Defenseman Kris Letang, 26, will return to the lineup Wednesday night when the Penguins hosts the Detroit Red Wings at CONSOL Energy Center 10 weeks after suffering a stroke.
“When I heard I had (a stroke) my first reaction was when would I skate again and play again?” Letang said. “I always wanted to come back.”
Letang, 26, was cleared to participate in full contact practice by doctors on March 17 and has worked the past three weeks with the team. Doctors cleared Letang to return to the ice, but the decision was left to him on when he felt comfortable to play.
“Kris has been bugging me for a little while for a return to play,” general manager Ray Shero said. “He feels good on and off the ice so he’ll be back this evening.”
“It was a decision between myself and (Shero),” Letang said. “We’ve been chatting for the last few weeks. Relief and really happy to have a chance to play.”
Doctors have determined that hockey did not cause Letang’s stroke. Therefore he is at no further risk by playing.
“Hockey did not cause this stroke. Returning to play will not cause a stroke,” Shero said. “Playing tonight versus waiting until October or 10 years from now will not change that. Resting and playing Xbox is not going to make him better. … He’s at no greater risk to suffer a stroke (from playing hockey) than he would be going to the grocery store.”
That fact reassured Letang that he was making the right decision to play again.
“Being cleared by the doctors was the first sign that I would be all right playing hockey,” Letang said. “Right from the start they told me it’s something that can happen whenever. Sitting around, walking around. I’m not scared to go out there and play.
“I’m nervous because it’s been a long time since I’ve played. About my situation, not at all.”
Letang has no hesitation to play hockey again, but his family needed a little more convincing.
“They’re scared, but at the end of the day we made sure with the doctors that I wasn’t running a risk going out there,” Letang said. “My family is scared, but I had to make sure they understand the situation. I had some doctors talk to my family to reassure them.”
The nature of Letang’s injury, a stroke for a young and well-conditioned athlete, has caused the team to be cautious in handling the situation.
“I’ve gone through other injuries with him, but this is quite different,” Shero said. “It really shakes you and him. Having a family we want to do what’s best for the player. You don’t take these decisions lightly.
“Whatever Kris decided we fully supported. He would like to return to play. If it was up to Kris he would have been back before this.”
Letang suffered a stroke on Jan. 29 and received blood thinners for the following six weeks. On March 17 he was taken off the blood thinners and returned to full contact practice with the team. Letang has practiced for the past 23 days with the team.
On Tuesday Letang was named the team’s nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy as selected by the Pittsburgh chapter of Professional Hockey Writers’ Association for his perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game of hockey.