It was the perfect movie script. Penguins defenseman Kris Letang returned to his hometown of Montreal to take part in the NHL’s YoungStars Game. In front of family and friends, Letang nailed a one-timer on goal but the shot was stopped. He then jammed in his own rebound for a score.
However, the referees didn’t see it that way. They ruined Letang’s Hollywood moment and awarded the score to the Rangers blueliner Marc Staal.
“(Staal) was giving me a hard time on the bench because I got my rebound and scored but he was close to me and they give it to him,” Letang said. “It’s not a big deal. It’s funny because he was telling me on the bench that he never touched the puck.”
Still, the snub didn’t ruin Letang’s moment. How could it? Pittsburgh’s 21-year-old blueliner was still playing a little hockey in Montreal at the Bell Centre, where he grew up idolizing the Canadiens.
“When you’re young you just watch the Montreal Canadiens,” he said. “There’s so much history in that dressing room and in that building. There’s only one sport here. You don’t watch football, you don’t watch baseball. You just watch the Canadiens play every night. You dream about being one of them and a player in the NHL. That’s what makes it so special to be here in Montreal. My family is here. My friends are here. They had the chance to see me. To play in that building is always special.”
Letang was born in downtown Montreal but grew up in South Shore, a 10-minute drive away. It was on the streets of South Shore that he, like all Montreal children, first started playing hockey.
“It’s a great neighborhood,” Letang said. “It’s very calm. Hockey is the only sport we have honestly. Like every city, all the kids play hockey. I was spending most of my time playing hockey in the street or hockey in the arena.”
It was on the streets at the age of 3 that Letang started his eventual route to the NHL. However, Letang’s teacher wasn’t his parents or a local coach.
“I started playing hockey when I was 3 with my grandma,” Letang said. “When my mom was working she would drop me off at my grandmother’s and I would play hockey there. She was a goalie and I would shoot on her. I wasn’t good enough to get a hard shot but I owe her. She didn’t initiate me to hockey but she was playing with me and I got better.”
Unfortunately, his grandmother never did see Letang reach hockey’s ultimate level.
“She passed away the first year I made NHL when I was 19-years old, during that summer,” he said. “At the end of the summer when I was heading to training camp.”
Nonetheless, his grandmother and the city of Montreal helped shape Letang into the man he is today. So anytime he gets a chance to come home, he takes advantage of the opportunity.
“I flew in on Wednesday morning so I had the chance to stay two days at home,” Letang said. “I enjoyed my family and saw my friends in the neighborhood. The Christmas break was so short that I didn’t have time to see them and spend some time with them. For me, family is very important. I have a chance now to spend some time with them. That’s where I grew up."
Letang was fortunate to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But now that he’s finished his second year with the YoungStars, the only way he can continue the All-Star experience is by cracking the NHL’s All-Star lineup next season.
“Hopefully, I will work hard to get there,” Letang said. “Most importantly now is playing with the Penguins.”