PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins were scheduled to fly home Monday, having been away from Pittsburgh since Dec. 31.
Plans changed. On their way back from a 4-1 win at the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday, the Penguins made a detour to Montreal and attended the wake of defenseman Chris Letang‘s father, Claude Fouquet.
“What I can tell you is there was a lot that went into it,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “There was conversation when we were on the road with our leadership group and our players about potentially wanting to support ‘Tanger’ through this difficult time. Really, it stemmed from there.”
Pittsburgh was supposed to have a full morning skate Tuesday, as it normally would follow a non-practice day. That was changed to an optional and pushed back 15 minutes to 10:45am ET.
Tweaks to the schedule were made to accommodate the trip to Montreal, Sullivan said. But Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Penguins, was completely on board with any necessary changes before a game against the Vancouver Canucks at PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday.
“What I can tell you is we’re grateful that Fenway Sports Group was 100 percent supportive of anything that the players wanted to do,” Sullivan said. “We were able to work out some of the challenges. There were a fair amount of them, but we all felt strongly that it was important to support Tanger through such a difficult time.”
Letang remains in Montreal and has not played since Dec. 28 because of a lower-body injury. He had not seen his teammates since a practice at Fenway Park in Boston on Jan. 1 and missed a 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins in the 2023 Discover NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2, leaving Boston after learning of his father’s passing.
“He’s such a big part of this team, a big part of this organization,” Penguins forward Bryan Rust he said. “It shows that there are bigger things than hockey. Family is obviously No. 1. We all consider him family. He’s a guy who’s been around for a long time.
“There’s been a lot of us who have been with him for a long time. I think to show our support for him in a very difficult time was important.”
Letang has 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) in 29 games this season. He missed five games after having a stroke, the second of his NHL career, Nov. 28. The 35-year-old had four points (one goal, three assists) in eight games since returning Dec. 10.
The Penguins (21-13-6) have won back-to-back games after a six-game skid (0-4-2).
Marcus Petterssonwho recently played with Letang on the top defense pair, said visiting him provided a morale boost.
“I think it was huge for us and for him,” Pettersson said. “We all know how much his dad loved us and stuff like that. We talked to him yesterday. He texted us and said it means a lot for his entire family. I think it meant a lot to us too, to show him that we support him, and we care.
“To go there and show support, it really brings us together. It’s a tough time for him and his family to go through. … We are a family. I think we wanted to show that. It’s been a tough stretch for him there. He knows we’re fully behind him.”
Letang has won the Stanley Cup three times with Pittsburgh (2009, 2016, 2017). He is first among defensemen in Penguins history in goals (146), assists (520), points (666) and games played (970).
Those numbers stand out, but defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph said his teammates wanted to show how much they appreciate Letang beyond the score sheet.
“He’s an older guy, an older brother and a mentor for a lot of young guys,” Joseph said. “He’s been in this organization for a long time. I think [going to Montreal] was the least we could do to give back for everything he’s done for us and everything he’s still doing for us. I think it was a no-brainer for us.”