When Max Talbot's NHL career wound down, he decided he wanted to continue playing the game he loved. So, he signed a contract with Yaroslavl of the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia.
For Talbot, who is bilingual in Quebec French and English, being in a foreign country and not knowing the language was a culture shock.
"For me, I was older in age where I was thinking I was going there for one year, one season," said Talbot, who played in the KHL from 2016-19. "So, you're kind of like 'Oh, I'll just wing it.' But looking back, if I knew I was going to be there for three years, I would have really put my mind into learning the language faster and more efficiently."
That's where an app like Duolingo, which was founded and based in Pittsburgh, would have come in handy.
"It's a great advantage now to have apps like this because they help you learn," said Talbot, who became a local hero after scoring both goals in Pittsburgh's Game 7 Stanley Cup victory in 2009. "I remember I went to Russia and I used an app like Duolingo to try and actually learn a new language and it gave me the basics."
Video: Max Talbot speaks with the media.
Talbot has returned to Pittsburgh to act as the team's French Ambassador on French Language Night on Friday night against his hometown Montreal Canadiens. The night is presented by Duolingo.
Other French elements for the game include Kris Letang reading the "House Rules" in French on the video board, arena ushers welcoming fans in French and language features in the gameday program IceTime.
"I'm very excited to be here. It's an honor to be back here and be part of this Duolingo partnership for tonight," Talbot said Friday afternoon. "You can expect my voice on the PA announcements doing the goals in French."
Talbot, who retired from hockey in 2019, has been practicing his French in anticipation of his PA duties.
"I've been watching a lot of Habs games with the PA announcer and I'm like, 'What are the terms?'" Talbot quipped. "As a hockey player, sometimes you just block out the noises so you don't really pay attention to that stuff. I'm anxious about it (laughs). We'll see if I use the right words and right grammar and right penalties for spearing and stuff like that."
He added: "I hope there's not too many penalties, by the way."
Talbot, a native of French-speaking LeMoyne, Quebec, started English emersion in sixth grade. He played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with Hull and Gatineau before moving to the United States.
Even then, he was surrounded by French-speaking teammates in Marc-Andre Fleury and Pascal Dupuis, and the owner and hockey legend hailed from Quebec.
"My first French memory of being part of the Pittsburgh Penguins was probably after I first got drafted at my first training camp. Mario Lemieux would invite all the French-Canadian players to his home," Talbot said. "We created something for Mario when we were there with all the guys and just getting to spend time with Mario Lemieux as a kid, you're 18 years old and he's your hero."
And with the Penguins' long history of French players, it only made sense for Duolingo, which boasts over 300 million total learners, to host a French Language Night.
"I think it's a great idea for Duolingo to take their energy and put it into a French Language Night," Talbot said. "I think the Penguins have a great French heritage, starting with Mario (Lemieux) to Pierre Larouche to Jean Pronovost. I was just trying to think about all the guys I played with, my French-Canadian teammates and there's a lot. A lot that had a big impact on the Penguins' history. I'm glad to be the ambassador of this night and having fun with this tonight."