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Hedberg takes step back in time

Sharks goaltending coach enjoys return to Pittsburgh, where playing career began, for Cup Final

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Facing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final has brought back fond memories for Johan Hedberg. 

The San Jose Sharks assistant coach/goaltending coach broke into the NHL playing for the Penguins and became a bit of a cult hero in Pittsburgh in the spring of 2001 after being acquired in a trade with the Sharks. With Mario Lemieux, who came out of retirement earlier that season, and Jaromir Jagr playing in front of him, Hedberg helped spark the Penguins on a surprising run to the Eastern Conference Final before they were defeated by the New Jersey Devils. 

"I love to come back to Pittsburgh," Hedberg said. "It's a fun town. It's a great hockey town. When I look at it, I've really come full circle. I started with San Jose and here [in Pittsburgh] is where it really started, so it's great." 

After losing the first two games of the Cup Final in Pittsburgh, the Sharks will look to rebound in Game 3 of the best-of-7 series at SAP Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). 

Fifteen years after falling short with the Penguins, getting his name on the Stanley Cup still drives Hedberg.

"Absolutely," he said, "and the longer you get and the more intense you get, the more you realize how bad you want it." 

Hedberg, 43, was selected in the ninth round (No. 218) by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1994 NHL Draft, but never was invited to training camp by them before his rights were traded to the Sharks in 1998. He toiled in the minor leagues for three years after that and was playing for the unaffiliated Manitoba Moose in the International Hockey League when the Penguins plucked him out of obscurity to solidify their goaltending. 

Hedberg was 27 years old when he made his NHL debut on March 16, 2001 against the Florida Panthers. Still wearing his Moose mask, he went 7-1-1 over the remainder of the regular season. 

During the Penguins' first-round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh fans started yelling, "Moooooooose!" after each of his saves and a nickname was born. Soon after, they began sending Hedberg hundreds of moose-themed toys. 

Although Hedberg said that nickname belongs now to goaltender Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues, who the Sharks defeated in the Western Conference Final, many in Pittsburgh still call him "Moose." 

"I think they still do," he said. "A lot of people come up and talk about it." 

Hedberg remained popular in Pittsburgh throughout the remainder of his playing career, which included stints with the Vancouver Canucks, Dallas Stars, Atlanta Thrashers and Devils. Now, the Penguins stand in his way from finally getting his name on the Cup. 

He came close once as Martin Brodeur's backup when the Devils reached the Cup Final in 2012 before losing in six games to the Los Angeles Kings. Hedberg retired following the 2012-13 season and got into coaching. 

When coach Peter DeBoer, who worked with Hedberg in New Jersey, was hired by the Sharks last summer, he asked Hedberg to come to San Jose with him. 

"It's been a really fun season," Hedberg said. "It's a phenomenal group to be around. It's been a really fun year." 

Hedberg has had a hand in helping the Sharks get this far, particularly with his guidance of Martin Jones in his first season as a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL. Jones was perhaps the Sharks' best player in the first two games of the Cup Final, stopping 66 of 71 shots for a .930 save percentage. 

Video: SJS@PIT, Gm2: Jones makes save on Malkin's nifty shot

Hedberg said initially, he didn't know a lot about Jones, who was acquired in a trade with the Boston Bruins on June 30, 2015. 

"We looked at some tape and stuff, but I had only seen him play maybe once," Hedberg said. "What I saw from him was very, very impressive, and I'm not surprised he's been as solid as he has been." 

Jones credits Hedberg with helping him. 

"He's been a great guy, a guy that's been around the League a long time," Jones said. "He's good with the on-ice stuff. Beyond that, I think just [helping with] what it takes to manage a season and everything that goes along with the highs and lows of a season." 

Hedberg is enjoying his role and learning more about how to help his pupils along the way. 

"I've got really good goalies to work with," he said, "and I'm finding my way around in how to do certain things and try to learn from the guys that I've been around like [goalie coaches] Chris Terreri, Jacques Caron and Warren Strelow. It probably is a mix of all of them. I just try to find how the guys want to get coached, really, and be there for them."

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