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Father Knows Best

Mike Guentzel always reminds his son Jake of three things: "Make sure your brain is working, make sure your heart is working, and make sure your legs are moving"

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Ron Hextall recently marveled at how Jake Guentzel will go into the corner, and even though he isn't the biggest or strongest or fastest guy, he'll come out with the puck. 

"You're kind of like, how did he do that?" the Penguins general manager said on the April 28 episode of the GM Show.

Well, it's with the help of some advice from Jake's first coach and biggest supporter: his father, Mike, who was a college coach for the University of Minnesota men's hockey team for over 20 years and is now an NHL scout with Arizona.

"There are three things I always remind Jake of," Mike said. "Make sure your brain is working, make sure your heart is working, and make sure your legs are moving.

"If even two of those things are going, you're in pretty good shape. You might not have the legs one night because you don't feel great, but you'll put the puck in the right areas and still take a beating. That's what I keep telling him - if your heart tells you to get to the front of the net, figure it out."

And regardless of the situation, Mike said the one thing that's always going with Jake is his brain, as the 26-year-old forward's hockey IQ is arguably his biggest asset.

"That gets him through," Mike said. "You can manage the game. Some nights I think he's beaten down, a little tired, but the brain is working. And all of a sudden, you're deflecting the puck out of mid-air or make one play and look up and see that you're one of the top-15 scorers in the NHL, which is just kind of remarkable."

Especially considering the challenges of this 2020-21 campaign, where the condensed schedule has been unforgiving on the players with games pretty much every other night and breaks few and far between. Not to mention Jake was coming off major shoulder surgery that saw him play just four games in a calendar year heading into this season. 

After dealing with such a serious injury, Mike thought there was a little bit of hesitation for Jake go to those hard areas where he has such success - understandably so - and felt that he just needed to take some contact in order to get past that mental hurdle.

"I just think there came a point in time that Jake said okay, I'm fine," Mike said. "Then obviously you have a breakthrough, you score or whatever and then all of a sudden you get on a little roll. Jake's been pretty consistent from there."

He certainly has. With two regular-season contests remaining, Jake officially won't go more than two games without a point, and collected three - one goal and two assists - in Pittsburgh's 7-3 win over Philadelphia on Tuesday. 

That means Jake now has 23 goals - tied for the team lead with linemate Sidney Crosby - and 56 points in 54 games. That's good for sole possession of 15th place in league scoring.

"I never seem to believe it," Mike said. "I think that's the way Jake is, too. I'm not going to get comfortable. Once I get comfortable, then I won't be as consistent and then I won't be as driven. So, I think he's wired the right way."

That doesn't mean Jake isn't confident. It was certainly a growth process for him to learn about the league - the games, the schedule, the grind - but now in his fifth season, Jake knows he belongs and what his role is. 

"The consistency thing is also about figuring out what you are," Mike said. "I think Jake is comfortable enough in his own skin to realize now that this is my role, this is what I'm paid for and this is what my expectation level is. I think when you're first starting out, you're like, I just want to be in the lineup. I just don't want to make any mistakes. And now it's like, you know what, I want to make a difference."

And he does that as one of the NHL's elite goal scorers who produces some of his best work in the dirty areas. 

"I'm not really scared of much on the ice," Jake said. "And for me being a smaller guy, I think that's what I needed to have, is my competitiveness and just to do anything it takes. That's just what I do. At the front of the net, you're going to get cross checks and stuff like that, but it's worth it in the long run because you know a lot of goals are scored around there and a lot of stuff is created like that."

He also tends to raise his game when the stakes are high, as Guentzel has 25 playoff goals over the last three seasons, which is second-most in the league behind Alex Ovechkin's 28. Thirteen of those came in his rookie season, as Guentzel played an instrumental role in leading the Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship in 2017. He's looking to do more of the same this year.

"When I look back at that year, it's kind of a whirlwind," he said. "For things to go the way they did, it was definitely a blur because it seemed like it was going by so fast. Once you win once, I think you look back at it and you definitely realize how hard it is and you want to get that feeling again. So, doing whatever it takes to get to that."

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