Rossi: For Penguins’ Dupuis, family must come first
Pascal Dupuis is always the first Penguin I look for at Consol Energy Center. Normally he finds me. Usually he cracks a joke that tickles a nerve. The latest one was about my penchant for sitting in another player’s seat when interviewing Dupuis.
“Oh my God, Rob,” Dupuis said, faking exasperation. “Why can’t you stand like everybody else? What is it? You’re special? Is it because you’re old?”
I’m 36, a year older than Dupuis.
He’s the special one.
You know that he wasn’t drafted, right? Had the NHL not expanded, Dupuis might never have had a first training camp to attend in September 2000, and he still spent a year in the International Hockey League before becoming a regular with the Minnesota Wild.
You know that he’s never been believed to be good enough to play on a top line, right? His three Penguins coaches — Michel Therrien, Dan Bylsma and Mike Johnston — had other ideas for where Dupuis fit in the lineup. Those ideas were wrong because he eventually found regular work with captain Sidney Crosby.
You know that he’s the most indispensable Penguin, right? Name another winger on this team who fits with any center. Name a better penalty-killing forward. Name a more-treasured teammate.
You know Wednesday was a day off for the Penguins, right? So plans were scrapped by Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz so they could attend a news conference at which the Penguins announced Dupuis would miss at least six months because of blood clot in his lung.
“If everyone would have found out a little earlier, all of them would have been here,” Crosby said of other teammates.
Coach Mike Johnston texted most of his players about 15 minutes before the news conference Wednesday. Dupuis had told some teammates, and it is no coincidence the ones who stood beside him in support also were ones with whom he celebrated a Stanley Cup win almost six years ago.
The Cup bond is tough to break.
Dupuis will be tougher to break, too tough for a blood clot, even one in his lung.
Of course, maybe that’s the Pascal Dupuis fan in me writing. I am one, and unapologetically. From his first practice with the Penguins in Boston through three contract negotiations and now this very real scare, I’ve liked covering Dupuis as much as — in some ways more than — any player. His hockey playing is only half of the reason.
Dupuis also gets it, and that’s the other half.
Dupuis was 20 when he met agent Allan Walsh. Theirs is a friendship, not a business relationship. They talk many times every week, usually on Dupuis’ drive home from practice.
“It’s always the same thing,” Walsh said. “At some point, Pascal says, ‘Allan, I’m in my driveway, and you know what that means.’ ”
It means Dupuis, one of the two preferred wingers for hockey’s best player, is only a husband and father (to four children) when he’s home. Non-emergency calls are ignored. French is spoken. Songs are sung. Bedtime stories are read. Maybe there is 30 minutes on the exercise bike but only at the suggestion of his wife.
During training camp in September, I sat next to Dupuis, and we chatted about his attempted comeback from a knee injury that sabotaged the Penguins last season. I suggested, in all seriousness, that had Dupuis been healthy, the Penguins probably would have beaten the Rangers, advanced to the Cup Final and saved the jobs of former general manager Ray Shero and Bylsma.
“You know, I’ve thought about that, too,” Dupuis said. “A lot. You think, ‘Did I do enough to get back?’ ”
I spent a lot of time before and during Wednesday’s news conference thinking about that response from Dupuis. Thoughts turned to concern, which I still have, that Dupuis will push himself too far to play again for the Penguins.
However hard Dupuis wants to push, I hope he takes it easy. This blood clot diagnosis was a blessing. Had it gone undetected, his life would have been in grave danger.
Doctors still don’t know what caused this blood clot, Dupuis’ second since January. That determination, along with potential additional treatment and preventative measures, must happen before anybody starts thinking about seeing Dupuis sell out on the ice — as he has so often — as one of the most versatile, dependable and fastest players in Penguins history.
“Hockey is definitely second on my mind right now,” Dupuis said. “They’re the most important thing in my life right now — my family at home. Just have to be healthy for them.”
The first Penguin I always look for at Consol Energy Center looked on Wednesday like he was trying to wear a brave face. Surely for his kids. Maybe for his teammates. Perhaps for everybody in Pittsburgh.
I so badly wanted to hear Dupuis crack a joke. That’s how I so often know all is right in my world.
All isn’t. Pascal Dupuis has a blood clot in his lung.