Jocelyn Thibault won’t break out in a nervous sweat anymore when he sees the Pittsburgh Penguins on an NHL schedule. Instead of dreading a barrage of pucks, he’ll be rooting for them.
Thibault joined the Penguins on Aug. 10 in a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks. The veteran netminder can breathe a sigh of relief that he no longer has to face one of the NHL’s most-dangerous offenses.
“Exactly,” he said with a laugh. “They say if you can’t beat them, join them. I have played in Pittsburgh many times and it’s always been a thrill to play there. With all the players the Penguins have, it’s going to be an exciting team to play for. As goalie, it’s exciting because you know the team can play for you and score some goals, so that’s awesome.
“Pittsburgh is the place to be in the NHL. I am very fortunate to join the Penguins.”
Thibault faced a tumultuous time in Chicago since the Blackhawks signed goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to a mutli-year deal on Aug. 5. The move spelled doom for Thibault in the Windy City.
“It’s great the way it turned out with what has happened the last couple weeks in Chicago,” he said. “I was looking for a new start somewhere. Pittsburgh is a perfect fit for me. I have the chance to play for a great team. I am really excited.”
Despite the news Khabibulin would displace him between the pipes in Chicago, the idea of playing for the Penguins immediately uplifted Thibault’s spirits.
“I was excited right off the bat when I knew they were interested in me,” he said. “Once I found out they were interested in getting me, I wanted to go there. That’s the place to be. That’s the best fit for me and to have a chance to win. I am looking forward to having a good year.”
Thibault is the latest addition to a revamped Penguins lineup that includes free-agent signees Sergei Gonchar, Andre Roy and Ziggy Palffy as well as top pick Sidney Crosby and superstars Mario Lemieux and Mark Recchi.
“All the guys in the league know what Pittsburgh has done to get this team to a higher level,” Thibault said. “I think the Penguins will be a very high-quality team this year. I think I have a chance to play a lot of games; it’s a great situation. This team will have a chance to win the Cup right away. It’s a blessing for me to come to a team like this and win and have success.”
Also, Thibault, who is 30 and an 11-year NHL veteran, will take on the role as mentor to the Penguins’ young goaltending corps of Marc-Andre Fleury, Sebastien Caron and Andy Chiodo.
“They are really good, young and talented goalies. Pittsburgh is fortunate to have young guys like that in organization,” Thibault said. “I am really excited to work with them. Working with the younger guys is a part of the game that I enjoy. I am a hard-working guy and I like to go to rink and work hard and have fun. I hope to be a good influence for the younger guys in Pittsburgh.”
Thibault hopes to improve the young goalies through example and personal instruction on and off the ice.
“When you’re young in your career, you always want to play with older guys and ask them questions and see what they can do. If I can be of any help to them, I will do that,” he said. “I am sure I can pick up some things they do well and improve myself, too.”
Like Thibault, both Fleury and Caron are natives of Quebec.
“It’s a good thing coming from the same background,” Thibault said. “I know how they play and they know how I play. We play the same French-Canadian type of butterfly style. We grew up pretty much having the same goalie coaches and same basics.”
Thibault hopes his experience will help speed the maturation process for Fleury, Caron and Chiodo.
“There’s a lot of things to learn; sometimes it’s a long process,” Thibault said. “For me, it took a while to put everything together mentally and technically. These kids will be OK.”
A familiar face will greet Thibault in Pittsburgh – Ryan VandenBussche. The two played together in Chicago for six years before VandenBussche signed with the Penguins last year.
“I am thrilled to play with Ryan again. We sat next to each other in the dressing room in Chicago,” Thibault said. “He’s a great guy. He’s the ultimate team guy. He will go to war every day and I am glad I will be ale to play with him again.”
In addition, Thibault looks forward to skating with Lemieux and Crosby.
“I am really excited. It’s a dream come true. I am sure a lot of people dream about playing with Mario,” he said. “I was able to meet (Crosby) last summer. I was very impressed by the guy. He is very, very mature for his age and very down-to-earth. Obviously, he is extremely talented. I like to be surrounded by quality people and I think he’s one of them.
“He has brought a lot to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but I think he’s going to bring a lot to team and league for many years,” he continued. “I think I’m very fortunate to go to Pittsburgh and play with Mario and Crosby. Not a lot of players can say they did that.”