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Penguins goaltender Vokoun quietly makes name for himself

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun make a save during the first day of training camp Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

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By Josh Yohe
Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 7:51 p.m.
 

Goalie Tomas Vokoun could waltz around Consol Energy Center with a strut in his step these days.

After all, he bailed out the Penguins last spring, stepping in for a floundering Marc-Andre Fleury to carry his teammates to the Eastern Conference final, perhaps saving some jobs along the way.

Vokoun, though, remains as unassuming as ever, the loyal teammate who seems to willingly accept his role as the Penguins' No. 2 goaltender even if is performance last spring indicates he remains something more.

“All I do is control what I can control,” Vokoun said. “And when the coach tells me to play, I'm going to make sure that I'm ready to play well.”

While Fleury remains in the spotlight because of the noteworthy fluctuations in his game during the past few years, Vokoun is still an important presence in the locker room.

He's also an important presence on the ice.

“We've become pretty good buddies,” said defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, whose locker stall is beside Vokoun's. “He really does mean a lot to this team. Just a great, great guy in the locker room. And his play speaks for itself.”

The Penguins received quite the return for a seventh-round draft pick, when they acquired Vokoun following the 2012 playoffs.

He was steady during the 2013 regular season, delivered a stirring speech following a dreadful first period in Philadelphia on March 7 that triggered a 15-game winning streak.

It could be argued the Penguins beat the Islanders and Senators in the postseason because of Vokoun. No one would suggest the Penguins fell to the Bruins because of the goaltender.

“He's been around a long time, and his experience definitely shows,” center Sidney Crosby said. “He's come in here and done everything he's been asked to do.”

If all goes well in Fleury's quest to regain his status as an elite goaltender, Vokoun largely will be asked to sit and watch. He said he's OK with it.

“I don't think about that stuff,” he said. “All I want to do is do my job as well as I can, and I'm pretty happy with my game right now.”

Vokoun maintains a close relationship with Fleury, which limits any awkwardness.

When Vokoun agreed to sign with the Penguins following the trade for his rights, he said being the starting goaltender wasn't necessary. Winning was his only priority.

Almost a year later, his mindset hasn't changed.

“He's just a great guy,” center Brandon Sutter said. “And everyone appreciates what a good teammate he is.”

Notes: ESPN The Magazine's annual fan survey ranked Penguins fans No. 1 among all NHL franchises and No. 7 among all North American professional teams … Crosby is among those who will play in Thursday's exhibition game in Chicago … Defenseman Brian Dumoulin remained out of practice Wednesday because of an upper-body injury.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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