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Training Camp 5: Hunger

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pens officially opened training camp for the 2016-17 season at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. There are certainly many storylines with several key players missing due to participation in the World Cup of Hockey, as well as that whole defending the Stanley Cup thing.

We'll roll out a daily look at the 5 most intriguing items to keep an eye on in training camp. 

1. Goalie Tandem

2. Sixth Man

3. Forward Competition

4. Special Teams

5. Hunger

 

HUNGER

 Winning a Stanley Cup championship is hard.

Winning a Stanley Cup championship two years in a row is harder.

That's the enviable position the Pens find themselves in. After winning hockey's holiest chalice, Pittsburgh has the challenge of defending their title in the 2016-17 campaign.

And if Pittsburgh wants to return to the NHL's mountaintop, it'll have to perform at an even higher level than it had the previous year.

"We have to be better. Every night everyone is going to be gunning for us," veteran defenseman Trevor Daley said. "When you're the champs everyone will want to knock you off. We are going to have to be better."

Daley saw that evidence firsthand last season. He began the year as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, who had won the Stanley Cup in 2015 and tried to repeat last season.

"I was on a team last year that had an opportunity to repeat," Daley said. "To start the season all they talked about was repeating. I think there shouldn't be any difference here."

Although Chicago won three Stanley Cup titles in five seasons, they never won any of them in back-to-back fashion. The last NHL team to repeat was the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings.

"No one's (repeated) since the Red Wings in the 90s," defenseman Ian Cole said. "If you can be one of the few teams that can do that you want to try to make that happen. I think everyone on this team is excited for the opportunity."

The Pens franchise has repeated as Stanley Cup champions before, winning the title in 1991 and '92. And many players on the current roster were a part of the 2009 Cup winning-team that tried to repeat in 2010.

Although Pittsburgh did not repeat in 2010, the players learned many lessons from that season that they can carry into the current year, including forward Chris Kunitz.

"People come talk to you and call you the defending champs," said Kunitz, who has won three Stanley Cup titles in his career (Anaheim, 2007; Pittsburgh, 2009; 2016). "The cliché thing is that you have to go out and prove it every day. You have go out and earn your space again."

One of the reasons that repeating is so difficult these days is that the league has changed a lot over the past decade. In the salary cap era, there is a greater balance of talent and more competitive teams.

The Pens may have nearly the entire team returning from the 2016 Stanley Cup championship, but the NHL can be a zero-sum game. Other teams have tried to improve and get better.

"The league gets better every year," said 39-year-old center Matt Cullen. "It gets faster. You have to approach the season and be hungry right away. There's a target on your back. We have to improve if we expect to win it again. In this league you can't ever sit back because the league passes you by pretty quick."

And being hungry, or staying hungry, will be partially a job of the team's coaching staff - making sure the club isn't complacent.

"A lot of it is your mindset and your attitude going to the rink every day, and making sure that we create the right environment for these guys to continue to inspire them," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "We work hard as a coaching staff to try and introduce fresh drills, different ideas or concepts, how we use our video, so that we're on the right side of that line where we're getting the right repetitions, but we're not falling into that monotony stage."

The coaches used scrimmages and other forms of competition to try to reinvigorate the team's competitive spirit right from the start of training camp.

"We want a competitive camp," assistant coach Rick Tocchet said. "You want to breed that competition because of last year winning the Cup. You don't want to come into the season soft. Right away we want a competitive camp."

It may be a new season, but the goal is the same. The Pens want to end the year the same way the finished last season, by hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Or, as Daley put it: "The goal is to repeat."

 

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