Alex Goligoski: Mustache Boy

It's all fun and games until someone gets Burt (Reynolds).

It’s not a Robert Goulet. It’s certainly not a Tom Selleck. This breed of mustache looks as if it was grown in 1985 by a high-schooler rebelling against his mom for confiscating his Def Leppard record. It’s wispy; it’s meek, and Alex Goligoski hates it. Frankly, he can’t wait to shave it off. But if he reaches for the Mach 3, it will cost him five Benjamins.

As a 24-year-old emerging defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Goligoski doesn’t deserve this humiliation. He won a Stanley Cup last spring. When he rolls down the window of his car in the Mellon Arena parking lot, the screams of adoring puck bunnies nearly drown out the pulsing thump of his techno mix. As a member of the ’Burgh’s version of The Beatles, Goligoski deserves an ego. But the Penguins are a humble bunch, and this caterpillar ’stache would damper anyone’s swagger.

It all started with a game called Juice Boy, the brainchild of head coach Dan Bylsma. At the end of certain practices, the Penguins hold a routine shootout competition during which players go one-on-one against the goaltenders. Score a goal and you’re safe—free to taunt teammates from the bench. The last man standing becomes Juice Boy and must serve his penance by delivering cups of Gatorade to teammates’ lockers.

Only 39-year-old Bill Guerin has immunity from the contest. Instead, he grabs a microphone from the penalty box and announces play-by-play over the public-address system, chiding teammates for particularly bad dekes. Goalie Marc-André Fleury has a reputation for being especially hard on the team’s superstars, Goligoski reports. Sidney Crosby even accused Fleury of rigging the game when Sid the Kid became Juice Boy last year.

This season, Bylsma upped the ante and Mustache Boy was born. At the end of the first practice of every month, the loser of the shootout has to sport a ’stache for the entire month or face a $500 fine. Goligoski’s punishment came just in time for the holidays. “Even my family was laughing at me,” he says. “Luckily we were playing away in New York over Thanksgiving so I didn’t have to go home with it.”

Even though the Minnesota native couldn’t return home for Thanksgiving, he still was able to have a traditional turkey dinner with his extended family. “Billy Guerin and his family invited the entire team to dinner at his home on Long Island,” says Goligoski. “Everyone around here is so welcoming, and it says a lot about the organization that the wives and kids of the players are always around to be part of the team too.”

Baseball writer Peter Gammons famously described the dysfunctional 1978 Boston Red Sox as “25 cabs for 25 players.” In other words, the players never shared rides or laughs after games. The Penguins are more like one party bus for 25 players. The coaches—most not far removed from their own playing days—are part of the gang too. When the team bus got its wheels stuck in a Buffalo blizzard this winter, the entire coaching staff jumped out and pushed. “You’re always together, and it’s truly everybody helping each other out,” Goligoski says. “We’re like a family.”

When the Penguins signed Goligoski to a three-year, $5.5 million extension in the offseason, many saw it as a move to replace veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar, whose contract expires at the end of this season. Gonchar could have seen his young teammate as a threat. Instead, the five-time all-star became a mentor to Goligoski, who was just learning to skate as a kindergartener on the ponds of Grand Rapids when Gonchar entered the NHL in 1991.

“Gonch is great,” Goligoski says. “He’s always trying to teach me the little things, and when you can learn from someone who’s been in the league as long he has, you listen up.” Gonchar’s guidance has reaped dividends—through the first half of the season, Goligoski led Penguins defensemen with six goals.

Miraculously, he scored four with the ’stache, but that doesn’t mean it will become a permanent fixture. In December, he passed the albatross to winger Tyler Kennedy. In the locker room after Kennedy was crowned Yuletide Mustache Boy, Crosby turned to Kennedy and winked, “That’s going on your Christmas cards.”

7 Burning Questions with Alex Goligoski (Web Extra)

PM: Be honest – do you hear it when the fans at Mellon Arena are screaming “shoooooot” when you’re on the Power Play?
AG: Oh, you definitely hear it. The fans want pucks at the net, and we’re trying. It’s not like we’re trying not to shoot. We love scoring goals.

PM: What music do you listen to before games to get yourself pumped up?
AG: It’s kind of weird, I guess, but I always listen to the BPM station on XM Radio. It’s like, techno. I turn it up loud and just zone out on the ride in to the arena.

PM: What’s your favorite place to eat in the city?
AG: The Cheesecake Factory, of course. Nakama is a good lunch spot. The South Side is a great area.

PM: Who do you hang out with the most on the team?
AG: Oh, it’s really everybody hanging out together here. But maybe Ryan Whitney when he was here. I actually lived with him for a while.

PM: Was it hard to see your friend (Whitney) get traded to Anaheim last season?
AG: Yeah, it’s different. It’s kind of when you realize that this is a business, too. The weirdest part was seeing him in a different jersey and playing against him.

PM: Everyone on the Penguins has a nickname. What’s yours?
AG: Goose.

PM: Unfortunately you didn’t dress for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in Detroit. Did you watch the game in the press box?
AG: No! The first two periods we were in the stands, actually. There was no place to us to sit because all the boxes were full since it was the Finals. So we were just wandering around Joe Louis Arena trying to find wherever we could to watch the game.

Then during the third period we went down into the locker room and since we were winning (2-0) someone told us to throw our gear on for the Cup celebration. We were about halfway dressed when Detroit scored—and we all thought ‘Oh boy, we jinxed it.’ So it got a little nervous in the locker room, but thankfully we all know how it worked out.

By the Numbers:

13   >>  Jersey number Goligoski respectfully gave to Bill Guerin after the veteran was traded to the Pens last season.

3    >>   Rank among all rookie defensemen in scoring last season.

409 >>  Games of NHL on Playstation 3 that former minor-league teammate Ben Lovejoy claims Goligoski once played in one month.

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