Former Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy has no hard feelings toward the organization and has been a perfect fit in Anaheim.
By Seth Rorabaugh / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The NHL lockout eliminated 34 games from every team's schedule in 2012-13.
It also nearly wiped out Ben Lovejoy's career.
"If the season had been cancelled, my contract was up in the summer," the former Penguins defenseman said. "I hadn't had a great year the year before. I broke my wrist and hurt my knee. I didn't have a great year."
Matchup: Anaheim Ducks at Penguins, 7:38 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center..
TV, Radio: Root, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Jonas Hiller for Ducks.
Penguins: Have earned 16 of their 24 points at Consol Energy Center. ... RW Craig Adams, who scored three times in first four games, does not have a goal in past 16. ... Lead NHL with 55 home-ice victories since the 2011-12 season..
Ducks: Are 0-2-1 on road trip that ends tonight, but 7-6-1 overall in away games. ... RW Corey Perry has league-leading 26 winning goals since the start of the 2010-11 season. ... Are 10-3-1 when scoring first goal of game.
Hidden stat: Ducks are 4-0 when being outshot this season.
"I had [a job] interview or two or three over Christmas. If [the season] had been officially canceled, then I would have taken a job. I would have had to wait until maybe July to find out if I was offered a contract by anyone. That's a long time to go without a job."
In early January, the NHL season was salvaged and Lovejoy's career continued. That wasn't his only stroke of good fortune.
"I got very lucky that the season started and I got even luckier that I was traded to Anaheim and given a fresh start. A lot of good things happened for me last year," he said.
Lovejoy, who spent parts of six seasons with the Penguins organization, was dealt to the Anaheim Ducks in February. Sandwiched between a deep crew of top-four NHL-caliber defensemen and a growing pool of high-end defensive prospects, Lovejoy struggled to find significant playing time with the Penguins and appeared in only three games before the trade.
"I was just excited for a fresh start," he said. "I had a great experience here. I spent five and a half years. I grew up here. The people were so good to me. But I had a role here. My role was to be ready when called upon.
"I wasn't a guy that was counted on to play big minutes here. I always hoped I could do it, but I didn't know. [Penguins general manager Ray Shero] was nice enough to give me a fresh start and Anaheim really gave me a chance and I feel like I was able to take advantage."
With the Penguins, Lovejoy never averaged more than 16:37 of ice time per game in a season. This season, he is averaging 18:42.
"That first night [with the Ducks], I played 16 minutes against Dallas," Lovejoy said. "As a defenseman, it's easier the more you play."
"My time in Pittsburgh, we had guys like Kris Letang and Paul Martin who can play a ton of minutes and my job was to be ready to when they came off. I loved my role but it's been cool to have a bigger and expanded role with Anaheim."
Lovejoy, 29, appeared in 32 games last season with the Ducks and recorded 10 assists. Before becoming an unrestricted free agent in July, he signed a three-year contract with the Ducks worth $1.1 million a season. Not a bad payday for someone who contemplated other forms of employment months earlier.
"So, so lucky. Life is all about timing," Lovejoy said. "I was able to play well at the right time. This summer, I was a free agent and I wanted to do everything in my power to stay in Anaheim."
This season, Lovejoy has played in 20 contests, has one assist and has a plus-3.48 Corsi number. That's an advanced puck-possession statistic that measures the average attempted shots for and against a player's team while he is on the ice over the course of 60 minutes. He has been paired primarily with Cam Fowler, one of the league's top offensive defensemen.
Lovejoy also has had a front-row seat for the "farewell tour" of Ducks right winger Teemu Selanne who is playing in what is expected to be the final NHL season of his Hall of Fame career.
"It's so cool," Lovejoy said. "He is an even better guy than you read about. It's so impressive to see what he's done for so long.
"People always ask me what it was like to play with [Sidney] Crosby, play with [Evgeni] Malkin. Those are guys I didn't grow up idolizing. Teemu is. It is so special to be a part of what he is doing right now."
Away from the rink, life on the West Coast is very different for Lovejoy, a native of New Hampshire.
"Off the ice is absolutely a culture change," he said. "No one would ever compare Orange County to Pittsburgh. I've loved my time in both places, but it is different. The other difference is the travel. The longest road trip I went on as a Penguin was five nights. I just finished a 16-day road trip [with the Ducks]."
A year ago, Lovejoy was participating in informal workouts at the Penguins practice facility at Southpointe with teammates during the lockout, unsure of his or his sport's future. Today, he's a significant contributor to a team that leads the NHL with 32 points.
"I am so happy out there," he said. "So happy with this team. I get to live in paradise and my team is really good. It's been such a nice change for me. I'm so lucky."
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