Blow the dust off of your old Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins sweaters, because they’re making a comeback, folks.
On Saturday, Jan. 29 against Lehigh Valley, the Penguins are pulling their old black, gold, and red sweaters out of storage and donning them one again for a throwback celebration on the night of the newest Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Hall of Fame induction.
Seeing that old sweater worn by the Penguins from the start of 1999 to the end of the 2003 season envokes those warm feelings of nostalgia. So why not prey on that nostalgia even more as we take a look back on some of the best players (in no particular order) to ever put on that old-school uniform.
John Slaney – Defenseman, 1999-2001
Let’s start with the obvious choice, the man being enshrined in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Hall of Fame on Saturday night. Slaney, known around the league for his high-flying style and known among his teammates for his flowing hair, led the Penguins in points in their first season. Slaney became the first defenseman EVER to record 30 goals in one season during that 1999-2000 campaign. In 86 games with the Penguins, the offensive defenseman racked up 42 goals and 68 assists for 110 points.
He was ultimately traded to Philadelphia during the following season, but when he hit the ice for the skills competition during the 2001 AHL All-Star Classic being held in Wilkes-Barre, he was sure to step onto the ice in his old Wilkes-Barre/Scranton sweater.
Slaney was inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame in 2014.
Martin Sonnenberg – Forward, 1999-2002
This player from Wetaskiwin, Saskatchewan went undrafted, but surprised everyone by playing 44 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins in his first season out of major junior. That was the 1998-99 season, before Pittsburgh began its AHL affiliation with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. When hockey opened its doors in NEPA a year later, Sonnenberg gave fans the welcoming present they wanted most. Sonnenberg scored the franchise’s first ever goal on Oct. 2, 1999 against the Hershey Bears.
He became more than a trivia answer as his career with the Penguins wore on, as Sonnenberg put up 135 points (54G-81A) in 213 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He led the team in assists twice, once in the team’s inaugural season and again in 2001-02.
Toby Petersen – Forward, 2000-2001 / 2002-2003
Nobody expected too much from a ninth round pick made by Pittsburgh in 1998, but boy, oh boy, did Toby Petersen raise some eyebrows with his spectacular rookie season. After a successful four-year career at Colorado College, Petersen came to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as a first year pro for the 2000-01 season and ended up leading the team in points.
That’s right. A rookie led the team in points.
Petersen’s 67 points (26G-41A) remains a franchise record to this day for Penguins rookies. He also added seven goals and six assists for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as Petersen and the Penguins charged their way to the Calder Cup Final in just the team’s second year of existence.
Petersen spent the next year as a full-timer in Pittsburgh, but returned in 2002-03 and ended up posting 127 total points (51G-76A) in 153 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in that original uniform.
Sébastien Caron – Goalie, 2000-2003
In a time when stand-up goalies were still prevalent in the pros, Sébastien Caron came in with of a wave of players inspired by the school of François Allaire and church of St. Patrick (Roy). The “butterfly” style of tending goal was no longer a fad, but becoming the standard.
Caron’s athleticism combined with butterfly stylings made him one of the most formidable goalies in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton history. Every season in a Penguins uniform, Caron improved his stats such as goals against average and save percentage.
The Amqui, Québec native truly hit his stride when the Penguins made a uniform switch after the 2002-03 season, but in his first three years with the team, Caron laid the foundation for an impressive AHL career.
Dennis Bonvie – Forward, 1999-2001
A crowd favorite, Dennis Bonvie delivered skeletal-rearranging hits and face-pounding punches on a regular basis in his first two seasons with the Penguins. The man known as “Bones” returned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the end of his career for three seasons, but it was in that initial stint that he endeared himself to fans and struck fear into opponents across the AHL.
Bonvie put up a whopping 243 penalty minutes in 42 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the team’s first season. He then followed up that performance with 221 PIM. His fists were furious, but his playmaking ability goes underrated to this day. Bonvie recorded 26 assists in 1999-00, tying him for fourth on the team and falling behind three players who also find themselves on this list.
Surprisingly enough, Bonvie never finished close to the top of the league leaders list for penalty minutes in his first two seasons with the Penguins. That might be a testament to just how wild that era of hockey’s past was, or perhaps his penalty figures were shrunken by opponents learning quickly that it was not in their best interest to drop the gloves with “Bones” more than once.
Sven Butenschoen – Defenseman, 1999-2001
A slick puck-mover and two-way presence, Sven Butenschoen proved to be a nice compliment to Slaney as a part of the Penguins’ defense corps. In 130 games, Butenschoen scored 29 goals and added 49 helpers for 75 points in his two seasons with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The six-foot-four, 215 lbs. D-man from Itzehoe, Germany also put up 186 penalty minutes during his tenure in the Wyoming Valley.
Butenschoen spent the rest of his career hopping between several NHL teams and their AHL affiliates before ultimately returning to Deutschland for his final seven seasons of pro hockey. But even in his swan song back home, Butenschoen never really again captured that same magic he had when he pulled the black, gold, and red sweater over his head.
Brooks Orpik – Defenseman, 2001-2003
Pittsburgh was in a bit of a state of flux heading into the summer of 2000. Mario Lemieux was still in retirement, Jaromir Jagr was winning scoring titles, but his contract was soon coming to an end, and its goaltending situation was far from solidified, caught between the Tom Barrasso and Marc-André Fleury eras. So with many holes to potentially fill, the Penguins walked out of the first round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft with a defenseman. Fans didn’t knwow what to make of the pick at the time, but management knew they had someone special on their hands. They had Brooks Orpik.
After three wholly impressive seasons at Boston College, Orpik began his professional career in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2001. Never a point-producer, Orpik was always known for stingy defense, crunching hits along the wall, and the occasional, eye-popping open ice hip check. It was in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton that Orpik was groomed into the hard-hitting, smooth skating defenseman that ultimately became a key piece of Pittsburgh’s 2009 Stanley Cup title and a Washington Capitals team that is currently dominating the rest of the NHL.
Rich Parent – Goalie, 2000-2001
Rich Parent only played 35 regular season games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but he made one heckuva impact in those 35 games. Parent by far and away led the team during the 2000-01 season in saves (951), save percentage (.922), and goals against average (2.35).
After seven games in Pittsburgh, Parent perhaps put forth his best work during the 2001 Calder Cup Playoffs, as he played in all 21 Penguins playoff games en route to the Calder Cup Final. He posted a 2.58 goals against average and .912 save percentage in those 21 postseason contests and took NEPA hockey fans on ride like they had never experienced before.
Tom Kostopoulos – Forward, 1999-2003
Yes, the man who captains the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins today qualifies for this list, and for good reason. Kostopoulos has played over 500 games with the Penguins
Kostopoulos had more points than any other player during the original uniform’s run from 1999 to 2003. In 297 games during those four seasons, “T.K.” had 90 goals, 136 assists, and 226 points. His 58 points (26G-32A) in 1999-2000 was a rookie record for the Penguins at the time, and Kostopoulos led the team in both goals (27) and points (53) in the 2001-02 campaign.
As you know, he has since gone one to build a long career at both the NHL and AHL levels, but as a fresh-faced kid out of the London Knights program, Kostopoulos wasted no time in becoming one of the most special players in Penguins history.
Mario Lemieux – Forward, 2001*
Okay, it was only for one game– a preseason game at that– and it was while wearing
the white version of the Penguins’ original sweater, not the black one Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is throwing on for throwback night. But c’mon, there’s little doubt that Le Magnifique was the best player to suit up for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, and it happened to come back in the early days of the franchise.
Some consider Lemieux the best player to ever play the game, so when he was assigned to the AHL in September of 2001, the news made some waves. Of course, Pittsburgh was going head-to-head with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for an organizational exhibition game in Wilkes-Barre, so management decided to throw in a plot twist by placing the game’s best player on the home team.
Lemieux, who spent the game on a line with Kostopoulos and Kris Beech, scored the game’s first goal, but NEPA’s Penguins ultimately fell to the Steel City’s Penguins, 4-3, in overtime.
Unsurprisingly, the transaction wire showed Lemieux was returned to the big club the next day. It was a one-night-only affair for one of the game’s all-time greats and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, but that single on-ice appearance is just enough to earn him a spot on this list.