Lebanon’s Matt Bartkowski ‘full circle’ at penguins’ camp

The Pittsburgh Penguins facility in Cranberry is named after franchise icon Mario Lemieux.

When Lemieux arrived in Pittsburgh in 1984, he inspired several generations of western Pennsylvania to play hockey.

To illustrate Lemieux’s impact on the region, pictures of players from the region who have made the NHL adorn the walls of the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, complete with a brief biography of their professional achievements.

One of these players is on the ice attending the penguins training camp, hoping to add a few paragraphs to his story.

Matt Bartkowski, a native of Mt. Lebanon, is visiting the camp on a trial basis.

A veteran of 10 NHL seasons, Bartkowski – who calls the team “the pens” with a hint of an accent rooted in the South Hills – has the chance to spend part of an eleventh season wearing the team’s jersey, for which he grew up with roots.

“Every kid who plays hockey here wants to play for the pens,” said Bartkowski, who has far more memories of seeing the team in the Civic Arena than of the PPG Paints Arena. “I now have the opportunity to do so. As far as the circle is closed, yes, 100 percent. ”

This circle has led Bartkowski across North America for the past ten years and has changed.

Bartkowski was in the 2008 seventh round (# 190 overall) of the Florida Panthers and spent two seasons at the NCAA level with Ohio State before turning pro in 2010.

Sold in the same year to the Boston Bruins, he made his NHL debut in Pittsburgh, of all places, and helped the Bruins to a 4-2 away win at what was then Consol Energy Center on January 10, 2011.

“It’s a surreal moment to be able to play your first game in the league,” said Bartkowski. “Then to be here, it was really something special. It was a special night. ”

After five seasons in Boston, Bartkowski switched between the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild before meeting the Penguins that off-season.

Bartkowski, 33, has spent more time in the American Hockey League (AHL) than in the NHL during his professional career. especially given the excess of left-handed defenders the team has in the field.

However, the possibility of getting an AHL contract with the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins, then an NHL deal, and a possible regular season recall is a very real possibility.

“He’s the type that gives us more depth in this position,” said coach Mike Sullivan. “Matt is a good professional and I think he understands the circumstances. This is just the reality of professional hockey. There are some guys who need to play their way into the squad. There are other guys who play away from the squad.

“He’s the guy who understands and I think he’s had a strong camp so far.”

Bartkowski has a pretty clear idea of ​​what to do to wear a Penguins jersey in an important game.

“Skating,” he said. “You are great at skating. Play tough games. I know it’s kind of a cliché to say ‘play hard’ but play hard, play hard and skate. These are pretty big things. ”

Note: Striker candidate Filip Hallander missed the third training day in a row due to an unknown injury. He was referred to as “day after day”.

Follow the penguins all season long.

Seth Rorabaugh is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Seth by email at srorabaugh@triblive.com or on Twitter.

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