Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 4/30/12
ST. LOUIS, Mo. On Saturday night the southern Manitoba-based Pembina Valley Hawks won the 2012 Esso Cup, Canada's National Female Midget Championship. It was the mens' midget A team of the same hockey program that in the mid-1990's cut Dustin Penner at a tryout, one of several junior and college programs that said 'thanks, but no thanks' to an eventual Stanley Cup winner whose production has helped lead the Kings to a 5-1 playoff record and a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven second-round series against the St. Louis Blues. "I remember my mom driving me and my dad driving me to those tryout camps, and always being the first cut. I don't hold a grudge against them. This has all worked out. It just gave me the perseverance and determination to get here," Penner said. It has certainly worked well for the Kings in the postseason. Reversing a first period effort described by Darryl Sutter on Sunday as being "probably fortunate to be out of it 1-0 seven or eight minutes in," Penner abruptly shifted the momentum of the game by bringing the puck deep into the left corner before patiently weighing his options and offering a pass to a pinching Slava Voynov, who snapped a one-timer past Brian Elliott to tie the game at one. Los Angeles prevailed 3-1, with Penner adding an empty-netter late in the third period. "Our left wing, the left side and the lack of experience there, he's the logical guy," Sutter said about Penner. It's not so much his production, it's just being able to match up the way they do. They want to play Backes against Kopi, and we're fine with that if they want to continue to do that. So that means that Richie's going to get Berglund. There are some pretty good players McDonald and Steen on the wings, guys with experience, guys that play a 200-foot game so that's Dustin's challenge." It's just one challenge among many faced by the former Minot State Bottineau power forward who was eventually recognized at a prospects camp in Saskatoon by former University of Maine assistant coach and chief recruiter Grant Standbrook. After traveling to Orono, Maine to take a look at the university the first time he had ever been on a plane he was offered a scholarship. "I had no idea of its history, or who had played there," Penner recalled. He redshirted in 2002-03, and in 2003-04 produced a breakthrough season that culminated with the game-winning goal early in the third period of the national semi-final game against Boston College. Though the Black Bears lost 1-0 to Denver University in the championship game despite a six-on-three advantage for over a minute at the end of the third period, it was an unsung campaign that saw him finish the year on the NCAA's All-Tournament Team. Penner signed with the then-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim shortly thereafter, made his NHL debut a year and a half later and won a Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007, roughly six years after his emergence from an obscure hockey player in southern Manitoba looking for an NCAA scholarship. Entering Game 2 against St. Louis, he has 23 points in 46 career postseason games. The feel-good nature of Penner's rise to the NHL sputtered out not long after he left Anaheim. Signed to a controversial five-year, 21.25 million dollar offer sheet by Edmonton as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2007, his point total rose with the Oilers his first year before falling starkly in the 2008-09 season. In November, 2008, then-Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish ripped into his lumbering forward for a perceived lack of competitiveness. "We thought the contract was a starting point for him, but he views it as a finish line," MacTavish said, as reported by the Edmonton Journal. That contract expires at the end of the season, and judging by what he's provided in the first handful of postseason games under Sutter, there are still plenty of ways he can help this Kings team in the playoffs. His goals have come at opportune times. Other than the bank shot empty netter off the side boards against St. Louis which he likened to curling his late third period goal against Vancouver in Game 1 of the first round at this point looks to be one of the more important goals Los Angeles will score this postseason. Combined with the momentum-shifting first period assist on Voynov's goal Saturday night, Penner's postseason production is outweighing his regular season contributions. While it could provide a boost for his negotiations when free agency strikes this summer, that's not really his greatest concern right now. Nor is the path-less-traveled route he took to the NHL, though it's still in the back of his mind. "The older I get, the more I can look back and fully understand," Penner said. "But when you're in that moment, and you have that belief as a player and a person that 'I should be higher up than where I am' and that's not a knock against any of the places I played it's just not the typical route that you use to get to the NHL. It was trial by fire, and I had to learn quickly." Dustin Penner joined Twitter on Sunday and already has over 12,000 followers. You can find him at @Dustinpenner25
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