Montreal, QUEBEC – Just two weeks after having surgery on his thyroid gland to remove a cancerous tumor, Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta
will be back on the ice and in the lineup when Pittsburgh takes on the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday night at Bell Centre.
“I didn’t think (my return) would come this quickly,” Maatta said following the Penguins’ morning skate. “I have to thank the doctors and team staff for doing their best. I’m just excited to be back.”
Maatta, 20, missed the past six games after undergoing surgery on Nov. 4. The tumor was discovered by team physicians during training camp and was diagnosed as having an 85-percent chance of having cancer. After the surgery the tumor was confirmed to indeed contain cancer.
“Cancer is a pretty scary word,” Maatta said. “You can’t really compare it to other types of cancers. Mine was found early and was really easy to treat. It was just another bump in the road.”
Maatta began skating last Tuesday in New York and rejoined the team for practice last Thursday in Toronto. During that time, Maatta was trying to build up his conditioning.
“He didn’t feel he was sharp last week skating,” head coach Mike Johnston said. “He probably could have played a couple days earlier. He wanted to get his quickness and puck movement down. He looked really good (Monday) in practice and we know he’s ready to go right now. He’s going to be a big boost for our team.”
Head coach Mike Johnston will have a tough decision to make regarding his lineup. With Maatta’s return, Pittsburgh has seven healthy defensemen that have all been playing well.
Kris Letang and Paul Martin worked together at the morning skate. Maatta worked with Christian Ehrhoff. The trio of Rob Scuderi, Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres rotated. If the Penguins do not dress all seven defensemen – a possibility – then it’s likely Scuderi, Bortuzzo or Despres will be scratched.
But no matter how the Penguins’ lineup shakes down for tonight, No. 3 will definitely be back on the blue line.
“I wanted to come back as quickly as I could and get it over with,” Maatta said. “Now I don’t have to worry about it anymore. I can focus on hockey again.”