puck away from him.” He brought up the names of Keith Magnuson, Al Secord and told me he is still close friends with Tony Esposito.
He now travels the country scouting skaters in the American Hockey League and the NHL. His son, Ryan, plays for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The IceHogs ended up losing the game 3-2 to the Milwaukee Admirals. I know for two guys in the arena that wasn’t the main story. For us, it was all about talking hockey from 25 to 30 years ago. For me, it was from the point of view of a wide-eyed fan. I was thoroughly enjoying each of those stories being told directly to me by this former player, especially one whom I had always considered to be a rival of my favorite skaters from that era.
For him, it came from a memory bank that I’m pretty sure hadn’t been opened in quite some time. I think he was delighted that I was genuinely interested in hearing his memories. As the final horn sounded, I told him how much I appreciated chatting with him. He gathered his things and headed for the exit, but not before saying, “If we had more time, I’d tell you a lot more!”
I hope some day we’ll run into each other again and I get the opportunity to hear some of those other stories. I’m not certain who’d enjoy that more, me or Malone.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the April 3-9, 2013, issue