Ducks defenseman Lovejoy says playing for Penguins wasn't easy
When Ben Lovejoy overlooks the Pacific Ocean from his Newport Beach, Calif., home, his mind still frequently swims to the Allegheny River.
It seems like a lifetime ago, but Lovejoy's career in Pittsburgh — a whirlwind of good times, bad times, potential reached and disappointment — sculpted what has become a reliable NHL defenseman.
Lovejoy returns to Pittsburgh for the first time Monday when his Anaheim Ducks visit Consol Energy Center.
“I learned how to become a hockey player when I was in Pittsburgh, and I give so many people there so much credit,” Lovejoy said. “But the move to the Ducks completely revitalized my career.”
Being a young player in the Penguins' organization, Lovejoy said, wasn't always easy.
“Cracking the lineup in Pittsburgh was a dream come true at the time,” Lovejoy said. “They're a world class organization that is trying to win the Cup every year. They've got two of the best players in the world in their primes. But it's not easy to come into that environment. It's not a bad thing. It's a fun environment in a way, but there is a ton of pressure to perform.
“It was stressful. It was hard. Being a Penguin wasn't easy.”
Lovejoy was in and out of the lineup as the coaching staff never developed a complete trust in his game. A turnover in Game 2 against Philadelphia in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs seemed to seal his fate, and he was traded early in the following season.
Immediately a better player with Anaheim, Lovejoy credits coach Bruce Boudreau's system, which is more conventional than the Penguins' system.
Lovejoy said puck retrieval and breakout plays in Anaheim's system are more comfortable.
“It's been 100 percent better for me,” he said. “Pittsburgh has obviously been incredibly successful playing the style they play, and when it works, it's so pretty, so good. It's a complex style. They have players who do it very, very well. Perhaps it wasn't right for me. I did everything I could for five and a half years to learn that style. But playing Anaheim's style has been very beneficial for me.”
Even one of the game's legends has appreciated Lovejoy's solid work.
“This guy works hard every day,” veteran Ducks forward Teemu Selanne said. “He's a very solid defenseman. He keeps his game simple. He's got a great attitude. Good work ethic, good skater. He's done good things for us.”
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said young players must have certain assets before they can be functional with the Penguins.
“Having a real good, clear picture of what you bring — the keys of the foundation to your game — is real important,” Bylsma said.
Lovejoy has played 52 games with the Ducks, registering 11 assists and a plus-11 rating.
Maybe he's more of an ocean guy than a river guy.
“(Pittsburgh) was family to me,” Lovejoy said. “But this trade was what I needed.”