Penguins defenseman Maatta makes his return in win over Canadiens |

Penguins defenseman Maatta makes his return in win over Canadiens

Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
The Penguins' Olli Maatta.

MONTREAL — Defenseman Olli Maatta played well during the Penguins’ 4-0 win in Montreal on Tuesday, two weeks after having a cancerous lump surgically removed from his neck.

Doctors initially told Maatta he would miss four weeks.

“I was actually really nervous,” Maatta said. “I didn’t play too well at first. But I got more comfortable as the game went on.”

Maatta played on a pairing with Christian Ehrhoff. The 20-year-old played 20:14, the fourth-most ice time of any Penguins player against Montreal.

He last played Nov. 1 against Buffalo and had surgery three days later to remove the lump.

According to coach Mike Johnston, Maatta wanted to return to the lineup earlier.

“He probably could have played a couple of days earlier,” Johnston said. “He wanted to get his quickness and puck movement down. He’s looked really good in practice. He’s going to be ready to go. This is a big boost for our team.”

Maatta couldn’t stop smiling while speaking at his locker following the morning skate at Bell Centre.

“I just thank the doctors and the team staff for doing their best with me,” Maatta said. “I’m so excited to be back. I always wanted to come back as quickly as I could. I just wanted to get it over with.

“Now I don’t have to worry about it anymore. I can just play hockey again.”

Maatta received a less than a cordial welcome from the Canadiens.

On his first shift Tuesday, Matta was leveled on a hard, clean check from Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty.

As usual, Maatta simply shrugged off the hit and finished his shift.

“Flower (Marc-Andre Fleury) saved me a little bit early,” Maatta said. “My mind was all over the place. But I finally relaxed.”

Penguins players and the coaching staff said they have been impressed with Maatta’s attitude. He learned during training camp that there was an 85 percent chance he had cancer.

Through it all, Maatta has remained composed, according to many in the organization.

“He’s not like many 20-year-olds I’ve ever met,” assistant coach Gary Agnew said. “He’s a really special kid.”

Maatta was reminded that he was making his return in Montreal, the hometown of cancer survivor Mario Lemieux, who returned to the lineup less than two months after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and only hours following his final radiation treatment.

Another noteworthy case of a player returning from cancer took place in Montreal when Saku Koivu, then with the Canadiens, was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He returned to the lineup six months after the diagnosis.

Maatta declined to compare his situation with anything Lemieux or Koivu experienced.

“Cancer is a pretty scary word,” he said. “But you can’t really compare different kinds of cancers. Mine was found early. It was really pretty easy to (cure). It was just another bump on the road. Now it’s over with. I feel normal. I feel just like I did before.”

Maatta’s teammates were impressed with his performance against the Canadiens.

“What a special kid,” left wing Beau Bennett said. “He was awesome tonight.”

Maatta started the season on time despite dealing with summer shoulder surgery that was supposed to keep him out until November.

He and the Penguins hope his health troubles are a thing of the past.

“I just want to see him on the rink more and more,” Agnew said. “He’s been through a lot. He’s a heck of a kid and a heck of a hockey player.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.