PITTSBURGH— The Return of Rupp isn’t igniting Pittsburgh Penguins fans the way that the visits of Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot of the Flyers did a week ago.
There hasn’t been any talk that Mike Rupp’s first appearance in Consol Energy Center since signing with the New York Rangers will generate loud booing. Or that he will receive anything but a polite reception – at least until the game starts, when all players wearing Rangers blue are prospective targets for jeering.
Rupp didn’t want to leave Pittsburgh after playing for two seasons there, and the Penguins didn’t want him to go, but salary cap constraints effectively forced him to sign elsewhere.
The Penguins sought to bring back a player who is an asset on and off the ice because of his toughness and leadership qualities but, after paying Rupp $850,000 a season ago, they couldn’t match the $4.5 million, three-year deal he received from the Rangers.
Despite winning the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2003, Rupp called his two seasons in Pittsburgh “the best of my career.” While playing mostly on the fourth line, Rupp had 13 goals and six assists in 2009-10 and nine goals and eight assists a season ago.
Rupp enjoyed Pittsburgh so much that he and his family plan to continue living in the area during the offseason.
“I think that goes with just overall being happy in a hockey environment and playing and having a great group of guys. The coaches were great to me. The organization was awesome. The fans were fantastic,” Rupp said Friday. “It’s a place that was really welcoming for me and my family, so it was good. We’ve kind of lived in this area for a while and plan on continuing to do that, so it’s home for us. It’s a special place for us, that’s for sure.”
Doesn’t sound like a player who expects to hear a lot of booing. Jagr, by contrast, drew plenty of jeers while he and Talbot were scoring goals during the Flyers’ 4-2 win at Consol on Dec. 29.
Rupp was out from late October until mid-December with a knee injury, but returned to play in the last nine games. He had two goals Monday as the Rangers beat the Flyers 3-2 in the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, gaining him the kind of media attention and notoriety that’s uncommon for a fourth-line player.
And that Jagr-like salute he gave after scoring his first goal? That just might earn him some cheers Friday night.
“I think it’s about just trying to find my game after an injury, trying to manage the injury and get the good feeling back,” Rupp said. “I started feeling that way probably the last week or two. We’ve got a good team here and I’m just trying to contribute in some way each night. Things are going well and we’re going to keep working.”
It was his second successive Winter Classic; Rupp also played in the Penguins’ 3-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Jan. 1, 2011 at Heinz Field.
Rupp took time to seek out his former teammates before the Rangers beat the Penguins 4-3 in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 29. He peeked in on them during their morning skate Friday, but only for a moment.
“They’re doing the drill that we always did on game day skates at the end of practice,” Rupp said. “It was good to get the first one out of the way. I saw the guys when they were in New York, so those feelings have been settled already. I don’t need to shake all their hands tonight. We’ve got a hockey game to win tonight, so that’s our main objective.”