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Penguins notebook: Rick Tocchet returns to Pittsburgh as Coyotes coach

Jonathan Bombulie
| Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, 11:57 a.m.
The Penguins’ Justin Schultz (4) moves the puck against the Panthers at PPG Arena on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The Penguins’ Justin Schultz (4) moves the puck against the Panthers at PPG Arena on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017.
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin celebrates with Justin Schultz after Schultz's goal against the the Coyotes in the first period Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin celebrates with Justin Schultz after Schultz's goal against the the Coyotes in the first period Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.

When the Penguins played the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night, there was nearly universal admiration for the coach on the visitors' bench.

Rick Tocchet, who took over as coach of the Coyotes in July, made many friends and few, if any, enemies during his three seasons as a Penguins assistant.

Before the game, Penguins players praised Tocchet for his hockey acumen.

“Especially around the net, he had some pointers,” winger Carl Hagelin said. “He scored a lot of goals. He knows what it takes.”

They appreciated his friendship.

“I think everybody in this room really likes him as a person,” defenseman Olli Maatta said.

They even expressed confidence he would get his new team turned around after a 2-12-2 start.

“They have a lot of skill, a lot of youth,” Hagelin said. “They're a hungry team.”

Tocchet returned the compliments, of course, pausing his pregame meeting with reporters a few times to greet Penguins players as they walked past the Coyotes locker room to get to the home team's dressing area at PPG Paints Arena.

“You've got a bond,” Tocchet said. “You win two Cups together. You spend, how many days, 300 days together a year. You travel together. You see a lot.”

He also conceded, however, the positive vibes sent his way from the Penguins might have a different tone had he been hired by an Eastern Conference rival rather than the Coyotes.

“If I was coaching Philly, there would be nobody out there. I'll tell you that,” Tocchet said with a laugh.

For Tocchet, the return to Pittsburgh meant the addition of some hardware. He said he was planning to receive his 2017 Stanley Cup championship ring after the game.

He was just as excited, though, about what his young team would get from the trip.

“This is how you get that growth and you get some of that tough skin,” Tocchet said. “You've got to go into Washington. You've got to go into Pittsburgh. These are the kind of lessons we want to have these kids go through. I want to see how they go against the big guys here.”

Fighting cancer

The Penguins took part in Hockey Fights Cancer festivities at Tuesday's game. They wore purple warm-up jerseys, which will be auctioned off to benefit UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and Mario Lemieux Foundation.

They welcomed many cancer patients and survivors as special guests, including 6-year-old Darran Dunlap, who is fighting leukemia. She is the daughter of sports talk radio host Colin Dunlap.

Public service announcements by Maatta and Phil Kessel were played on the video board. Kessel survived testicular cancer in 2006. Maatta had a cancerous tumor removed from his thyroid in 2014.

Maatta said he is awed by the mental strength of children whose battles with cancer are significantly more arduous than his was.

“I can't really compare with what the other people are going through,” Maatta said. “For me, it was really easy. We caught it early. That was good. I can kind of relate how scary it is to hear about it. It's not easy, definitely. Your family and close friends, they're definitely worried about it too. That's something I can relate to.”

Injury report

Justin Schultz made his return to the lineup after missing two weeks with a concussion. Zach Trotman was assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to make room on the roster.

Matt Hunwick, who has been out since Oct. 17 with a concussion, is not yet cleared to return, but coach Mike Sullivan said that doesn't represent a setback in his recovery.

“It's just a matter of him going through the process of trying to get back into the lineup,” Sullivan said.

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

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