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Second-year Pens built bond during last postseason

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Rookie forward Jake Guentzel and the other players who have been called up from Wilkes Barre/Scranton this year have been living in extended-stay hotels since being called up to Pittsburgh.

That's the living situation the second-year players, including Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Tom Kuhnhackl, were in at this time last year, and one they look back on surprisingly fondly.

"It was cool," Sheary said. "It was almost like a college dorm a little bit, just because we were all spread out between two or three floors. Going out to eat and stuff was always an option, and so was going down to another room to play video games. It was kind of fun, actually."

In their hotel close to downtown Pittsburgh, the boys stuck to their same rooms the entire time. And while the suites came equipped with fully-equipped kitchens, they admitted they didn't get much use.

"We were able to cook, but I personally didn't too often," Sheary admitted. "Maybe once every other week or so. My fiancée would cook something up. But other than that, I was eating out most nights or getting takeout from somewhere."

Their go-to spot for grub?

"I'd be afraid to admit, but we ate a lot at Cheesecake Factory," Sheary said with a smile.

In addition to going out for meals, the guys took in a lot of baseball games - "love going to Pirates games," Rust said - and did a few tourist activities as well.

"We walked up to the Duquesne Incline a couple times," Rust said.

That wasn't their first year in the pros, obviously. But it was their first year in the NHL, and while it's pretty similar to the lifestyle in the AHL, there are still some differences. Particularly when it comes to age, as the AHL - being a developmental league - tends to have a lot more younger players.

"Getting up here, guys have families, wives, fiancees, all that stuff," Rust said. "Guys don't spend as much time together. So I think just being able to get in the hotel with everyone was something that kind of formed a bond between all of us who were there."

Getting back to that feeling of constantly being with your college buddies all the time was something that was especially nice for Sheary and Rust, both former NCAA players who used all four years of their eligibility.

"You could kind of just go from room to room and see what everyone's doing, you could have your alone time but there was always someone to hang out with, do stuff with," Rust said.

That helped the then-rookies deal with the stress that came with skating in their first-ever NHL postseason, where they - as we all remember - played big roles in Pittsburgh's Stanley Cup championship run.

"Away from the rink, you didn't think about hockey too much, which was good," Rust said. "Kind of got your mind away from it a little bit."

That group, which also included Matt Murray and Scott Wilson, ended up staying in the hotel for months. And while they miss some aspects of it - "they made up your room and we had dry cleaning at the hotel," Kuhnhackl said - there's nothing like being able to settle down.

"It's nice to be able to go home from a long road trip and get in your own space and lay in your own bed," Sheary said. "I think it's nice also being able to cook, we had a kitchen but it wasn't anything special. Being able to go home and have your own space, I think it's good."

Plus, they're able to get that nostalgic feeling whenever they travel with the team.

"On the road, it feels so comfortable because we were living in a hotel all year last year for so long," Kuhnhackl joked.

It also helps that they're all still close by each other. The players who earned full-time jobs in Pittsburgh this year were told by the team they could get permanent living spaces.

And at the end of the house-searching process, those guys and their girlfriends all ended up getting apartments in the same complex close to the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex up in Cranberry.

They just can't get enough of each other.

"It looks like we can't," Kuhnhackl laughed. "Last year we were so close, being in a hotel, we obviously got a lot closer. That's the community we have right now."

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