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News of Letang’s Stroke Sinks in With Teammates; ‘It’s Scary Stuff’

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Defenseman Kris Letang’s equipment hung in his locker stall at PPG Paints Arena Thursday morning after the team held a lightly-attended optional morning skate. It wasn’t just because Letang had not gone on the ice with his teammates, The reason for his absence is still sinking in for his teammates.

Letang had a stroke Monday. His teammates had not been available to talk about that until after Thursday’s morning skate.

“I think for all of us it’s scary stuff. Very serious,” fellow Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said.

The Penguins face the Vegas Golden Knights at home Thursday, their first game since they learned about Letang’s stroke.

Imagine the scenario late Tuesday night. The Penguins were fuming over what they believed was an egregious missed penalty call against the Carolina Hurricanes in overtime, and the Hurricanes immediately scored the winning goal. Letang missed that game because of what was vaguely being called illness. With emotions over the game still high, into the locker room walked coach Mike Sullivan and Letang, and Sullivan delivered the news.

“Obviously, Tanger’s news was a lot more disheartening than the loss, even though the loss itself was tough,” forward Ryan Poehling said. “Hearing that, you just hope and pray that he’s all right and his family’s doing well. … We just wish him the best.”

The team waited and announced to the public Wednesday that Letang had had a stroke, his second stroke in eight years. General Manager Ron Hextall said signs are good that this stroke is less severe and that it is not career-threatening.

In fact, coach Mike Sullivan said Letang “went for a twirl” on the ice early Thursday, but that it was essentially for Letang’s “peace of mind,” and added that Letang has not been cleared for hockey activities as he faces more testing in the coming days. He is listed as being out indefinitely.

For his teammates, it was good to see Kris Letang standing there Tuesday night when they got the news,

“Definitely important to see him there. It relieved some doubt,” Ruhwedel said.

Defenseman P.O Joseph works out with Letang in the offseason and has developed a close friendship with the 35-year-old veteran.

“It’s awful news whenever it happens to one of your teammates and friends,” Joseph said. “We all wish him the best for his recovery, and we’re all there to support him.”

“There’s some stuff bigger than hockey, and that (is) definitely one of them.”

Joseph declined to divulge any conversations he has had with Letang since the news.

“It’s something we’re trying to keep inside of (the locker room). It’s not everyone’s business. It’s his personal life, and I think he deserves some privacy,” Joseph said.

Although the Penguins say reports indicate optimism that Letang will be able to return to play at some point, filling in for their top defenseman, a big minutes-eater, an alternate captain and three-time Stanley Cup winner with the organization won’t be easy.

“His leadership is always noticed on and off the ice,” Poehling said. “That’s going to be a big thing. But guys can step up and play that role.”

 

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