The Penguins’ trip through western Canada in the past week, especially the first stop in Vancouver, brought mixed emotions for newest team member Taylor Pyatt.
Pyatt, a winger, got a chance to bond with his teammates and continue to learn the team’s schemes, sure, but then there was the emotional aspect.
“I still think about it when I go back there, how much things changed over the years,” Pyatt said. “Now that a little bit more time as passed, it makes it a little bit more easy.”
April 3, 2009, Pyatt, then playing for the Vancouver Canucks, got one of those phone calls no one ever wants to get. His fiancée, Carly Bragnalo — his high school sweetheart, the woman he planned to marry in the upcoming summer — died when a cab in which she was riding crashed while she was on vacation in Jamaica. Her mother also was in the vehicle and was injured.
Pyatt and Bragnalo were 27 at the time.
“It’s been four or five years now,” Pyatt said. “The first couple of times going back [to Vancouver] was definitely a lot more emotional.”
Pyatt isn’t sure anyone who goes through such a loss ever really comes to terms with it.
“I guess you just sort of learn to live with it,” he said. “It was definitely a really tough six months to a year afterward to sort of get back on my feet.”
At the time, Pyatt took a leave to spend time in his hometown — Thunder Bay, Ontario.
“I went home for about six weeks and ended up coming back and playing in a few playoff games, but looking back now I don’t really know how I was able to play in those games,” Pyatt said. “I was still such an emotional wreck.”
Having the structure of hockey, being around teammates, were important parts of his healing.
“It helps you get through the first little while,” he said. “It definitely helps to have something to get up and work toward every day and be surrounded by 20 guys, 20 best friends. That definitely helps to get through those tough times.”
That summer, instead of getting married, Pyatt changed his environment by signing as a free agent with the Phoenix Coyotes.
“That’s part of the reason I went to Phoenix, was to sort of go somewhere where I could still play but be out of the Canadian spotlight,” he said. “I was able to sort of get my career back on track.
“But it’s still kind of emotional going back there [to Vancouver] for me.”
That season in Vancouver already was emotional because promising defenseman Luc Bourdon was killed in a motorcycle accident. Bourdon was one of Penguins defenseman Kris Letang’s best friends, and Letang has a tattoo honoring Bourdon.
“That was the summer before, so it was a tough year for the guys in Vancouver,” Pyatt said.
The Penguins claimed Pyatt off of waivers from the New York Rangers Jan. 2, so now he’s got a new set of teammates. He said they don’t bring up his personal tragedy very often.
“Not so much,” he said. “It’s been almost five years. You’ve got to start to move on.”
Pyatt, 32, has no points in five games with the Penguins playing primarily on the third line. At 6 feet 4, 230 pounds, he adds a size element that the Penguins were lacking among their forwards. He has three hits, three blocked shots.
When Pyatt arrived, the Penguins instructed him to simply play, telling him he could worry about learning the details over time.
“I’m still trying to go over some of the systems stuff, still trying to adjust to that,” he said. “I’m starting to get a little more familiar with it. It’s one thing to know it, and another thing to be able to go out and execute it.”
Pyatt played 13 minutes, 58 seconds in a 2-1 win Saturday night at Calgary, the most ice time of his five games with his new team and the most he has played since he logged 15:21 Oct. 26 with the Rangers, who pretty much phased him out of their plans as the season unfolded.
“I’m still trying to find a role,” he said of his new team. “I’ve gotten some decent ice time. I’m still trying to play hard and be effective.
“I’m starting to get a little more comfortable, and starting to get to know the guys a little bit better. It’s been nice to be on the road with everyone and get to know everyone a little better.”
It was only five days after he arrived in Pittsburgh that Pyatt took off with the Penguins for their three-game western Canada trip.
“We had a team dinner [Wednesday night], and I was able to hang out with some of the guys and get to know them a little bit closer,” he said. “That’s always the best way to do it — get on the road with the guys. Everyone’s been great so far, very welcoming. I’m enjoying myself.”
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.