There are some guys you just know will garner headlines. In the case of Los Angeles Kings second-line left wing Dustin Penner, the stories about him sometimes can be gloomy and sometimes simply joyous.
The past six weeks have gone extremely well for Penner and the Kings in their unexpected run to the Stanley Cup final. And the 29-year-old from Winkler, Man., who scored his team's series-clinching overtime winner in Game 5 of the Western Conference final on Tuesday, sure needed an upturn in his life.
He has endured plenty in the past five months. There was the embarrassing episode in which he suffered the onset of back spasms when he sat down at home to enjoy some pancakes with his then wife in early January.
A month later, he had lost the faith of Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. Penner was a healthy scratch five times in a six-game stretch. Then on Feb. 29, news broke that his wife had filed for divorce. The development clearly affected Penner. He finished the season going pointless in 14 of his final 16 games.
Sutter knew he needed Penner to perform better if the Kings were to have some playoff success. So he sat down with his troubled forward after the regular season and told Penner that the post-season was an opportunity for a fresh start.
"I guess when you're in a hole that no one can really dig you out of except for yourself," Penner said, "I put that pressure and that stress on myself to get me out of where I was.
"I had great support from teammates, family, friends, the organization as a whole."
It's hard to imagine that a 6-foot-4, 245-pound man could be a Cinderella story. But Penner really has overcome plenty to get where he is. He also, at times, has lapsed into unfulfilling stretches in his hockey career.
There was a time Penner could not find a place to play. He simply didn't show enough to land a spot with any local junior teams, so he wound up at a tiny junior college in the bordertown of Bottineau, N.D., not far from his Manitoba home. It was at Bottineau that University of Maine hockey recruiter Grant Standbrook found Penner and offered him a scholarship.
In his first full season at Maine, Penner delivered the game winner against Boston College in the NCAA semifinals to send his new school to the 2004 championship final, where Maine suffered a 1-0 loss to Denver. Penner, however, was good enough to earn a free-agent contract with the Anaheim Ducks a few weeks later.
He also was good enough to be called up for Anaheim's 2006 playoff run at the end of his second season in the minors and didn't disappoint with four goals and seven points in 19 games.
Penner then won a Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007 and was rewarded with a controversial five-year, $21.25-million US offer sheet from the Edmonton Oilers. He never lived up to that contract, which ends next month and will make Penner an unrestricted free agent this summer.
In fact, the Oilers used Penner as trade bait in an attempt to land a disgruntled Dany Heatley from the Ottawa Senators in the summer of 2009. Penner received the message loud and clear and began the next season with 11 goals in 11 games. Eventually, the Oilers dealt him to the Kings at the NHL trade deadline in 2011.
Again, the Kings offered Penner around at the trade deadline a few months ago. In the playoffs, however, Penner has taken Sutter's words to heart and made the most of the fresh start.
Penner began this post-season on the third line beside centre Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis. He scored the game winner in the Kings' first-round series opener against the Vancouver Canucks and played so well that Sutter elevated him to the second line for the past two series with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.
Now Penner has his hero status back after his latest game winner.
"It's the biggest goal of my career thus far," he said. "Hopefully, there's a couple more waiting in the final.
"I was at the right place at the right time."
And created another headline. This time, a welcome, positive one.
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