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Deja vu

Conor Sheary talks readjusting to Pittsburgh both on and off the ice

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

As Conor Sheary's name was announced as part of the starting lineup before Pittsburgh's 7-3 win over Ottawa on Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena, the crowd cheered loudly.

That only intensified after Sheary scored his first goal with the Penguins since rejoining the team - and 49th overall in black and gold - just 99 seconds into the game.

"It was awesome," Sheary said of playing at PPG Paints Arena for the first time since Pittsburgh acquired him from Buffalo on Feb. 24. 

"I got a warm welcome and I was so grateful for that. It makes you feel appreciated and that was a good thing. With the performance we put on, I think it was a fun night overall."

It's been a fun - and interesting - week-plus for Sheary as he re-adjusts back to Pittsburgh both on and off the ice. 

"I have a lot more games under my belt. I think that's the only difference," he said. "I think it's still kind of the same vibe in the locker room, same sort of core group of players. I think my role kind of fits in the same as it was."

The 27-year-old winger originally signed with the organization as an undrafted free agent on a minor-league deal with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League back in 2014. He eventually went on to win two Stanley Cups with the Penguins in 2016 and '17 before getting traded to Buffalo in the summer of 2018.

When Sheary first got the call from Sabres general manager Jason Botterill on Trade Deadline Day, his wife Jordan made him put the phone on speaker. As Botterill informed Sheary that he was returning to the Penguins after a season-and-a-half in Buffalo, it was hard for both of them to keep their emotions in check. 

"She couldn't contain herself. We were both excited," Sheary said. "There's three or four teams I thought were in the mix, and Pittsburgh was obviously one of them. I was excited to come back. We obviously know a lot of people here, so that was easy for us."

After the news got out, the texts flooded in. Sheary said he heard from most of the current Penguins he had played with before, including Sidney Crosby. 

"He said he was glad to have me back," Sheary said. "Most of the guys that were here I heard from. I can't remember exactly, I got so many texts that day because people back home were excited for me, my family was excited."

With all of his old Penguins apparel stored in the basement of his home in Boston, Sheary joked that his dad Kevin and mom Robin were currently hard at work unpacking it all.

"Get to use it all again," Sheary said with a grin. "My parents are dusting off their old sweaters."

While everything is mostly the same, there's been a few minor adjustments this time around. For example, during Sheary's first stint with the team, he sat next to Matt Murray on the team plane as they roomed together while on their entry-level contracts.

After Sheary was traded, Jared McCann - who was Murray's teammate in juniors with Sault Ste. Marie - ended up taking that spot. So Sheary had to find a new seat, moving across the aisle next to Dominik Simon.

"That was the weirdest part, coming on the plane trying to find where I sit," Sheary laughed. "It's like I knew where I was going, but I didn't. I asked around for the open seats and took my pick of where I thought I would fit in."

Sheary's locker stall also moved slightly, as Nick Bjustad now occupies his old one. So Sheary moved into the one next to that, between Bjugstad and Patric Hornqvist.

When it came to Sheary's equipment, the only thing he changed in the past year and a half was his helmet. The rest of his preferences stayed the same, which made it easy on the Penguins equipment staff. The only challenge was just breaking in all the new gear.

After playing his first four games on the road in California, the team arrived back in Pittsburgh late Sunday afternoon. Sheary stayed at a hotel downtown for the next three nights, eating at some of his old favorite restaurants - Il Pizzaiolo Primo and Tako - while he was there.

"It's a weird feeling being back, but I don't think I realized how much I missed the city itself," he said. "My wife is already raving about where she wants to go to dinner and I'm like, I forgot about all these spots. It all comes back to you. It's good to be in the city again and see all the things I'm familiar with and learn them again."

Jordan got into town on Tuesday night, just in time for the game. The couple, who had sold their house in Pittsburgh after moving to Buffalo, moved from the hotel into an apartment near the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex on Wednesday morning before practice. 

"We knew where to look, so that made it easy," Sheary said.

The unit is brand-new and in a complex that hadn't yet been built the last time the Shearys were here.

"I decided to find an apartment," Sheary said. "We found an apartment with a short-term lease. It worked out really well. You never know what can happen. If you get in playoffs and go on a run, you don't want to be sitting in a hotel for a few months."

After a few short days in Pittsburgh, it's right back to Buffalo for Sheary as the Penguins are in town to play the Sabres Thursday night. He's looking forward to getting that one behind him.

"It should be fun," he said. "I have a lot of really close friends over there that I've met over the last couple years. Obviously a place I know pretty well. But to be on this side of it, I'm excited, and hopefully we can put on a good performance."

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