BREAKING NEWS

BREAKING NEWS

Steigerwald out as Pens’ broadcaster

Commentary

PITTSBURGH — If Paul Steigerwald had any bitterness about losing his television play-by-play job for Penguins games, he worked it out in private.

Root Sports announced on Tuesday that Steigerwald was out and Steve Mears will be the new TV voice of the team.

At the same time, the Penguins made it known that Steigerwald would be rejoining the front office staff, handling a variety of communications duties for the team.

That put a high buff polish on what could have been a messy situation. It’s tough to lose a job, even tougher to lose a dream job.

Spending part of January in Calgary and Edmonton may not be for everybody, but it suited Steigerwald just fine. He attended every practice and every game-day skate, collecting information that he could use on the broadcasts.

In the parlance of the players, he was a grinder, a hard worker. He never short-changed his employers on effort, and his passion for hockey — and the Penguins in particular — never wavered.

Steigerwald, 62, first joined the broadcast team in 1985 as the analyst. Later he switched to radio play-by-play. When Root decided it didn’t want to work with Mike Lange any more, Steigerwald took the TV play-by-play spot and Lange moved to radio.

Before he went on the air, Steigerwald was the team’s marketing director. He was the one who picked up Mario Lemieux at the airport in 1984 and gave the team’s 18-year-old No. 1 draft choice his first look at Pittsburgh.

Now Lemieux as one of the franchise’s owners is finding a spot in the front office for Steigerwald, which helps soften the landing.

Nobody will ever admit this, but a big part of the switch is hiring someone younger who can stick around for another generation of viewers. Mears is 37. He’s qualified for the job, having done play-by-play for the New York Islanders and more recently he’s served five years with the NHL Network.

Mears, a native of Murrysville, has been here before. He spent some time with the Penguins in a utility role a few seasons ago. The perception then was he was the heir apparent to Lange.

But Lange, 68, shows no signs that he’s ready to leave the job he’s held in one form or another since 1974. Root may have pushed him out the door, but the Penguins won’t.

Steigerwald wrote an incredibly gracious exit piece for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, expressing his gratitude for all the years he spent behind the microphone with the Penguins.

He’s a lifer with the team. His family lived near Jack Riley, the Penguins’ original general manager, and tickets were easy to come by when far fewer people were interested in hockey.

When Steigerwald spoke of Bugsy Watson and Battleship Kelly, he did so from personal knowledge. He never stopped rooting for the Penguins, and that apparently rankled some social media critics.

Yet if someone constructed a Mt. Rushmore of Pittsburgh sportscasters, it would automatically include Bob Prince, Myron Cope and Lange, all of whom made no secret of their allegiance to the home team.

Steigerwald will continue to attend the practices and remain devoted to the Penguins. That’s in his DNA at this point.

What could have been a nasty situation instead turned into an oddly uplifting story, thanks to his admirable grace in handling bad news and the Penguins’ willingness to reward a loyal employee.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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