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Bortuzzo Making the Most of His Opportunity

by Addison Smith / Pittsburgh Penguins

Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo is the kind of guy that players want in their locker room.

“(Bortuzzo) is a great guy, a great teammate,” fellow defenseman Deryk Engelland said. “Every team would want him in their room. So for us to have a guy like that is nice to have for the team.”

Then add in his play recently on the ice, and the niceties keep on flowing. Bortuzzo recently had a three-game assist streak from March 16 to March 20 and has stepped up for the defensive corps as they are still without Paul Martin and Kris Letang. His assist on Brandon Sutter’s shorthanded goal in the Penguins’ 5-1 win over Dallas last Tuesday was his first shorthanded point of his career.

“(Bortuzzo) is playing great. He’s going against top guys like (Tampa Bay’s Steven) Stamkos and stuff like that,” Engelland said. “I think that helps him with those assists, but he’s making smart, quick plays and it’s really shown how far he’s come along.”

Assistant coach for the Penguins Todd Reirden said Bortuzzo has worked his way up to big ice time opportunities. Bortuzzo was recently matched against opposing team’s top lines and top players, which Reirden attributed to Bortuzzo’s ability to build off of chances for himself.

“We’re trying to find different combinations for pairings that we’re looking to use,” said Reirden, who works closely with the team’s defensemen. “It’s found him an opportunity like playing against Stamkos the other night. He spent quite a bit of time playing against (St. Louis’s David) Backes and his line. I think that these opportunities when guys are out gives players a chance to find themselves as NHL players and allow them to start to become more confident in their own abilities. I think Robert has done a great job of that this year, building on opportunities and taking advantage of them.”

Bortuzzo said that his experience in his two years in Pittsburgh has been crazy and tolling with the quick turnaround between practices and games.

“My first two years in the league have kind of been a little hectic,” Bortuzzo said. “I had the shortened season last year and this has been a big year. It’s been a lot of games in a short amount of stretch that I’m not completely used to. But the trainers and coaches with practices and time off do a good job of managing our bodies. Overall I think that working hard throughout the summer that just carries you here. Practices have been good. Having a good work ethic, I think that goes a long way.”

Defenseman Matt Niskanen explained Bortuzzo’s role on the ice for the Penguins.

“Bortuzzo primarily is a physical guy,” Niskanen said. “A penalty killer, a good defender, he’s got a long reach. He’s pretty tall, pretty stout, he’s got good strength. He’s got that long stick and he plays hard and he defends the game hard. He’s in your face and he’s pretty good at killing penalties. He’ll drop the gloves if he has to, if the team needs that. He brings a lot to the table, he’s a really competitive guy. He tries to do whatever he can to help the team win.”

What is Bortuzzo’s ultimate goal for the season? To see the ice for a playoff game in the NHL, which given his play so far and the Penguins’ playoff situation seems more and more likely each day.

“Coming into the year, I kind of set some goals for myself,” Bortuzzo said. “I always want to be solid defensively and try not to be on the ice for a goal against, that’s kind of my ultimate goal. This year the biggest goal for me is to get NHL playoff games in. I put myself in a pretty good position here throughout the year. I know there’s been some ups and downs and questions marks at the beginning of the year with what the team is going to look like. That was my goal to get into the NHL playoff games and hopefully we’ll have that opportunity here.”

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