It was a tough scene, one that the Pittsburgh Penguins have been a part of on too many occasions the past few years.
Pascal Dupuis, fighting back the tears in his eyes and looking dismayed, stood in the media room while the team announced that he was diagnosed with a blood clot in his lung and would be out for at least six months while on blood thinners.
“I just didn’t want to believe it,” Dupuis said. “It’s not a great situation to be in, but that’s the card that I’ve been dealt.”
This is the same Dupuis that has been a part of the Pens’ heart and soul since the team acquired him in a trade back in February of 2008.
This is the same Dupuis that yanked a tooth out of his mouth in the middle of a game, never missing a shift.
This is the same Dupuis that lost half of last season after tearing his ACL and MCL in a freak accident in Ottawa.
This is the same Dupuis that worked vigilantly for nine months to return to the ice, and was off to a tremendous start to the season with six goals and 11 points in 16 games.
This is the same Dupuis that was struck by a shot in the back of the neck in a game just a week later and lost feeling in his extremities, was taken off the ice on stretcher only to return to the lineup the following contest.
But this time it’s different. There’s a real possibility that Dupuis may not play hockey again.
“It’s hard for me to answer that question right now,” he said.
This is about more than hockey. This is about Dupuis’ life.
Though most Pens fans think of Dupuis as a hockey player, most of his teammates and friends think of him as a father and husband. Dupuis and his wife, Carole-Lyne, have three daughters – Maeva, Zoe and Lola – and one son – Kody.
“It’s tough. You hate to see anybody go through that, but a teammate and someone I’ve gotten to know over the years,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “You think about him as a dad, as a husband. That’s not easy to go through.”
“I’m only thinking about his family right now, what they’re going through,” defenseman Kris Letang said.
Letang is no stranger to bizarre health concerns. At the age of 26, Letang, arguably the finest conditioned athlete on the Pens, suffered a stroke last season. Since then he’s been trying to raise awareness and encouraging people seek medical help if they experience any symptoms regardless of their age.
On Sunday, Letang was co-chair of the 2014 Pittsburgh Heart Walk at Heinz Field. And who was there to support him in his efforts? Dupuis and his family, of course.
A day later he felt discomfort in his chest. After a battery of tests, the clot was identified. On Sunday Dupuis stood behind Letang to show his support. On Wednesday it was Letang standing behind Dupuis.
“I’m just trying to be here for him and support him the best we can,” Letang said. “It’s unfair, happening to a guy like that. Just bad luck.
“I speak for myself, he’s always been there for me since the day he joined the team. He’s been a (role) model, older-guy that I looked at. He’s a great guy in the dressing room. Everybody loves him. He’s one of our big leaders. The least we could do was to be here.”
Letang was joined by Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Crosby and Chris Kunitz. The five team leaders stood off to the side during the press conference. All wanted to be there for their teammate and friend.
The rest of the Pens team were only notified of Dupuis’ situation 15 minutes before the media conference began. Otherwise, there’s no doubt that every single player on the Pens’ roster would have been in that room for Dupuis.
Dupuis’ leadership, character and personality were missed last season after he suffered his knee injury. Dupuis’ absence will be felt once again this time around.
“(He’s) the guy on the planes and hanging out at dinner, making fun of situations when we aren’t feeling as confident as we need to as a group,” Kunitz said. “That’s the friendship part of what Duper brings to the team, the leadership stuff.”
There are moments when something happens that transcends the sport of hockey. This is one of those moments, where life reminds us of its fragility.
Unfortunately for the Pens, there have been constant reminders. Crosby suffered through two seasons with a concussion and head injuries. Tomas Vokoun was diagnosed with a blood clot in September, 2013. Letang suffered from a stroke in January. And just two weeks ago Olli Maatta had a cancerous tumor surgically removed from his neck.
And now Dupuis.
“We’ll try to reinforce his morale and make sure he keeps his head up,” Letang said. “Hopefully, he can return at one point because he loves it.”
Dupuis has overcome a lot in his career. An undrafted free agent that worked for every opportunity and made the most of it, Dupuis has established himself as a legitimate top-6 player on arguably the best line in hockey the past few seasons.
Dupuis has battled through so much in the past year. There’s no doubt that Dupuis will battle through this situation. And as long as his health permits, Dupuis will fight his way, once again, back into the Penguins lineup.
They don’t call him Super Duper for nothing.
“He’s strong,” Crosby said. “I’m sure he’ll find a way to get through it.”