Friday, June 30, 2017

Taillon keeps Rays in check as Pirates roll to 4-0 victory

By Will Graves, The Associated Press
June 29, 2017
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Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jameson Taillon delivers in the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays in Pittsburgh, Thursday, June 29, 2017. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
PITTSBURGH -- Josh Harrison knows the signs. They're unmissable. Solid starting pitching. Stellar work by the bullpen. Timely hits and aggressive baserunning.
It's a formula that carried the Pittsburgh Pirates to the playoffs from 2013-15, one that is starting to pop up a little more regularly as Pittsburgh tries to keep pace in a lukewarm National League Central race.
Jameson Taillon scattered seven hits over 6 1/3 innings, Gregory Polanco and John Jaso hit solo home runs and the Pirates shut down Tampa Bay 4-0 on Thursday night for their fourth win in their last six games as they try to scramble back near the .500 mark as the halfway point looms this weekend.
"I think a lot of guys that have been here, the core guys, we've been through adversity before," said Harrison, who had two hits and was also hit twice to raise his total to a major-league high 18. "So what was thrown at us earlier this year, things that are still being thrown at us, we know at the end of the day, we've been in adversity, we've got to keep playing and know everybody will come around."
Andrew McCutchen went 3 for 3 with a single and an RBI and is hitting .397 since June 1 to raise his season average to .278.
"He's an elite player," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's in a good place, he's confident, he's convicted in the box. He's showing us the ability he's had."
Taillon (4-2) walked two and struck out four in his longest outing since returning from a battle with testicular cancer earlier this month, lowering his ERA to 2.97 despite allowing at least one base runner in six of the seven innings he worked. Considering he was undergoing cancer treatment six weeks ago wondering if his season was in jeopardy, Taillon will take it.
"Time away is tough," Taillon said. "You're sitting there watching guys play and you're not able to contribute. That's tough. I wanted a chance to come back and I wanted a chance to pitch for something and here I am."
Chris Archer (6-5) allowed three runs in six innings, striking out five without issuing a walk for Tampa Bay, which has lost four of five. Logan Morrison and Shane Peterson had two hits apiece for the Rays but Tampa Bay went 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base. The Rays left 21 runners on base while losing the final two games of the interleague series.
"I don't want to make excuses but we hit the ball pretty hard all series long," said Rays outfielder Steven Sousa Jr., who went 0 for 5.
Though the Rays kept pecking away at him, Taillon worked in and out of trouble with relative ease. Despite all the traffic, the Rays only reached third base once against him. Taillon exited with runners on first and second and one out in the seventh. Tony Watson, demoted from his closer's role earlier this month, struck out Corey Dickerson and got Evan Longoria to pop up to first base to end the threat.
Archer, trying to win his third consecutive start, couldn't quite keep pace. Three consecutive one-out Pittsburgh singles in the third, the last by the rejuvenated McCutchen, gave the Pirates a 1-0 lead. Jaso made it 2-0 with his sixth home run of the season leading off the fourth. Polanco, dropped from third to sixth in the batting order while mired in a deep slump, drilled his sixth homer to right center to push the advantage to 3-0.
"Cutch was MVP for a reason," Archer said. "I'm glad I was able to limit the damage a little bit but they definitely gave me a tough time."
PNC Park gave umpire John Tumpane a standing ovation before the first pitch, a way of saying thanks after Tumpane helped save a woman in distress on the Roberto Clemente Bridge on Wednesday. The rescue was caught by a photographer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Tumpane's selfless act made him an unlikely celebrity. Tumpane, who spent part of Thursday doing a series of interviews, continued to downplay his role, saying he was simply in the right place at the right time.
Rays: Activated reliever Brad Boxberger off the 60-day DL and designated reliever Danny Farquhar for assignment. Boxberger was an All-Star in 2015 when he led the American League with 41 saves. He will work in a setup role for current Tampa Bay closer Alex Colome. Farquhar was 2-2 with a 4.11 ERA in 37 appearances with the Rays this season.
Rays: Continue an eight-game trip in Baltimore on Friday when rookie Jake Faria (3-0, 2.10 ERA) takes the hill against Chris Tillman (1-5, 8.39 ERA). The Orioles took two of three from the Rays in Tampa last weekend.
Pirates: Host the struggling San Francisco Giants in a weekend series starting Friday. Gerrit Cole (6-6, 4.11 ERA) looks for his fourth straight victory in the opener.

To keep their edge, Penguins must find a third-line center in off-season

By Mark Madden
June 29, 2017

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 Nick Bonino could command a big payday this summer. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Free agency is all about getting paid.
Actually, it’s all about getting overpaid.
Rare is the athlete who reaches free agency and takes a pay cut. All it takes to be rolling in dough is one stupid team. Two stupid teams = Powerball.
Nick Bonino hits free agency Saturday. He’s about to get overpaid.
Just not by the Penguins.
Bonino is reportedly asking for $16 million over four seasons. Too much, too long, but he’ll get it. Ten teams are reportedly pursuing Bonino.
Whoever signs Bonino will likely use him as a top-six center by way of justifying his paycheck. That’s too far up the depth chart. His acquisition will be considered a bust.
But Bonino won’t fail his new team. His new team will fail him. Even the best third-liner can have trouble being more than that. (See Staal, Jordan.)
The Penguins have given up on retaining Bonino and defenseman Trevor Daley, feeling that each has priced himself out of their range.
Defense won’t be a problem, assuming that Kris Letang is 100 percent at season’s start or not long after. That’s a risky assumption, given Letang’s injury history and his neck surgery in April.
But Letang will combine with Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz to give the Penguins a solid top five defensemen. (That’s figuring that restricted free agents Dumoulin and Schultz re-up, which is a safe assumption.)
The coaches love Chad Ruhwedel, so perhaps he’s the sixth defenseman to start the season. He’s right-handed. Huge plus.
Then there’s Derrick Pouliot. If it’s now or never, mark me down for “never.” Not in Pittsburgh, anyway.
Repairing center is a stickier wicket.
The top two guys are OK. No problem there.
A fourth-line center can be signed out of free agency. (This assumes a Matt Cullen retirement or defection to Minnesota. Another good bet.)
I suggest ex-Penguin Dominic Moore.
Moore, 36, is a true journeyman, having played for 10 NHL teams. He’s Cullen Lite, but with more bite. Moore is good on the penalty-kill, and won 54.6 percent of his draws with Boston last season.
Moore made $900K last year, and has never made more than $1.5 million. Moore is affordable.
Third-line center presents more of a dilemma. So much so that the Penguins must be tempted to overpay Bonino.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Nick Bonino (13) shoots the puck for a goal against Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby during the third period of Game 1 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series, Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Washington. The Penguins won 3-2. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Pittsburgh Penguins center Nick Bonino (13) shoots the puck for a goal against Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby during the third period of Game 1 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series, Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Washington. The Penguins won 3-2. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
There isn’t much quality that fits the description: Brian Boyle, Martin Hanzal, perhaps Jordan Weal. Such players figure to be over-pursued, overpaid and then overestimated, not unlike Bonino.
GM Jim Rutherford might need to trade for a third-line center, perhaps using his surplus at wing – a surplus increased via the development of Daniel Sprong and 2016-17 NCAA scoring champion Zach Aston-Reese, both likely to spend time in the NHL this coming season.
The Penguins can fix defense later, if need be. Center can’t wait.
As Stanley Cup champions, the Penguins have plenty of strengths.
But they’ve been unmatched at center these past two Cup-winning seasons. It’s been their biggest advantage, from the first line through the fourth. That edge needs to be maintained as much as it possibly can.
Bonino may sign with Nashville, BTW. First the Predators break Bonino’s leg, now they try to take him.
Bonino’s production lagged when he came to Pittsburgh in 2016: He only got 13 points in his first 50 games as a Penguin.
But he went on a tear after, tallying 34 points in his last 37 games that season as the Penguins won the Stanley Cup and the HBK Line became forever part of Pittsburgh’s hockey lexicon.
Bonino never surged in similar fashion this past campaign, but was solid and timely. Very good on the PK. Decent on draws, better on big draws.
In the end, Bonino was a perfect fit for the Penguins.
The next Bonino is out there. Rutherford just has to figure out who it is.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Pirates jump on Snell in return, top Rays 6-2

The Associated Press
June 28, 2017
Pittsburgh Pirates' Josh Bell rounds third after hitting a solo-home run off Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell in the fourth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, June 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Pirates' Josh Bell rounds third after hitting a solo-home run off Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell in the fourth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, June 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
PITTSBURGH -- Josh BellJose Osuna and Elias Dias spent the better part of five years climbing through the Pittsburgh Pirates' organization talking about the day they'd finally get a chance to make an impact in the big leagues.
The rookies have arrived just in time to help a scuffling team trying to stay in the mix in the wide-open and decidedly mediocre NL Central.
Bell hit his team-leading 15th home run , Osuna doubled twice and drove in two runs and Diaz added two hits and drove in two runs of his own as the Pirates jumped on Tampa Bay's Blake Snell early in a 6-2 victory on Wednesday night.
"Looking back 4-5 years ago playing together in West Virginia, going up through Double-A together, Triple-A, for us to be wining ballgames up here instills a lot of pride in us," Bell said.
Bell tied a Pirates rookie record by reaching 15 home runs before the All-Star break. Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner did it in 1946.
"It's cool to be mentioned in the same sentence as a great like that," Bell said. "So hopefully more to come. Just going to keep trucking along."
Ivan Nova (8-5) struggled with his command and failed to work into the sixth for the first time this season but picked up the win despite allowing seven hits and two walks in five innings. The Pirates improved to just 36-42 but are only four games behind first-place Milwaukee.
"It was a battle," Nova said. "These days, you feel like you have it but you don't. I didn't make a lot of pitches, but I made the right one when I needed to."
Corey DickersonEvan LongoriaTim Beckham and Adeiny Hechavarria all had two hits each for the Rays but Tampa Bay went 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base.
Snell began the season as Tampa Bay's fourth starter but was sent down following a loss to Boston on May 13. He went 5-0 at Triple-A and manager Kevin Cash called Snell's re-insertion into the rotation as a chance for Snell to hit "reset."
It didn't take long for the control issues that plagued Snell over his first eight starts this season to resurface. Snell walked Andrew McCutchen and David Freese with two outs in the first. Osuna followed with a shot down the left field line that one-hopped into the stands to tie the game. A wild pitch allowed Freese to score Diaz added a two-run single to put the Pirates up 4-1. Snell retired seven straight before Bell's shot to the seats on the second pitch of the fourth put Pittsburgh up 5-2.
"I think you saw a young pitcher that was really excited to get back to the big leagues, probably was a little over amped and it showed up in the first inning," Cash said. "It's unfortunate, but I think a lot of that first inning went to Blake not being able to totally settle down. He was a little amped in his bullpen, a little erratic."
Snell left five innings, allowing six runs on four hits with five walks and four strikeouts. He has 30 walks in 46 innings this season.
Walks are never an issue for Nova, who came in having issued just 11 in 103 innings. Yet he lacked his usual crispness. He allowed at least one baserunner in each of his five innings but managed to avoid the big mistake, surrendering only Longoria's RBI double in the first and a sacrifice fly to Wilson Ramos in the third.
Tampa Bay called up left-handed reliever Adam Kolarek from Triple-A Durham, the first big-league promotion of Kolarek's eight-year professional career. The Rays sent down relievers Austin Pruitt and Jose Alvarado and transferred CF Kevin Kiermaier (right hip fracture) from the 10-day to the 60-day disabled list to make room for Kolarek and Snell.
Pirates: C Francisco Cervelli (concussion) spent 20 minutes on a stationary bike Wednesday after being cleared to begin "light exertion" workouts. Cervelli spent a week on the disabled list earlier this month after sustaining a concussion on June 6 and returned to the disabled list last Thursday when playing exacerbated his symptoms. There is no timetable for Cervelli's return.
Rays: Chris Archer (6-4, 3.88 ERA) goes for his third straight victory on Thursday in the series finale.
Pirates: Jameson Taillon (3-2, 3.33) is 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in three starts since returning from the disabled list following a battle with testicular cancer.

Penguins prospect Daniel Sprong looks to showcase his improvements at development camp

By Jeremy Tepper
June 28, 2017

Pittsburgh Penguins v Arizona Coyotes
Daniel Sprong #41 of the Pittsburgh Penguins shoot the puck ahead of Shane Doan #19 of the Arizona Coyotes during the first period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on October 10, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)

CRANBERRY TWP. — Daniel Sprong might be just 20 years old, but amongst his peers at the Penguins prospect development camp, he's depended on to be a leader. 
On Tuesday night, a day before the development camp started Wednesday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, that was Mark Recchi's message to Sprong.
“That’s what I told him. I said, ‘you’re here, you’re looking after guys,'" Recchi, the Penguins' director of player development said. 
In the development camp, which spans until Saturday, Sprong will be the focal point. He's the Penguins' top prospect, a winger with strong scoring abilities and a polished set of offensive skills. Having not been able to participate in the camp last year due to a shoulder injury he suffered when he joined the Penguins' scout team during their playoff run, he's especially looking forward to this year's camp, with hopes of impressing the Penguins' brass. 
“I think it’s a good week just to show how much I matured," Sprong said.
Drafted in the second round in 2015, Sprong made the Penguins roster as an 18 year old, playing 18 games and scoring two goals before being sent down. Since, the Penguins have directed Sprong to improve certain areas of his game, namely his play without the puck offensively. Given his statistics this past season with his junior team, the Charlottetown Islanders of the QHJHL, it appears Sprong has made some strides. In 31 games, Sprong scored 32 goals and 59 points. Just as importantly, he had a plus-29 plus-minus, the first positive plus-minus of his junior career. As Sprong put it, "it was a great year personal-wise."
“I really tried to develop my game one more time before making the step hopefully to the NHL next year full time. I think my plus-minus showed that and I think I worked a lot away from the puck. I worked on a different side of my game," Sprong said. “I think I got a lot better since I was 18. I think I really developed so far really well in what I think of my game.”
Bettering his play defensively has also been a point of emphasis for Sprong, who said he watched Penguins games this season often with an eye on how they played in the defensive zone, with the intention of implementing some of those elements into his game.
“I know what I have to do on that side of the puck," Sprong said.
Since he joined the Penguins organization, Sprong has made a conscious effort to learn from the pros, whether that's been from his couch at home with a game on the TV, or when he was in the locker room with them as a teammate.
“It was a dream come true to make the team when I was 18," Sprong said. “Just seeing those guys work on an everyday basis, how they take care of their bodies and what they do on and off the ice, I think from that I learned a lot and matured a lot."
Now, Sprong is hoping that this development camp will be the start of his path back to the NHL. He said he's looking to primarily show that he can play without the puck well, while also displaying his skill. After that, he'll go to Montreal to train.
"I'm excited to be here and I’m excited to go back home and start working out again," Sprong said. “I’ve still got months to work on my game and define things I want to work on."

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Pirates in baseball purgatory, and bullpen is to blame

By Chris Mueller
June 27, 2017
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Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Tony Watson (44) reacts after giving up a home run in the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles June 7th at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. (Photo By: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)

There is no better way to describe the current situation of the Pittsburgh Pirates than to say that they are squarely in baseball purgatory. And it must be hell for their fans.
How else could one frame it, after a recent 10-game run against division opponents that saw the Bucs go -- you guessed it -- 5-5? No, purgatory is where the Pirates are, and, judging by their flaws, exactly where they belong.
You can blame the bullpen for this latest stretch of enraging mediocrity.
Consider their series against the Chicago Cubs. A 4-3 lead entering the ninth inning of the opening tilt of a three-game set turned into a 9-5 defeat after Juan Nicasio played the role of Elmer Fudd to Chicago’s Bugs Bunny, needing a whopping six pitches to both surrender the lead and load the bases with no outs.
The Pirates took just one of three from Chicago, a team they are still trying to overtake for second place.
Consider their four-game set against the surprising, division-leading Milwaukee Brewers. In Miller Park, traditionally a Pirates house of horrors, the Bucs took the first two games of the series and were poised, with Ivan Nova pitching the series finale, to take at least three of four, which could have made a huge dent in Milwaukee’s lead.
Instead, the bullpen wasted a strong start from Trevor Williams, with Daniel Hudson giving up a game-winning two-run home run in the seventh inning. The Pirates lost the third game 4-3. Then Nova went out and threw too many decent strikes to a Brewers team fond of swinging at just about everything. The Pirates lost, backsliding into a disappointing split.
They took two of three from the St. Louis Cardinals, but that, too, could have been a sweep. But Chad Kuhl again failed to get through six innings of work, and the bullpen let another lead slip away. Notice a theme here?
For all the hardships the Pirates have endured this year, from Andrew McCutchen’s horrible start to the season, to Gregory Polanco’s horrible, well, entire season, to Jung Ho Kang’s persona non grata status, to Starling Marte’s suspension, no element of the team has failed as consistently or as spectacularly as the bullpen. Were it not for Felipe Rivero’s overwhelming dominance, the bullpen would be recognized as arguably the worst in the game.
Put it this way: Things are so bad that Jason Grilli is being bandied about as an arm worth checking out. Grilli, in case you’re wondering, has surrendered 17 runs in 20.2 innings with Toronto, has allowed a staggering nine home runs, and — while he's still in possession of his velocity — looks to be a guy not fooling many people any more.
The bullpen stinks, and what makes that even tougher to take is the fact that the rest of the NL Central does, too. If the Pirates’ relief corps was even good, not great — just good, they likely would be at the top of the division. Their competition is that bad. They would have a clear path going forward, would likely be buyers at the trade deadline, and would be thinking about making a push to finally guarantee themselves a playoff series without having to survive a wild-card game.
Instead, they are where they are. Because the division is so bad, they can’t even be sellers, despite starting Tuesday six games under .500. They can’t go full rebuild, and they can’t go for broke. They can just continue to muddle along, hoping that 5-5 stretches like the one they just ended turn to 7-3s, and fast.
I wouldn’t count on that happening. Not unless something drastic happens with their relievers. Maybe that means Kuhl and his power arm moving to the bullpen and thriving, or one of the guys they’re paying a decent sum starting to pitch like they’re worth it.
As things stand now, the Pirates will continue to be what they have been, a flawed team in a flawed division. Not good enough to get behind and not bad enough to write off. A team in baseball purgatory.
Sounds positively hellish, to me.
Chris Mueller is the co-host of 'The Starkey & Mueller Show" from 2-6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 The Fan.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Former Penguin Mark Recchi elected to Hockey Hall of Fame

By Jonathan Bombulie
June 26, 2017
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When reflecting on the dominance of the Penguins' Stanley Cup teams of the early 1990s, hockey fans often marvel at the number of Hall of Fame players on the roster.
On Monday, they could add another name to the list.
That's when former Penguins winger Mark Recchi was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in his fourth year of eligibility.
When he's inducted in November, he will join Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey, Ron Francis, Larry Murphy, Joe Mullen and Bryan Trottier in enshrinement in Toronto.
“It's absolutely incredible and humbling,” Recchi said. “They're all great friends. To be in there with them and to play with them and now to join them in this, I never expected this when I started playing in the NHL. To get this call today ... it was incredible. It's an unbelievable honor.”
Recchi was well-traveled as a player, suiting up for seven teams during a 22-year career. A fourth-round draft pick of the Penguins in 1988, he kept coming back to Pittsburgh no matter where his hockey road traveled.
Recchi played parts of seven seasons with the Penguins in three stints with the team. He ranks in the top 20 in team history in goals (154) and points (385).
He won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 1991 before being traded to Philadelphia in '92. He also won championships with Carolina in 2006 and Boston in his final season in '11.
He is the Penguins director of player development and excused himself from a meeting at the team's practice facility in Cranberry on Monday afternoon when he received the call from the Hall of Fame.
“Pittsburgh became my home,” Recchi said. “I pretty much stayed here through all the times, wherever I was. It was just a seamless transition to go back. I didn't foresee seven teams I played for and bouncing back and forth in between with Pittsburgh, but I think Pittsburgh is a great place to live and a great city to be in and a great place to raise my kids.
“I grew up in a small town, and Pittsburgh has a great small-town feel, even though it's a couple million people. It just has that nice feel.”
Recchi's case for enshrinement is built largely around sustained excellence for a long period of time. He had 15 20-goal seasons and earned seven All-Star bids. He ranks fifth in games played (1,652), 12th in points (1,533) and 20th in goals (577) in the history of the league.
“It was just an honor to play 22 years,” Recchi said. “To stay healthy through that, it was never easy. Taking care of myself on and off the ice was a huge part of it, being prepared to play every day and being mentally prepared obviously helped me. I loved playing the game, and I loved getting out there. Whatever I could do to play, I did.”
Recchi probably had to wait four years for induction because his career lacked an eye-popping stretch of dominance. He never finished higher than sixth in MVP balloting.
“It's something where it has to play out its course, and if I got in, wonderful,” Recchi said. “I did what I could on the ice. If it was good enough, it was good enough. I had a wonderful career. I had wonderful teammates. This is the ultimate to finish it off. You can only do so much. You've got to let your numbers and your play dictate where it gets you.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.comor via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Thank You, Pittsburgh

By Marc-Andre Fleury
June 26, 2017

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Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins takes photos with fans during the Pittsburgh Penguins Victory Parade (Getty Images)

It started in Nashville, 14 years ago.

Kind of ironic right now.

The 2003 Draft was at the Bridgestone Arena. As a young 18-year-old from Quebec, all I was hoping for was to hear my name. Pittsburgh had the third pick overall, but at the last minute, they made a trade with Florida to pick first. I had heard rumors that I might get picked by one of the first few teams, but didn’t believe it until I heard Craig Patrick call my name.

Pittsburgh. I would have been happy anywhere, but I got drafted by Pittsburgh. What a blessing. I would, maybe, get to play with Mario Lemieux. I would, hopefully, get to play for the team that had won back-to-back Stanley Cups in ’91-92. I would have a shot at playing in the NHL.

The next 14 years were beyond my wildest dreams.

Saying that the last few weeks have been bittersweet would be an understatement. As we reached the Stanley Cup finals, I knew very well that my time as a Penguin was nearing its end. I love to play. I love the game, and everything about it. Putting the mask on, diving around, stopping the puck, feeling the intensity of the game, feeling useful. I wish I could have been in net for my last game as a Penguin. But we raised the Cup, again, and it made all the sacrifices worthy. I felt proud — proud of my teammates for battling through injuries, for showing a lot of character, and for winning two years in a row. I am grateful that I had the chance to contribute to our success through the first rounds. And I feel very fortunate that the last time I have skated with a Penguins jersey, it will have been with the Stanley Cup in my hands. Not that it wasn’t an emotional moment.

Fourteen years. Nearly half of my life. I remember my first training camp, in September 2003, like it was yesterday. I was so nervous. There are so many expectations on a first-round pick, and I didn’t want to let anybody down. I just tried to do my best, and wanted to leave a good impression. But when you face Mario Lemieux in training camp, it can be quite intimidating, to say the least.

Everyone knows him as Le Magnifique, a hockey legend. I always loved watching him growing up. I remember the first time I stopped Mario in practice. It was a simple warmup shot. But you better believe that I kept that puck — and still have it at home. Mario is a great role model for me — his loyalty to the team, his contributions to the community, how he handles himself and how he and Nathalie raised four great, humble kids. I’ll always be thankful for their support throughout the years.

My first home game was against the Kings at the Igloo on Oct. 10, 2003. My dream was becoming a reality. Maybe the excitement was a little high. So high, that, well … I forgot something. As everybody was getting ready to head out of the locker room, I made my way towards the ice, fist bumped a few guys (including Marc Bergevin and Mario) and then I realized that I had forgotten my stick. It was a pretty funny walk of shame past all my teammates to go grab my stick.  As I was walking back, Mario cracked a little smile and said “You’re going to need that tonight, kid.”\

I guess he was right. First shot of the game, first shot I faced in the NHL, and it goes in. That wasn’t part of my dream. But then, thankfully, it got better. I stopped Ziggy Palffy — a guy I watched growing up — on a breakaway. Then I stopped a penalty shot and finished the game with 46 saves on 48 shots. We lost that game, but that one will remain one of my best memories in Pittsburgh.

Even that first night, the fans were chanting Fleu-ry, Fleu-ry. They were holding up signs that said Welcome Home. I honestly couldn’t believe it. The rush from that, to tell you the truth, I can’t even describe it. It is just unbelievable. And it never gets old, trust me. The fans in Pittsburgh have been tremendous with me since the very beginning.

For a hockey player to get to play nearly 14 years in one city is a blessing. It wasn’t all fun and games, though. It was obviously difficult losing so much in the first few seasons. But then we got Geno. And then Sid. And then Staal (to name just a few). We started winning, and the Igloo was booming. It was a success built from figuring things out together, as a group. The loss to Detroit in the 2008 finals was one of the toughest experiences of my career. Being so close to reaching that Cup and then having to watch the Wings celebrate their win … it was brutal, but we needed it. I believe that, in the end, that loss helped prepare us for what was to come.

Game 7 of the 2009 finals in Detroit is without a doubt one of my favorite moments as a Penguin. Seeing my good friend Max Talbot score two huge goals for us was incredible. 

And then, of course, making that save against Lidstrom in the last seconds was something I will never forget. I proudly sported a deep bruise on my ribs from that save for weeks following that game. I’ll always remember my teammates jumping on the ice, racing toward me with the biggest smiles. The feeling of winning the Stanley Cup that night is indescribable.Over the years, I probably don’t have to tell you, it’s been ups and downs. But one thing I will carry with me, long after I leave Pittsburgh — honestly, long after my playing career is over — is how amazing and strong the support was that I received from the fans.  

One of my best memories is from earlier this season, actually. We had just been on a road trip and it was our first game back home against Tampa Bay. I had been struggling a bit. I couldn’t buy a save, and I wasn’t feeling great about it. Everybody was getting ready for the anthem, and the crowd started chanting my name. It made no sense. I wasn’t playing well. The game hadn’t even started yet. But they were behind me anyway.

Fleu-ry, Fleu-ry.

Maybe they could sense that I was feeling a little down, and I needed it. We ended up winning the game, things turned around for me, and I ended up having a great season. That moment was the turning point, and it was because of our fans.

So thank you, fans. I wish I could put into words how much of an impact your support has made on me and my family. We have become Pittsburghers. My wife graduated from Robert Morris University, my daughters were born at Magee-Womens Hospital (sorry our commercial has been blasting on your TVs for more than a year), and our first house was in Moon. Pittsburgh and its people will forever be in our hearts.

Thank you to the Penguins ownership: to Mario and Ron, for their support and for striving to be the best organization by providing the team with the best people and the best facilities.  

Thank you to the organization: from the great GMs to the coaches who believed in me. Thank you to Gilles Meloche and Mike Bales, my goalie coaches, whom I’ve spent most of my career with, for always being there for me. Thank you to the medical, front office and equipment staff for all the good times and friendships.  

Thank you to my teammates. My friends. I am not good with the emotional stuff, and this is not easy. Over the years I have seen a lot of good people come and go. It is definitely one of the toughest parts of the business — making good friends and having to say goodbye. I have played with a lot of good dudes in Pittsburgh, and made so many good friends.  

Thanks, Sid, for all the years. We spent a lot of time together, always sat next to each other on the plane, behind one another on the bus, plus all the dinners before every game on the road. Thanks for helping me get through tough times and for being a good friend. It’s tough to say goodbye. I know we were both trying to avoid it. You’re the best. Next time we face each other, make sure you keep your head up. The poke check will be coming, like that one time in Rimouski.

Duper, Tanger, Geno, Kuni — it’s been an honor to go through all of this together. I couldn’t have picked better teammates and friends.  

And I guess I will stop there. Not because I have run out of people to thank or things to say — when it comes to my time as a Penguin, I think I could just go on forever.  

But thank you, everyone, for the support in the last week. All the calls, messages, pictures, the nice articles and videos. It has meant so much to me and my family as we are getting ready to begin a new chapter in our lives. It seems like just yesterday that I was a kid in this blue suit that my agent bought me for the draft, wearing this tie that I didn’t even know how to tie. (I later got fined a few times for coming to the games with it inappropriately tied.)  

And now here I am. I have a wife, two kids, and three Cups. I’m talking about my memories and saying my goodbyes. It might be an adjustment for my girls. They love waving the Terrible Towel and chanting, “Let’s Go Pens.”

Actually, when they see the Pens logo they say, “Go Papa Go!”

But I think we will tell them that moving somewhere new at a young age — yes it might be scary, but we just have to hang in there. We’re going to figure things out, and we’re going to find our way. And then we’ll blink, and suddenly that strange and new place … It won’t seem strange, or new, at all. It might even feel like home.

I still have a lot to wrap my mind around. I am honored that the Golden Knights picked me and I am looking forward to continuing to play the game I love. I don’t know how it will feel when I set foot in the PPG Paints Arena in February as the Vegas goaltender. Truthfully, right now I can’t even think about it. But what I do know is that I will be thrilled to see you all again.

Thanks, Pittsburgh. I will miss you.