Penguins defensemen Brian Strait
and Robert Bortuzzo
came into the professional ranks together three years ago and have played together ever since.
The pair has experienced a lot together, from developing their games to match the speed and intensity of the professional level as defensive partners, to the emotions of going back and forth between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League (AHL).
And now that they’re comfortable in their roles as solid, reliable defensive defensemen entering their fourth pro seasons, they’re looking to lead a young group in WBS this upcoming year.
“We came in as rookies together,” Bortuzzo said. “We’re similar ages and we’ve been playing together for three years now. We have a similar type of game. That leadership role is kind of something we’ve both done throughout our careers. I think that’s going to be one of the bigger roles for us this year and I don’t think either of us is going to shy away from something like that.”
Boston-native Strait has extensive experience wearing a letter on his jersey, much of it coming under WBS head coach John Hynes – before either landed in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Strait, who wore the “C” for Boston University, participated in the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP) for two seasons under Hynes. His coach named him captain of Team USA’s 2006 World Under-18 Championship team and the ‘08 World Junior Championship squad – he led the ’06 team to a gold medal.
“We’ve had quite the history together,” Strait said of Hynes. “I respect him a lot and he respects me. Our relationship has been really good. He’s a guy I wouldn’t mind playing for any day of the week.
“He looks towards me to be a leader in the room and he looks towards me for information on whether guys are tired in practice or things like that. He knows I’m going to be straightforward with him. We’ve always been straightforward with each other. It’s good to have that relationship together and I think it’s only helped us. And going forward this year, we’re hoping to put some more wins together.”
As captain of Boston University his junior year, Strait led the Terriers to a school-record 35-6-4 mark and the 2009 NCAA national title before signing with Pittsburgh at the end of the season.
“I think that it’s a role I’ve always taken pride in and it’s also a role that’s helped me get to where I am today,” Strait said. “It’s something that got me here. I enjoy it and am looking forward to it.”
He’ll be looking to pair with usual D partner Bortuzzo to help mentor the young crop of blueliners that will likely include Simon Despres, Joe Morrow and Brian Dumoulin.
And both Strait and Bortuzzo are looking to continue improving their own games, which have earned them a combined 18 NHL contests with Pittsburgh, and lead WBS to the Calder Cup.
“No matter where I am, I want to win hockey games and just keep improving as a player,” Bortuzzo said. “That’s always been my goal from Day 1 in this organization, is just keep moving forward and keep making an impression on Pittsburgh here.”
“I’m really just trying to solidify myself as a high-quality professional now,” Strait added. “Getting to play some games last year was huge. I feel like I can play at that level. I feel like I can really thrive under those situations. I’m just excited to get back at it and hopefully get back to that level at some point.”