By Larry Wigge
Maxime Talbot was checking him cellphone to see how much interest in him. After all, it was July 1 -- the first day of free-agency.
Suddenly, the former Pittsburgh Penguins player got this surprised look on his face as he checked message after message ...
"At noon, Danny Briere called me ... then Ian Laperriere called me ... then GM Paul Holmgren ... and Chris Pronger. All of a sudden I'm, like, 'Holy Cow it's the Flyers!'
"My top priority was having a chance to win the Stanley Cup again -- and Philly is a great fit that way. But, yes, the rivalry did cross my mind ... 'I'm not going to play in Pittsburgh anymore, so where is the best place for me to make a difference?' "
Now, here there are facing a first-round playoff matchup -- Flyers vs. Penguins, following a 6-4 rambunctious Philadelphia victory over Pittsburgh April 1.
Talbot has often been called a big-game player, even though he only had 52 career goals in six seasons with Pittsburgh. But that what the former eighth-round draft choice, 234th overall, in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft has become.
For the Flyers, the Lemoyne, Quebec, native, responded with a career-high 19 goal and 14 assists. Philadelphia knew what they were getting.
"Maxime Talbot is a guy who can play left wing, he can play center, he’s a useful guy who can move up and down your lineup," Holmgren said. "I think we all witnessed that in Pittsburgh. You probably called him an a*%$@ a few times too in Pittsburgh, but now he’s on our team."
"You have a veteran here who has won a Stanley Cup," rookie center Sean Couturier said, his eyes wide. "That helps everyone."
Think back to June 2, 2008 ...
For a moment he was shocked, almost paralyzed. OK. But not by much, considering the importance of this moment frozen in time for a defensive special, a career-third line player.
Maxime Talbot is tapped on the shoulder by Penguins coach Michel Therrien to be the team's sixth attacker in the final minute of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final, with the Detroit Red Wings ahead in the series 3-1 and in the game 3-2.
"Now I know what being frozen in time means ... literally," the 5-11, 190-pounder laughed after he scored with 34.3 seconds left in regulation and the Penguins beat Detroit in a classic 4-3 triple overtime victory by Peter Sykora. "Pinch me. I have to be dreaming."
We should have known, however, that in all sports there is so often an unexpected star on the horizon at some of the most memorable moments. The role this role player played in early June in a true Classic was to be a difference maker.
Leader? Even if he was frozen in the moment ... for a split second.
"I see Marc-Andre Fleury coming to the bench and the coach says, 'Max, get going.' I'm like: 'Me?'
"I didn't say it, but that's what I thought. I don't think I've ever been put on the ice as a sixth attacker. It was a gutsy move by the coach. I remember looking at him like he was crazy. But I guess he had some kind of sixth sense."
Talbot leaped off the bench and quickly got himself into the play. Seconds later, he found himself uncovered at the corner of the net. He took two whacks at the puck before the second one went in the short side on Detroit goalie Chris Osgood.
Hockey is all about heart and soul, sweat and blood, passion and those priceless moments where a character, role player takes center stage.
In the process, Talbot became the first player to stave off elimination in the final minute of a Stanley Cup finals game since 1936, when Pep Kelly of the Toronto Maple Leafs with 41 seconds left in Game 3 of a five-game series Detroit won the next day.
One year later, the same two teams went at it -- taking it to Game 7, before Talbot scored both goals in a 2-1 Pittsburgh victory. He had obviously become important to coach Bylsma.
"He's an energetic guy who keeps the room pretty upbeat, but someone who gets pretty serious come game time," said captain Sidney Crosby.
Said Talbot, "For a guy with no skills like me, it's like, that's amazing. But did that really happen?
"I just can't believe today that we won the Stanley Cup. That's so special."
What was it about this guy -- Talbot, who still wasn't a sure thing to be drafted, because of his size and subpar skating.
Talbot was a competent player in junior. He was especially good in the big games, scoring 25 goals and 72 points in 35 postseason games in leading the Gatineau Olympiques to back-to-back QMJHL championships in 2003 and 2004.
"Why did I make it?" Talbot said, repeating the question asked of him. "I think it's my character. You get down sometimes, like I was with my injuries this season. But you stay positive. All I wanted was a foot in the door."
Talbot credits his parents, Serge, a construction worker, and Lucie is a high school teacher.
"My dad's a hard worker, he does whatever it takes -- whatever is broken, he can fix it, he pours concrete foundations, floors, he can build houses, so he's always the first one to help. I think I take my work ethic a little bit from him," said Talbot. "My grandfather is the same: Both workhorses."
"His playing style is in-your-face and working hard like he always does," said Colby Armstrong of Toronto, formerly with the Penguins. "It's little things like that that makes him real valuable to the team."
"He had two strikes against him," said Gilles Meloche, Penguins goaltender coach. "But every game I saw him play, he was up against the opposition's best line. A checker who can score 100 points, you just don't give up on players like these."
At playing time ...
"I am what I am," said Talbot. "I'm just being myself, and I try to get the guys loose. "It's the best time of the year, and guys are really excited. I'm really excited. I just show it a little bit more than everybody else."
Of playing the Penguins in the playoffs.
"It's going to be tough on us," Talbot said. "It was tough for me to leave in the first place, as my heart has always been with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But at the same time, it's a new challenge for me in Philly.
"I never thought I'd play for another team in my life. So, it's been a rough couple of weeks for me."