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Penguins notebook: Ian Cole says Kris Letang 'thinks he's the Don Cherry of UFC'

Jonathan Bombulie
| Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, 6:27 p.m.
Penguins defenseman Ian Cole defends on Nashville Predators center Craig Smith in the first period during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Sunday, June 11, 2017, at Bridgestone Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins defenseman Ian Cole defends on Nashville Predators center Craig Smith in the first period during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Sunday, June 11, 2017, at Bridgestone Arena.

The morning after attending a UFC show Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena, Penguins defenseman Ian Cole stopped and pondered a hypothetical. How would he fare if he had to fight inside a mixed martial arts cage?

“Could I climb over the cage and run out?” Cole asked.

OK, so Cole might not be octagon material, but the two teammates he attended the show with might be a different story.

On one side sat winger Ryan Reaves, one of the NHL's most feared fighters.

Reaves hasn't dabbled in MMA, but his offseason training regimen used to include a healthy dose of boxing.

“When I started fighting the heavies in the league, I was boxing two or three times a week,” Reaves said. “Now, a couple times a summer. A little bit of cardio. Just to keep my technique. Sometimes I feel like you lose a little bit of technique and power in your punches when you don't do it for a while.”

On the other side sat defenseman Kris Letang, who has trained alongside Georges St. Pierre and others at Montreal's famous Tristar Gym. Of the trio of Penguins in the crowd, Cole said Letang was by far the most avid MMA fan.

“He thinks he's a UFC commentator,” Cole joked. “He thinks he's the Don Cherry of UFC. He's pretty knowledgeable. He was telling us about the guys and their tendencies and tactics and how they kind of match up. I'll admit it. He was pretty spot on.”

Skating hard

In addition to the regular regimen of drills and scrimmages, all Penguins practices groups have gone through one skating-heavy, 20-minute conditioning session on each of the first three days of camp.

On Friday, no one seemed fazed by the extensive skating. By Sunday, some players could be heard grumbling.

Coach Mike Sullivan said he thinks that's to be expected.

“Everybody's excited, and there's a lot of anxiety on that first day,” Sullivan said. “When your workload starts to build, obviously there are some bumps and bruises and soreness and stiffness and that's all part of it. We'll work through things, and we'll manage those things appropriately.”

Sullivan said the skating drills are a necessary part of the team's preseason preparations.

“We're trying to play a certain style of play that requires players to be in good shape,” Sullivan said. “We play a skating game. We play a speed game. Your conditioning level, your fitness level, is critically important to allow us to sustain that pace of play throughout the course of a 60-minute game and sustain that play game-in and game-out over an 80-game schedule.”

Sarge's orders

In his quest to establish himself as an NHL defenseman, Derrick Pouliot usually has had the big stuff covered. He's an agile skater with good size and excellent puck-handling skills.

Where he's struggled is with the details of playing the position, things such as reads, stick positioning and decision-making.

With that in mind, it's pretty clear what kind of instruction Pouliot would find most beneficial during training camp. It's the kind that can be provided by assistant coach Sergei Gonchar, as crafty and clever a defenseman as there was in the NHL during his playing days.

And there Gonchar was after practice Sunday, sitting next to Pouliot, imparting words of wisdom.

“It's hard for a head coach to work on individual skills with guys. They have to worry about the team,” Pouliot said. “When you have a guy who can focus on stuff like that, little skill work, it's very valuable.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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