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Prospects looking to lock on with Penguins

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rob Madore and Andrew Blazek can only hope their invitation to the Penguins' prospect development camp this week ends as well as it did for the two undrafted players the team invited last summer.

Paul Thompson and Brian Gibbons finished first and third in scoring, respectively, in Hockey East in 2010-11, and Thompson was named the association's player of the year. Both signed contracts with the Penguins this spring — Thompson out of New Hampshire and Gibbons from Boston College.

"It's extremely thrilling," said Madore, a senior goalie at Vermont and graduate of Peters Township. "You get to meet a lot of the guys, and it's really thrilling to be a part of an NHL organization for a week, especially one that you grew up following."

Blazek, a junior defenseman at Robert Morris, also followed the Penguins while attending Upper St. Clair.

Both played with the Pittsburgh Hornets amateur program, which Madore said has been a key part of the development of youth hockey in Pittsburgh.

"It's nice to have a team where you can ... get your name out there and show that a team from Pittsburgh can compete with the teams from Minnesota and teams from Chicago," Madore said.

He and Blazek agreed that the newly established Division I hockey program at Penn State will attract local talent and give players another option for staying closer to home rather than leaving for New England or the Midwest. The Penn State program begins play in 2012-13.

"It's a great school. It's a good education, and I think a lot of people want to stay in-state," Blazek said. "Everyone wants to go to Penn State, so having a hockey program there will be even better."

"My dad's from State College, so I grew up going to Penn State football games, and I think it's really exciting for kids from the area," Madore said, adding that he "absolutely" would have considered Penn State had the program existed when he applied to colleges.

Robert Morris has provided a destination for local players since establishing its program in 2003. The Colonials went 18-12-5 last year, finishing fifth in the 12-team Atlantic Hockey Association, with five Western Pennsylvania-born skaters on the team, including Blazek.

"The more and more Pittsburgh guys we get in, the more team pride we could have," Blazek said. "I think the younger kids are realizing more and more that you don't need to go to these big schools to do well."

Tom Fitzgerald, the Penguins' assistant to the general manager, said the Penguins pride themselves on finding players in unconventional ways, including invitations to camps like this. The purpose, he said, is to see if players like Madore and Blazek fit well with the organization.

"I really like to think (Penguins coach) Dan (Bylsma) says it best when he tells these kids, 'Look, we know what you can do. You're not trying out for the Penguins; we're trying you out.' I think that's the best approach to take for these guys," Fitzgerald said. "We know they can play. We're interested in them. You just want to see if the fit is something that can work out."

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