Penguins say Kris Letang's illness caused by a stroke

The Penguins got jarring news Friday morning about one of their own -- defenseman Kris Letang is recovering from a stroke.

"Terrible news. Scary news. I mean, he's my age," fellow defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "It's hard to believe. It was a big surprise.

"I'm shocked, but I'm happy that he's OK."

Letang's medical condition is not considered to be career-threatening, the team said.

He fell ill last week and underwent a series of tests that led to the diagnosis of a stroke.

The tests also detected a small hole in his heart, which might be related to the stroke.

The Penguins said Letang, 26, will be treated with blood-thinners and will miss at least six weeks.

He is expected to resume skating after the Olympic break, which began after a 4-3 shootout loss Friday night against the New York Rangers at Consol Energy Center.

"It's surprising for somebody his age," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said.

"It's not something you typically hear, especially a guy who takes as good a care [of himself] as he does. It was a surprise, but, from what we've heard, he's being well taken care of, and they've got it under control."

Crosby was among several Penguins who got a chance to speak with Letang after they learned of the diagnosis.

"No one expects to hear something like that," Crosby said.

"I'm sure it caught him off-guard a little bit, but he's handled it well.

"He seems to be learning as much as he can about everything that's going on, as anyone would."

The Rangers game was the fifth in a row Letang missed after he had an episode Jan. 29 described in a statement by Penguins general manager Ray Shero as "dizziness and nausea" that eventually led to the tests that showed he had a stroke.

Earlier this season, Letang missed 19 games because of a knee injury and an elbow infection.

A season ago, Letang was a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman. This season, he has 10 goals, 18 points in 34 games.

"There are a few special players in the league," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "Luckily, we have a couple of them here.

"But Kris is a special player. He has special skills, and he can bring something to the game that not every player can bring. His skating ability, his shot, his offensive ability, it's special. You can't replace that."

For now, the Penguins aren't worried about trying.

"We're not concerned right now about having him out of the lineup," Niskanen said. "He's our friend, first and foremost. We want to make sure he's healthy and takes care of that aspect of his life first."

Bylsma said it wasn't until Thursday afternoon that the full scope of what Letang was dealing with became known.

"To have the episode, to find out that you've had a stroke, it's scary," Bylsma said.

"It's been scary for Kris as a hockey player, but also Kris the person.

"You kind of shake your head in thinking that this would be a possibility for him, for an athlete, a 26-year-old."

Letang is not only up and around, but he also is cleared to work out and go on vacation during the NHL's Olympic break.

"He's pretty upbeat," Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said.

"Still a little worried about what's going on, what's going to happen, but he seems to be handling it well.

"He's going to have a week to relax, take it easy, [clear] his mind a little bit. That will be good for him."

Letang is expected to skate on his own -- and speak publicly -- when the team reconvenes later this month. In a statement, Letang said he hoped others could learn from his situation.

"I hope that by making my condition public at this time, I can help other people by encouraging them to seek medical help if they experience some of the symptoms associated with a stroke -- regardless of their age or general health," he said. "It obviously was a shock to get the news, but I'm optimistic that I can overcome this and get back on the ice."

Letang was a third-round draft pick by the Penguins in 2005 He has played 419 NHL games, with 54 goals and 173 assists.

Off the ice, the Montreal native and his fiancée, Catherine, have a 1-year-old son, Alexander.

Last summer, Letang signed an eight-year, $58 million contract extension that kicks in next season.

The morning Letang began to have symptoms, the Penguins had a scheduled flight to Los Angeles. Letang made the trip but did not practice with the team in El Segundo, Calif., that afternoon.

He participated in the game-day skate the next morning but did not play against the Los Angeles Kings because team doctor Dharmesh Vyas of UPMC, who was traveling with the club, was concerned enough to order further testing.

The road trip -- which was the Penguins' first moms' trip and included Letang's mother -- continued in Phoenix for a game last Saturday. Letang did not skate in Arizona.

It was while the Penguins were there that a very small circle of the team management was informed that Letang had had a stroke but that further testing was warranted.

"In Phoenix, when we got some news about the first test, and then news that he had had a stroke, that sends a lot of thoughts through your head, what that is and what that means," Bylsma said.

"We've gone through a couple of different levels of emotion with getting the news and continuing tests about his heart."

Shelly Anderson:,. 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published February 7, 2014 11:54 AM

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