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‘We All Consider Him Family’ Penguins Go To Montreal To Support Letang

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Kris Letang

It was a long road trip for the Pittsburgh Penguins, three games but drawn out over nearly 10 days. So the prospect of changing plans after their win Sunday at Arizona might have seemed daunting. But not in this case, not when defenseman Kris Letang needed them.

The team diverted to Montreal instead of coming home to attend the funeral Monday of Letang’s father, Claude Fouquet, who died a week earlier while the team was in Boston for the outdoor Winter Classic.

“Even traveling all night, I don’t think anybody blinked for one second to go there and show support,” fellow defenseman and sometime defense partner Marcus Pettersson said Tuesday after the Penguins’ optional morning skate at PPG Paints Arena.

It wasn’t easy putting the trip together, going across the continent and into Canada, but the Penguins were more than willing to give up what initially was a day off to go.

“There was a lot that went into it. … We talked about a number of different scenarios and logistical challenges, and what I can tell you is that we’re grateful that the Fenway Sports Group (team owners) was 100 percent supportive of anything that the players wanted to do,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We were able to work out some of the challenges. There were a fair amount of them. But we all felt strongly it was important to support ‘Tanger’ through such a difficult time.”

The Penguins spent the day in Montreal before traveling home ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks. Letang, who was dealing with a lower-body injury before his father passed, remains in Montreal, Sullivan said.

Letang, 35, has spent his entire career with the Penguins, is their top defenseman and quarterbacks the power play. He’s in his 17th season.

“He’s such a big part of this team, a big part of this organization,” winger Bryan Rust said. “It shows that there are bigger things than hockey. Obviously, family’s No. 1. We all consider him family. He’s been around here a long time, and a lot of us have been with him for a long time. To show our support for him in a very difficult time I think was very important.”

Members of the Penguins organization did not get to spend much time with Letang, understandable given the circumstances, but he let them know what it meant for them to be there.

“You could tell,” Rust said. “He said something quick to us – he just said thank you – and you could hear how sincere he was and how appreciative he was to have us there.”

Pettersson indicated that the team leaders, including captain Sidney Crosby, spearheaded the trip.

“I think it was huge for us, and for him,” Pettersson said. “We all know how much his dad loved us. We talked to him (Monday) and he texted us and said it meant a lot for his entire family. And I think it meant a lot for us, too, to show him that we support him and we care for him.

“It was a great initiative for Sid and those guys.”

Defenseman P.O Joseph, a fellow French-Canadian, has been living with Letang and his family in Pittsburgh and was all in to go to Montreal.

“He’s a teammate. He’s an older guy – an older brother and a mentor for a lot of young guys,” Joseph said of Letang. “He’s been in this organization for a long time, so I think it’s the least we can do after everything he did for us and is still doing for us.

“I think it was a no-brainer for us, and we were all happy to be there for him.”

It’s been a trying season for Letang in terms of non-hockey events. He had a stroke in late November.

“When events like that happen, I don’t think there’s anything that can lift you up, but little things like that I think can make a difference, as much as possible,” Joseph said.

“We are going to be there for him, especially in the tough moments.”

 

Shelly is a columnist and reporter for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. She was a Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch her on Twitter @_shellyanderson