PITTSBURGH – Three months to the day after they won the NHL championship, the Pittsburgh Penguins reunited Saturday for the start of training camp. There was something missing, too, besides the handful of players who didn’t return.
The Stanley Cup wasn’t in sight, even though Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and their teammates were showing it off at the White House only two days before.
Borrowing a page from coach Mike Tomlin’s game plan – perhaps because he spent time at Steelers camp last month – Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is focusing on the new season that has arrived in a rush, not on the championship that was won not that long ago.
That’s why the words “Stanley Cup champions” don’t appear on the players’ camp T-shirts. The Cup also isn’t pictured on the front page of the players’ camp guide.
Bylsma isn’t banning all mention of winning the Stanley Cup, but he emphasized he doesn’t consider this team to be No. 1 but, rather, only one of 30.
“On (Friday), we have a golf tournament and the logo on the balls is Stanley Cup champions,” Bylsma said. “We’re going to try to get rid of those reminders and start focusing on putting our names back into the hat of the 30 teams that are vying for a Stanley Cup. We have to go to work.”
Tomlin’s approach with the Super Bowl-winning Steelers was the same. He made sure all post-Super Bowl festivities were out of the way long before camp started, so his team could quickly settle into its usual August routine.
“Because you win it doesn’t mean your career is over – and, as a team, it doesn’t mean you stop improving, you get better” Crosby said. “It’s great to see the hard work pay off, but now you start from scratch and start again.”
Defenceman Jay McKee, who played for St. Louis the last three seasons, is surprised how little chatter there has been about a season that ended only 12 weeks ago.
“I thought the guys would come in and be talking a lot about it, but not a lot has been mentioned about what they accomplished,” McKee said. “I think there’s a humble confidence with this team. I think it’s the toughest trophy in sports to defend and I think the players know that.”
Bill Guerin remembers. He played for the Devils when they won the Cup in 1995, then failed to make the playoffs the following season.
“Obviously you’re proud of what you did and you enjoyed it, but you kind of realize none of the other teams care,” Guerin said. “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.”
What is unique is this is the Penguins’ first training camp with Bylsma as coach, yet they’ve already won the Stanley Cup with him – he wasn’t hired until mid-February. That will make running a business-as-usual camp difficult, because he knows he can’t turn camp into a grind for players who have had precious few weeks off following successive trips to the Stanley Cup finals.
Crosby, forward Jordan Staal and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, for example, will have only one calendar month this year, July, in which they won’t pull on skates and a hockey sweater. All three attended Canada’s Olympic orientation camp last month.
Consider this: if the Steelers’ off-season had lasted only as long as the Penguins’ did, they would have reported to training camp on May 1.
“Physically, I think we’ll be OK,” Bylsma said. “Mentally, that is really where the focus will be, making sure we’re appropriately focused on what’s important but also keeping in balance there are guys that have played a lot of hockey, there are guys that went to Olympic camps. We’ll taking everybody as individuals and treating them as such. Some people who have played a lot of hockey, they’re maybe going to get a day off or some consideration how many exhibition games they play.”
Defenceman Sergei Gonchar and Crosby said they’re healed from their playoff knee injuries. Gonchar played the final two rounds with a tear in the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Crosby injured his left knee in Stanley Cup finals Game 7 against Detroit.