Pens front office learned it early

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- When Ray Shero was just a kid, he was fortunate enough to hang around the coach's office with the Philadelphia Flyers.

His dad, the legendary late Fred Shero, coached the Flyers to their only Stanley Cups. Pat Quinn was one assistant coach, Terry Crisp was the other. The goaltending coach was Jacques Plante.

You learn by osmosis, just from hanging around.

"I am in that kind of company at 14 years old," the young general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins said. "You learn the game. You hear things. I think that has helped me.

"It was great to be on the ice with Bobby Clarke, Rick MacLeish and Bernie Parent."

It is an interesting mix, this second-generation front office of the Penguins. The son of Freddie The Fog as general manager. The son of Cliff Fletcher as his assistant. Two sons of Stanley Cup winners looking for a small piece of history themselves.

Two kids, who aren't really kids anymore, making their way and their reputations moulding the most exciting young team in hockey, quickly converting too many terrible seasons into sudden Cup contenders.

But you don't get this far, don't appreciate what this means, without an understanding of the past. They lived what we watched on television. They knew first hand the players we knew from afar.

"I was 12 years old in 1974 when (the Flyers) beat the New York Rangers in seven games and went on to play Boston in the Stanley Cup final," Shero said. "I have all kinds of memories about that. I remember every game, going to the pre-game skates with my father."

You listen to Shero and understand how precious these championship runs can be. He has been an NHL executive with startup franchises in Ottawa and Nashville and for 15 years he has not known any playoff success. At least, until now.

"I've tried to apply what I learned from my father the best I can," Shero said. His father was more coach than manager. Shero, a college hockey player, never wanted to coach. "I learned a lot about the game from my father. He had all those little diagrams and systems, you can't help but learn from that."

Chuck Fletcher remembers going to visit colleges with his dad to pick a place to go to school. They landed at Cornell and, of course, had to take in a hockey practice. "We're at practice and he sees Joe Nieuwendyk for the first time," Chuck said. "Suddenly, he's more interested in Nieuwendyk than he is in me. That year they drafted Nieuwendyk. And I went to Harvard.

"My dad became GM of the Atlanta Flames when I was five so it has really been my whole life. All my memories revolve around hockey, either in Atlanta or Calgary. I think what it has given me is a sense of history of the game. And it has helped me with what I do now, made me more comfortable being around people in the game.

"You realize how hard it is to win the Stanley Cup? My dad had one of the three best teams in hockey from '84 to '91. At times, arguably the second-best team in hockey. They won just one Cup. And they almost lost in the first round that year. There were those Edmonton teams. There were those Montreal teams. There's just so much competition."

RUN HIS OWN TEAM

The players he grew up around -- Brett Hull, Nieuwendyk, Al MacInnis, Doug Gilmour -- all worked this past season in front-office positions with NHL teams. Fletcher now works among those he grew up around.

One day, like his father, he wants to run his own team. The team he runs now is playing for the American Hockey League championship. The team he helps run is playing for the Stanley Cup.

For Shero, the future is both exciting and challenging. It's one thing to have all these young stars on one team. It's another thing in a salary-capped environment to keep the main pieces in place.

He hopes to provide the same kind of Stanley Cup memories for his kids, that he got from his father.


Photos