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Feisty Friedman

by Josh Getzoff @PensJG / Pittsburgh Penguins

On February 23rd, 2021, Mark Friedman got the news no hockey player with dreams of being a steady NHLer wants to hear: the Philadelphia Flyers had placed him on waivers.

On February 24th, 2021, Friedman got another form of news; the type that provided a player in his position a second shot at the NHL level: the Pittsburgh Penguins had claimed him off the waiver wire.

"My initial thoughts [after being claimed] were, 'Holy crap, I get to play with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang,'" Friedman said. "Those guys are pretty special players and generational talents that the game has seen for 15, 16 years. To watch them on TV for as long as I did, and make it a reality to be in the same dressing room was pretty unbelievable."

Friedman's excitement to join his new teammates coincided with a welcome reunion with Penguins General Manager Ron Hextall, who, as the Flyers' Assistant General Manager in 2014, was a part of the brass that selected Friedman out of Bowling Green State University with the 86th pick overall - in the 3rd round - of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

"I had some comfort with Hexy picking me up. He drafted me in 2014. I think it was six, seven years that we knew about each other. That was nice to go somewhere where I felt that I was going to be in a comfortable situation. I feel like it's been a good fit for me."

Friedman and the Penguins have made for a steady connection. The 26-year-old made his Penguins debut a week after his waiver claim - March 2nd, 2021 - against his old mates from Philadelphia and recorded his first point as a Penguin - an assist - in a 5-2 Pittsburgh victory.

Two days later, he struck back at his former team once again, scoring his first National Hockey League goal against the Flyers in a spirited affair that saw Friedman knocked out of the game due to injury, something that caused him to miss ample time down the stretch just as it appeared he was stamping his name on the roster.

However, that short, two-game stint also gave Penguins fans a crash course into the type of player the Penguins had acquired. Friedman quickly caught the eye of many.

"To endear yourself to your teammates, I had to do what I'd done to get to this point. And that's playing a feisty game," Friedman said. "I know I'm not the biggest guy out there. But I like to mix it up. And I like to get in guys' ears and play a fast, speedy game. I feel like when I when I got out there and I was just playing, that's what I was doing."

That feistiness quickly became a noticed aspect of Friedman's game. The night he scored his first goal against Philadelphia last season, it wasn't hard to realize that half of the Flyers roster was looking to take him out. The more he's become engrained in the Penguins roster and seen steadier time this season, the more he's let that element of his game become advantageous for Pittsburgh.

"I was always a pretty feisty guy growing up. I wasn't the biggest guy and I had to stand out somehow, right? So, I feel like that's been a huge part of my game and obviously knowing when to get under a guy's skin. Got to pick your spots. And I feel like the coaches have sat me down and talked to me about that. And that's definitely helped knowing when I can do that because I feel like when I do, I'm pretty effective and I get some guys off their game."

Just ask Pat Maroon. Corey Perry. Vince Trocheck. Alex Radulov. They'll speak to that, and they aren't the only ones. Friedman has found his niche in this Penguins roster as a depth defenseman that can provide a spark and additional personality, while also being a positive teammate and productive player, when called upon.

Much like Chad Ruhwedel before him, Friedman has largely been utilized as the team's seventh defenseman this season. He went twenty games between action at one point, watching from the press box. He's seen limited ice time on more than a few occasions. His attitude hasn't wavered.

"You just have to play a game where you're playing free in your mind. I mean, staying positive, staying upbeat, hanging out with the guys."

"Just the fit, the guys; everything about this place I love and this team has some up and coming talent that we're excited about and I'm super excited. My girlfriend loves it here. Everything just seems to be a perfect fit."

The "fit" has been a mutual feeling. Friedman has turned in his best professional season in his first full year in Pittsburgh, hitting the final week of the regular season having hit career highs in games played (26), goals (1), assists (4) and points (5) - and his lone goal was a game-winner, to boot. There is a strong skill set behind the Toronto native, and his skating ability has stood out as an obvious strength in the action he's seen this year. The Penguins clearly have liked what they saw, as on March 20th the team announced they had agreed to a two-year extension with the defenseman, keeping him in Pittsburgh through the 2023-2024 season.

Given his quickly-gained love for the organization, city and his teammates, Friedman had a very Friedman-like response after hearing the news from his agent.

"It actually happened during March Madness. We were all getting together to watch Illinois versus Houston at PPG Paints Arena and I got up to head to the game in the morning. We had an off day and around 10:00AM I got a call from my agent, Ian Pulver, that I missed. Then, he sent me a text saying, 'You have an extension in Pittsburgh if you want it'."

"I said, 'Hell yeah, I do'."

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