Defenseman Hal Gill will make his return to Pittsburgh as a member of the Montreal Candiens, when the Penguins square off against the Habs Tuesday night at Mellon Arena at 7:30 p.m.
It is not out of the ordinary for players to go head-to-head with former teammates, but the docking of the USS Gill in the Steel City will mark the first time the Penguins have faced a member of the 2009 Stanley Cup championship team, something that makes this affair a little different, a little more emotional.
“There’s a lot of good guys, a lot of good friends on that team (Pittsburgh),” Gill said after Montreal’s Tuesday morning skate. “I have good memories of last year. We had a good time. We had a lot of fun. I think that was a big part of our success.”
“It’s always a weird thing, especially going after what we went through last year,” former teammate and friend Bill Guerin said. “You share that for a lifetime, no matter if you are on the same team or if you end up changing teams.”
Guerin, always the comedian, couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a light-hearted jab at his buddy when asked about Montreal’s speed game.
“They added speedsters like Hal Gill, so we will probably have a guy on him just to shut him down,” Guerin joked.
But, all kidding aside, Guerin still has the utmost respect for Gill, and knows what he can bring to a team.
“I have played against him a few times prior to him coming here. We have to make sure we stay away from his reach as much as possible. That’s not an easy thing to do,” Guerin said. “He has always been a tough opponent so I don’t expect anything different (Tuesday night).”
Gill was brought into Pittsburgh at the 2008 trade deadline from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for two draft picks, the same day that Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis
came over in a deal with the Atlanta Thrashers.
“It’s always special because we played one-and-a-half seasons together and we went all the way (to the Final) each year,” Kris Letang
said. “For sure we all got a good attachment with these guys. It’s fun and weird, but it’s still a hockey game where you have to work every night."
After raising the Stanley Cup as a Penguin, the 6-foot-7, 241-pound defenseman signed with the Montreal Canadiens as a free agent in the offseason.
Pittsburgh played Montreal during this year’s preseason, but Gill was not in the Canadiens’ lineup. This will be his first time on the ice with the Penguins since Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. But this time he will be an opponent.
“It’s exciting to come back. I have fond memories of playing here,” Gill said.Matt Cooke
talked about the special bond that the Penguins’ championship team had and how Gill added to the fun with the rest of the team.
“I’m not sure how I’m going to keep a straight face (during Tuesday’s game),” Cooke laughed. “It’s the first guy that we’ve really dealt with on our team last year that was an integral part of us winning and played a major role and now is on another team.”
Gill has taken the time to visit some old friends and teammates, and to slip in a joke of his own.
“It’s fun. I saw a few of the guys. A lot of them are too busy to have time for an old guy like me,” Gill laughed.
Another special part of Gill’s visit to Pittsburgh is that he will receive his Stanley Cup ring. The ring was expected to be presented to Gill sometime after the Canadiens’ morning skate on Tuesday.
“It’ll be nice,” Gill said. “I’ve heard a lot of good things about (the rings).”
Like the rest of the players, Gill maintains that his focus will be solely on the game at hand, but knows there will be a time and a place to remember the magic of the 2008-09 Penguins’ season.
“I had a good run. I really enjoyed everything about winning the cup. Now I’m pretty focused on the task at hand. I’m looking forward to sitting down some day, and being retired and looking at all that stuff, but right now it’s about what we’re doing.”