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Di Pauli to make NHL debut against Montreal

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Penguins

MONTREAL, Quebec - Growing up in northern Italian city of Caldaro, it was a challenge for Thomas Di Pauli to see the NHL.

"I remember staying up until 1:30 in the morning to watch Sidney Crosby," Di Pauli said.

Hockey is very popular in the region and Di Pauli dreamed of playing in the NHL one day.

That one day is today.

Di Pauli, 25, will make his NHL debut Saturday for the Penguins when they play the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre.

"The reason we moved to the U.S. was to pursue this dream," he said. "It's a goal that I've wanted to reach. That is always something you dream about getting. All the hard work finally pays off.

"There's a lot more to do, but it's a step closer to reaching your goal. That's a big step."

Di Pauli joined the team last weekend for its back-to-back contests against Nashville. Though he didn't play then, he did get a taste of life in the NHL.

Video: Di Pauli and Galchenyuk speak to reporters

"Getting called up and getting the experience of being around the guys, seeing what it's all about, made me want it that much more, which I didn't know was possible," he said. "I'm excited to be up here again and will give it my all."

Head coach Mike Sullivan knows what he expects from Di Pauli tonight.

"He brings a lot of speed, he brings a lot of energy," Sullivan said. "He's good on the forecheck. He's a pesky player. He's hard to play against. I'm sure Thomas will be excited to play."

Di Pauli has spent the previous three-plus seasons in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton working on his game. Major injuries have kept him out of the lineup for much of that time. But this year, he's posted six goals and 12 points in 22 games for WBS.

Di Pauli signed with the Penguins as a free agent in the summer of 2016 after playing four seasons of collegiate hockey, where he was a teammate of Bryan Rust.

Di Pauli was in the Notre Dame weight room when he first met Rust. Di Pauli, a freshman, and Rust, a junior, were paired up for a workout.

The duo was setting up for a hang clean. Di Pauli racked the weight for Rust, but accidentally loaded an unbalanced bar.

"I left five pounds off of one side," Di Pauli said. "He knew it right away and held the bar and just looked at me until I changed it. Quick learning. All he had to do was give me that look and I knew I had to be sharp from there on out."

The two became instant friends, playing two seasons together for the Irish, and even spent one year as roommates when the team traveled.

"He's definitely a good role model and I still look up to him a lot," Di Pauli said.

Di Pauli and Rust will once again be playing side-by-side when they lace up for Saturday's contest against Montreal.

"He plays a hard-nosed, fast, aggressive game," Rust said of Di Pauli. "He'll be flying around out there. He throws the body a little bit. He'll be getting in on the forecheck. Those are things that create energy for the team."

Note: The Penguins recalled goaltender Emil Larmi from Wheeling to serve as Matt Murray's backup against Montreal. The team initially planned to recall Casey DeSmith from WBS, but DeSmith had misplaced his passport and couldn't get into Canada.

"It's unfortunate. It was an honest mistake," Sullivan said. "Casey has had a lot going on in his life since last summer. He got married. He moved into a new house. He ends up going to Wilkes-Barre. There was a lot of change in some of his residences. He misplaced his passport. It's an honest mistake.

"That wasn't something we expected, but we've got to deal with it."

Forward Sam Lafferty will be scratched due to an illness. 

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