Welcome to our series on who wore each number best for the Penguins.
The idea is being openly borrowed from our new hockey writer, Cody Tucker, and his project at the Lansing State Journal covering all the uniform numbers worn through Michigan State football history, one that’s been well received by their readers and prompted heavy discussion and debate.
Under my organization, and following the voting of a big chunk of our staff, we’ll publish one new one each day until completion, which should be right around the start of training camp.
Name: Martin Straka
Born: September 3, 1972 in Plzen, Czechoslovakia
Seasons with Penguins: 1992-95, 1997-03
Statistics with Penguins: 560 games, 165 goals, 277 assists in regular season;
Martin Straka is one of the top 15 players in Penguins history (he's also one of my top 5 all-time favorites, but that's not what this series is about).
Straka, only 5-foot-9, was the Penguins' first round selection in the 1992 NHL Draft. He made his debut that fall, recording 16 points in 42 games. In his first full season, he became one of Pittsburgh's top scorers, amassing 30 goals and 34 assists in 84 games.
31 games into the 1994-95 season, the Penguins traded Straka to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Troy Murray and Norm Maciver.
After stints with the Senators, Islanders, and Panthers, Straka returned to Pittsburgh as a free agent in 1997.
Straka shone in his second stint with the Penguins. He was over a point-per-game player twice, scoring 83 points in 1998-99 and 95 points in 2000-01. His line with Alexei Kovalev and Robert Lang, while never part of any championship run, was one of the better lines in franchise history.
He also was responsible for some iconic goals.
The Penguins were the underdogs in the 1999 Eastern Conference quarterfinals matchup with the top-seeded New Jersey Devils. The Penguins took the series to a Game 7, and were clinging to a 3-2 lead with under five minutes remaining in the game. Straka scored, essentially putting the game away, and produced one of the greatest celebrations in Penguins history:
As described in the Jaromir Jagr feature of this series, that goal may have saved the Penguins.
The Penguins met with the Washington Capitals in the first round of the 2001 playoffs. The Penguins entered Game 6 with a 3-2 series lead. Straka's breakaway goal in overtime clinched the series:
In the next round of the 2001 playoffs, the Penguins found themselves down 3-2 in the series against the Buffalo Sabres, on the brink of elimination. The Penguins began the third period trailing 2-1. With just over a minute remaining in regulation, Mario Lemieux scored to send the game to overtime. 11 minutes into overtime, Straka scored to force a Game 7. Darius Kasparaitis would score his iconic overtime winner two days later.
Straka's 2001-02 season was full of bad luck. He missed four months with a broken leg. In his first game back, he took a stick to the face and sustained injuries that caused him to miss a few more weeks. When he came back from that, he suffered another leg injury. In total, he played 13 games that season.
Here's the Penguins' intro video from Straka's final season, 2003-04. The X Generation. Straka, Rico Fata, Ramzi Abid, Lemieux, Marc-Andre Fleury, all legends.
The Penguins traded Straka for a second and final time in a salary dump on Nov. 30, 2003, in exchange for Martin Strbak and prospect Sergei Anshakov. Strbak ended up playing 44 games in Pittsburgh, Anshakov never came to North America.
WHAT’S HE DOING NOW?
[caption id="attachment_689180" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Straka, killing the game. -- HC PLZEN[/caption]
Being a legend, that's for sure.
Straka, now 46, finished out the 2003-04 season in Los Angeles, then signed with HC Plzen of the Czech league during the lockout -- his hometown team, and where he made his professional hockey debut in 1990. Straka played three more seasons with the New York Rangers after the lockout, then returned home for good in 2008.
Straka was named general manager and captain of Plzen in 2008. The following year, he also became majority owner of his hometown team, and remained captain, general manager, and owner until 2013-14.
In his penultimate season as a player, he amassed 54 points in 47 regular season games and led his team to their first-ever championship. To top it off, he scored the Game 7 overtime goal:
Straka retired from professional hockey in 2014, ending a 25-year career. He remained Plzen's owner and general manager, eventually adding the title of head coach in 2016.
IT WAS SPOKEN
"I will have a beer and cigarette. It was a really nice 25 years in hockey." -- Straka on his plans for retirement in 2014
HONORABLE MENTIONS AT NO. 82:
Nope. Nobody else wore No. 82, and he's a legend.
Tomorrow: I have No. 85
Yesterday: Phil Kessel
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