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Lafferty and Marino have built close rookie bond

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

For the Penguins rookies, there's one rule of thumb that helps them in most situations.

"We pretty much have the routine down at this point - me and Johnny Marino just go to the front of wherever we are and sit," joked Sam Lafferty.

While that works on the team plane, it almost didn't on the team bus - as Evgeni Malkin famously sits in the sixth row on the right. On an early road trip Marino almost took his spot, but the staff quickly told him to find another seat. Now he and Lafferty sit in that same spot on the left behind Matt Murray.

"You don't want to step on anyone's toes," Marino said with a laugh.

There's a lot that comes with being a first-year player in the NHL both on and off the ice. Fortunately for Lafferty and Marino, they've had each other to lean on through it all since they both made their NHL debuts on Oct. 8 versus Winnipeg at PPG Paints Arena - and have become close friends who hang out all the time.

"It's been great," Lafferty said. "We played our first game together, and then ever since the start of rookie camp and training camp we've been going through it."

The 22-year-old Marino is a true rookie in every sense of the term. After completing his junior season at Harvard in the spring of 2019, he transitioned straight from college to the NHL in the fall without any time spent in the American Hockey League or the ECHL.

For him, the biggest adjustment has been managing his free time.

"Honestly in college, you have a lot less and you're kind of on a schedule and on a routine," Marino said. "You're on a routine here and everything too, but you're only at the rink like five hours a day."

And while it's also Lafferty's first NHL season, the 24-year-old spent last season with Wilkes Barre/Scranton, so he has had more time to adjust to life as a pro hockey player - which has been beneficial for Marino.

"It's been great to have someone to help you with the transition," Marino said. "Obviously, he played last year in the AHL, so if you have any questions about pro hockey you can ask him and he's got a good grasp on everything."

Lafferty admitted with a smile that being a rookie at the NHL level is a lot less work than being a rookie at the AHL level.

"Here we don't have to clean the bus or anything like that at the end of road trips," Lafferty said. "That's definitely the worst one by far. Then you have to load up the cooler with waters before road trips."

When the Penguins are on the road, since they're both on entry-level contracts, Lafferty and Marino room together at the team hotel.

Their routine consists of watching movies and, since they each have a sweet tooth - they were in charge of bringing pies to Jared McCann's Thanksgiving dinner - sometimes they order dessert from room service. 

While Marino naps on game days and Lafferty doesn't, he's respectful of his roommate's need to get some rest.

"He says he naps for like 10 minutes, which I don't know how that's even possible," Marino joked. "I don't know if he naps or just closes his eyes and doesn't blink for a long time. He watches movies or something. He does his own thing. Puts his headphones in and I just pass out."

If it's a multiple-game trip or the team is staying over, the two of them tend to break down what happened on the ice.

"It's nice to come back and talk about the game or something so you're not just sitting there with your thoughts," Marino said. "You have someone else there. I think on the road, I like having a roommate. I think it kind of helps with everything."

When the team is at home, Marino lives alone in an apartment by the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex while Lafferty stays at a nearby hotel. They'll hang out together away from the rink, always looking for something to do and manage their free time, as Marino mentioned. They'll go to movies - they recently saw Knives Out with Brandon Tanev - out to dinner, and to the mall.

"We don't even get anything, we'll go just to look," Marino said with a laugh.

Then they carpool downtown for games together, alternating who gets to drive. Whoever is behind the wheel gets to pick the music, and they both like to switch it up and play 'a little bit of everything.'

"It's been really fun," Lafferty said. 

The Penguins' group of veteran players has been terrific with the two rookies - as Jack Johnson joked before, they really only feel like rookies at the rookie party. But it's still been great for them to develop a close bond through shared experiences as they navigate life in the NHL.

"It's been awesome to have someone to go through this with, someone around your age," Marino said. "That helps out a lot."

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