Yet on September 23, 2000, and due to a bizarre number of injuries and holdouts among Pittsburgh goalies, there former Icer Mark Scally was, starting an NHL preseason game and staring down the likes of Ray Bourque and Joe Sakic.
Other Icers, Rob Keegan to name one, had received tryouts with the Penguins, but Scally charted new territory with his two appearances in official preseason games for his hometown team. He represented himself, Penn State and the ACHA quite well too.
Before that game at Hersheypark Arena against Colorado was one at Mellon Arena on September 15th against the Columbus Blue Jackets, then just beginning their franchise's existence. Scally was spectacular in relief, earning a 3-2 win and stopping 16 of 17 shots.
Scally faced just 17 shots during his 29 minutes, 38 seconds of work but produced several quality stops, including two on point-blank chances by Espen Knutsen and Matt Davidson...Things didn't go quite as well eight days later when Scally began the game in net, although he didn't receive too much help from his teammates. The Pens took seven minor penalties during Scally's 30:42 in the game. Predictably, Colorado scored three times on the man advantage in the first period off the sticks of Milan Hejduk, Bourque and Adam Deadmarsh.
Scally held up well in his pro debut, which dovetailed nicely with his work during the first week-plus of camp.
"I think I'm playing well," he said [at the time]. "I'm working hard. I was looking forward to [camp] over the summer and I worked pretty hard to get ready for it. Everything's going good so far."
Hejduk put Colorado on the board 6:03 into the contest. He took a pass from Joe Sakic on the left side and blasted a slap shot past rookie goaltender Mark Scally.
Alexei Morozov tied it for Pittsburgh three minutes later, but Ray Bourque put the Avalanche ahead with 5:22 left in the first period. He got a feed in the right faceoff circle from Adam Foote and beat Scally with a slapper for his first preseason goal.
Adam Deadmarsh put Colorado ahead, 3-1, just 76 seconds later.Scally held off the Avs for half of the second period before exiting the eventual 5-2 defeat to the team that would go on the win the Stanley Cup that season. Little did he know that at the same time he was facing a firing squad, the wheels to end his run were in motion - during intermission, the Penguins announced that they had come to terms with holdout goalie Jean-Sebastian Aubin. The next day, Scally was in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton AHL camp.
A respectable six-season career, spent mostly in the ECHL, followed. But that's beside the point. In September of 2000, Mark Scally put Penn State hockey toe-to-toe with some of the greatest players the game has ever seen in the best hockey league in the world. Certainly someday, perhaps not too far off, a Penn Stater will play in a regular season NHL game. Maybe he'll play a whole bunch of them. Maybe he'll even accept the Cup from the commissioner like Sakic or be voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility like Bourque.
To me though, they'll never match Scally, the man who once took a pipe dream and made it real, if only for a short time.