Hollidaysburg’s Sam Lafferty could make his Penguins debut
The Galactic Ice rink in Altoona won’t be terribly crowded Tuesday night.
Sure, the Mustangs, a 12-and-under team, have a practice at 7 p.m. and then there’s an adult rec league contest between the Outlaws and the hated Hellcats at 8 p.m.
But beyond that, any Blair County citizens with hockey-oriented interests will likely affix their attention to a much larger barn roughly two hours to the west when one of their own potentially makes his NHL debut.
Hollidaysburg’s Sam Lafferty is expected to skate for the Penguins when they square off with the Winnipeg Jets in PPG Paints Arena at 7:12 p.m.
“I think pretty much the whole community will be at the game tonight,” said Lafferty, a one-time member of the Mustangs. “So that will be pretty special.”
Lafferty, 24, and forward Andrew Agozzino, 28, were recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL on Monday when the team placed forwards Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad on injured reserve because of undisclosed ailments. Considering each injury was described as “longer term” by coach Mike Sullivan, Lafferty or Agozino could get prolonged exposure to the NHL.
A rapid development over the past year has led to Lafferty reaching the NHL.
“Just consistently getting better,” Lafferty said. “Just doing the right things and showing that you can be a reliable player at this level which I think I can be. Just excited to go out there and play.”
A fourth-round pick in 2014, Lafferty spent four seasons at Brown University, where he also was a member of the golf team, before he signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Penguins in the spring of 2018. In his first full professional season, Lafferty appeared in 70 AHL games and scored 49 points, second most on the team. A lot of that success was because of his skating.
“It’s probably my biggest strength,” Lafferty said. “So I’m going to try to use that tonight.”
Lafferty will become the fifth Western Pennsylvania-born player to play for the Penguins. He was preceded by defensemen Nate Guenin (Hopewell) and Dylan Reese (Upper St. Clair), as well as forwards Ryan Malone (Upper St. Clair) and Bill Thomas (Fox Chapel). The significance of his his presence carries great weight for a franchise which has gone to vigorous lengths to promote the sport at a grassroots level throughout the region.
“For Sam to have an opportunity not only to play in the NHL, but play for his hometown team, I think is a thrill for him and his family,” Sullivan said. “It’s also a testament to the Penguins and the impact that they’ve had in the community, in hockey particular. A lot of these kids have grown up Mario Lemieux fans or Kevin Stevens fans or Jaromir Jagr fans. You can go down the list. The next generation is being impacted by the Crosbys and the Malkins and the Letangs.
“The commitment the organization has made to the community in helping grow the game and also, Sam and his accomplishments and his hard work that’s allowed him to get here, it’s a great moment for both.”
Lafferty’s concerns are more immediate. But no less poignant.
“Really, it’s a dream come true,” Lafferty said. “I’m just going to enjoy it and play my best tonight.”
• The Penguins held an optional morning skate. Forwards Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist, as well as defensemen Kris Letang and Justin Schultz, did not participate.
• Goaltender Matt Murray is expected to start for the Penguins.
• Agozzino was one of the last forwards off the ice from the morning skate. Typically, players who will be healthy scratches will stay on the ice longer.
• The Penguins will stage a pregame ceremony in recognition of Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster Mike Lange.
• The Jets, already dealing with a patchwork defensive corps thanks to injuries and personal absences, will be without defenseman Josh Morrissey because of an undisclosed injury. Winnipeg recalled defensemen Sami Niku and Nelson Nogier from its AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.
• Jets forward Bryan Little was placed on injured reserve with a concussion.
• Connor Hellebuyck is expected to start in goal for the Jets.
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .