Penguins Training Camp: Together again, and, oh, are they happy about it
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Any Stanley Cup hangover the Penguins were feeling might have dissipated yesterday. That's because for this tight-knit group, one that stayed remarkably intact from its championship season, the problem is not getting things going again after a short summer.
The hard part was scattering following the mid-June celebrations.
"We became so close ... that that separation for three months, some guys might have had separation anxiety," winger Matt Cooke said. "It's good that we're back and playing."
Well, they aren't quite playing yet. That comes soon enough.
The team reported for training camp, undergoing medical testing and physicals at the UPMC sports and medical facilities on the South Side. They begin practices at 9 a.m. today at Mellon Arena and have their first exhibition game Tuesday at home against Columbus.
During the offseason, it was not unusual for a teammate or two to join in when a player had his day with the Stanley Cup. After a furious stretch run starting in February followed by a grueling playoff ride that included two seven-game series, the Penguins missed each other over the summer after beating Detroit in the final.
"We're teammates, but we're friends, too," goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. "It was a little bit long, not seeing them for a while."
Now that they are back together, the Penguins don't expect any sort of letdown coming off last season or any trouble getting the most out of training camp. A year ago, the Penguins were still stinging after losing to the Red Wings in the 2008 final.
"I don't think the approach will be different," defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. "I'm still seeing how hungry those guys are, pushing themselves. They came in in good shape and they're working hard. Probably the mindset will be a little different. Probably a little more confident. We want to prove again that we can do it."
Gonchar and center Sidney Crosby finished the playoffs with knee injuries, but both said they were able to train normally during the summer and don't foresee any problems. The only player who is out going into preseason practice is forward Max Talbot, who had offseason shoulder surgery. He is due back in November or December.
Veteran winger Bill Guerin, who won a Cup with New Jersey in 1995, became a valuable member of Crosby's line after being acquired in a March trade. At 38, he has been through enough training camps to know players always arrive with a brimming competitive spirit -- "I know I won the vision test. That's a good start," he cracked.
He has some insight on what camp should be about for the reigning champions.
"Obviously, you're proud of what you did. You enjoyed it," Guerin said. "But you have to realize that none of the other teams care. They all want a piece of it, and they all want to come after you. There's not going to be one easy night this year because teams always want to knock off the defending champs. If you don't think that, you're fooling yourself; if you prepare for it, you're better off.
"I think our team's still going to be hungry. I think we proved a lot to ourselves last year."
Two newcomers signed in the summer, defenseman Jay McKee and rugged winger Mike Rupp, have good first impressions about the makeup of the club.
"It's a great atmosphere," McKee said. "You can tell the guys get along real well. To go through what they went through last year, you create a real strong bond. It's easy to see it. I saw that right away. I'm just glad to be a part of it."
"I think they're more humble about it. I thought the guys would come in and just be talking a lot about it. Not a whole lot has been mentioned about everything they accomplished last year." Rupp won a Cup in 2003 as a rookie with New Jersey. He can sense the buzz among his new teammates, but it is something based on what lies ahead, not what happened last season.
"There's this excitement to get going," he said. "It was an exciting summer for the organization. A lot of guys, a lot of the talk is to come back with the mindset of being ready for those same challenges. I haven't heard too much about [winning the Cup]. Just more about getting going and defending it."
NOTES -- Coach Dan Bylsma said assistant Mike Yeo will continue to work with defensemen and the power play, with new assistant Tony Granato assigned to the forwards and penalty kill. "As this year goes along, [assignments] will be less rigid, and each coach will take turns running the meetings before the game, and we'll switch up," Bylsma said. ... Cooke missed the team's visit Thursday to the White House because he was dealing with complications related to a house he is having built in Ontario. ... The Penguins exhibition games Sept. 21 at Montreal, Sept. 22 at Toronto and Sept. 27 at Detroit will be among 10 games televised by the NHL Network.
First Published September 13, 2009 12:00 am