Usually all Penguins players, coaches and management attend the team's annual Summer Sticks Golf Classic presented by UPMC. But this year, there were a lot of familiar faces missing from the links because of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, where preliminary round action is currently underway.
Head coach Mike Sullivan is on the bench for Team USA, while Sidney Crosby (Canada), Matt Murray (North America), Carl Hagelin and Patric Hornqvist (Sweden) and Olli Maatta (Finland) are all playing - and will still be in Toronto when Pens training camp begins this week.
Assistant coaches Rick Tocchet and Jacques Martin will be in charge until Sullivan returns. The three of them came up with a game plan during their coaches' meetings last month, and they feel prepared and ready to get going.
"It's very seamless with our coaching staff when it comes to decisions," Tocchet said. "It's a good connection, a good chemistry. We have the game plan of when Sully's there and when he's not there. And jeez, the experience Jacques has, all the training camps, it'll be fine. The players, they make it easy for us as a coaching staff. So it will be fun."
Tocchet said initially, they want to get a couple of veteran players with a young kid.
"You really want to try and give some of these young guys in Wilkes-Barre a chance to play with some of the guys and see what it's like to play as a Penguin for the first few days," he said. "Eventually when the guys come back, you want to get guys back with their lines. Then you want to make sure your power play and penalty kill and all that is straight. You don't want to experiment during the month of October. So we'll try to get that done as soon as the first week of October when all the guys get back, work on those specialty teams and special faceoff plays."
Overall, Tocchet did say the one thing Sullivan is going to stress for his first Pens training camp is competition.
"That's why we're playing scrimmages," Tocchet said. "We have three teams. They're going to play each other. We haven't decided yet what the winning team gets, probably doesn't have to skate as much (laughs). But you want to breed that competition because of last year, winning the Cup, you don't want to come into the season being soft. I think right away, we want a competitive camp and I think that will be stated."
Tocchet said they're lucky to have a leadership group who is on the same page.
"They are very competitive guys," he said. "They want competition. They don't just want to go and practice. They want competition drills and I think that's easy for coaches when you have your leadership group wanting competition. It's great for us."
With so many key players absent, defenseman Kris Letang said this will be an opportunity for other guys to "come out of their shell" and take more of a leadership role.
"Everybody grew as a player last year with the run that we had," Letang said, adding that he's especially looking forward to seeing Brian Dumoulin step into a bigger role. "He's got a full year with big minutes he played."
Winger Phil Kessel no longer has a cast on his hand after undergoing surgery in July to repair a bone chip.
"It's alright," he said when I asked how it felt. "I'll be ready to start."
When asked to clarify if that meant the start of training camp or start of the season, Kessel replied that it was the latter.
"Ready to start the season, we'll say," he said. "I'll obviously be out there skating in camp, but we'll progress as it goes. But I'll be ready to start the first game of the year."
The durable forward will look to continue his ironman streak if he is in the lineup when the Pens host Washington on Oct. 13, as he has not missed a game in six seasons.
"I just always try to play no matter what," he said. "I got to be really, really banged up not to play."
A FEW MORE NOTES AND QUOTES…
- Kessel was asked if he felt like the same player or a different player after winning it all last year."Same player. But I won," he said with a laugh. "Stanley Cup champ and no one can ever take that away."
- Kessel said if the HBK Line with Hagelin and Nick Bonino gets reunited, they'll look to pick up where they left off. "I think it's always tough to go as good as we were going there at the end of the season during the playoffs. But if we get put together, we'll try and do it again."
- Letang said he took a lot of time off after the season ended. "I was a little bit banged up. I didn't do anything for a full month." We'd say he's more than deserving of as much time off as he needs.
- Letang knows perhaps better than anyone how important it is to manage energy with the minutes he plays, but he said it's going to be crucial for everyone coming off such a short summer. "It was a long season last year. A lot of guys were playing injured at the end too and you didn't have the summer to get healed up and get all the rest. You have to manage your energy and make sure you don't try to do too much out there."