The first-week sensation of the Stanley Cup has been former Hill-Murray star Jake Guentzel, whose overtime game-winner Sunday night -- on an assist from the legendary Sidney Crosby -- gave Pittsburgh a 5-4 victory over Columbus and a three games to none lead in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal.
(Hey, remember earlier this season when Columbus was as hot as ... the Wild?)
Guentzel was a high school star at Hill-Murray before playing college hockey at Omaha. He had 21 goals in 33 games in the American Hockey league before his mid-season call-up by the Penguins, who drafted him in the third round in 2013. Guentzel's father, Mike, is the University of Minnesota's associate head coach and a 1985 Gophers alumnus.
In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, writer Jason Mackey opened his story this way: "Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux hooked a sharp right into the coaches’ office that’s adjacent to the Penguins dressing room here at Nationwide Arena late Sunday evening and let out a throaty, celebratory scream. The reason, of course, was a 5-4 overtime victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets, one that gave the Penguins a three-games-to-none grip on the series, one obtained by a team oozing resilience and an organization that employs some youngster named Jake who seems to have little regard for the whole idea of postseason experience.
"That kid, Jake Guentzel, scored the overtime winner at 13:10 of the extra session, quickly sniping a feed from Sidney Crosby to complete his hat trick and finish the Penguins’ comeback from a two-goal deficit after the first 20 minutes."
Mario Lemieux ... Sidney Crosby ... Jake Guentzel.
Heady stuff for "that kid," huh?
Going back to the final games of the regular season, Guentzel has nine goals in his last eight games.
His reaction to being the center of attention? He's not exactly overwhelmed.
“[The playoffs] bring out everyone’s best. It’s fun to be a part of.”
In the Pittsburgh hockey blog Pen's Labyrinth, writer Matthew Rodrigopulle described Guentzel's play on the team's top line this way: The new rookie in town has made a name for himself. After getting called up this season he put up 16 goals and 17 assists for 33 points in only 40 games. This is amazingly impressive for a call-up who was expected to do much less. He may be the newest one on this line but he has been playing great. A lot of his play doesn’t show up in his numbers, but that’s OK. You can see that he knows where to go, which is crucial while playing with someone like Sidney Crosby. He brings a great, big game with a good amount of offensive flair that compliments both Crosby and (Conor) Sheary nicely."
And in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Crosby weighed in on Guentzel's rookie-year success: "I think it's really important to gain confidence as you go along, but no one can prepare you for the playoffs. He's had the right mentality coming in. He wants to contribute. He's not just happy to be here. He's shown that he's willing to go to those tough areas. He's willing to do what it takes. He's burying his chances.
"It's great to see. You're happy for him to see him do well at an age like that."
And one more time, if you need a reminder of why you're reading this: Guentzel 4, Wild 3.