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May 28, 2017
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - Practice Day
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please, for Jim Rutherford and Coach Sullivan.
Q. Jim, when you made the Hornqvist trade, what were you looking for and is it fair to assume that Hornqvist has given you that and more?
JIM RUTHERFORD: Yeah, he's given us what we had hoped. But it was the first move I made when I got here. It was shortly after I got here at the draft. We were looking to get a different type of player.
We traded James Neal, a good player, good goal-scorer, but we had enough players that could score. We were looking for that type of passionate player, good team guy, good in the locker room.
I've never met a player like him. He never has a bad day. We could lose 10 in a row, and he'd be in the locker room as if we'd won 10 in a row. He keeps things going in there. He's given us everything we thought.
Q. Jim, when you introduced Mike the first day, you said he reminded you of Peter Laviolette. What similarities did you see. And, Mike, both coaches in this series grew up in Boston in the '70s. Do you think it sort of shaped your career path?
JIM RUTHERFORD: Will you be able to remember the question (laughter)?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Yes.
JIM RUTHERFORD: Same color of hair, to start with.
No, they're passionate coaches, great motivators. Play an up-tempo game, a lot of things. The way Peter had his team play is what I saw in what Sully does.
MIKE SULLIVAN: What was the question (laughter)?
No, listen, I think when I grew up in the Boston area, obviously the success that the Bruins had, players like Bobby Orr, have a huge impact on kids growing up in that area.
My childhood, I saw the tail end of Bobby's career, but I saw a lot of real good Boston Bruins teams that certainly fueled my passion to want to play the game. I don't think I was any different than a lot of the players, a lot of the young kids that grew up in that area at that time.
So for sure it had a huge influence on my life as far as the choices that I made. Inevitably it leads to where I am today. So for that I'm certainly grateful.
Q. Mike, what's Patric Hornqvist's status? He was involved in warmups before Game 7. Was there a legitimate shot of him playing in that game?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Yes, there was. That's why he was in warmups. We obviously chose to hold him out for reasons that we'll keep amongst ourselves.
But his status is he's obviously been cleared for practice today. He practiced today. He'll be a game-time decision. But based on the way that he practiced today, we're certainly encouraged.
Q. Mike, I guess people around here quite rightly have taken a bit of umbrage with the fact that Evgeni Malkin was not included in the NHL's top 100 players. I wonder if you get a sense, would he care about that? Does he care that he sort of takes the backseat to Sid? Even in his own country he takes a backseat to a guy like Ovechkin. Certainly a Hall of Famer when he retires. Do you get any sense that he cares about that kind of stuff?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Well, I'm sure it would be a much better question for him than it is for me.
But I can only share my perception, you know, how I know Geno, what I know about him. What I know about Geno is that he's a terrific team player, he's a great teammate, and he wants to win. That is his priority.
I am sure all of these guys are human beings and they all have pride. In some way I'm sure he would have liked to have been part of that esteemed group. But I know that the people around our organization believe that he is. We've made no bones about that. We value what he brings. We understand how good of a player he is. His body of work speaks for itself.
But I think my sense of being around Geno is that his priorities are just trying to help this team win and trying to accomplish our team goals, which ultimately is a Stanley Cup. He's been a big part of them in his tenure here.
For me, when I look at guys like Geno, we have others on the team that are similar. Sid is the same way. I think these guys are ultimately driven to win championships. I think that's their number one priority.
Q. Mike, the Penguins represent a second chance for you in the NHL. When Jason Botterill was hired in Buffalo a couple weeks ago, we talked about the interview, how you impressed him in your philosophy of the game. What stands out about the job he did for you getting you back in this organization and helping some of these young players develop into key cogs of that team? What kind of an NHL GM do you think he'll be?
MIKE SULLIVAN: I think he'll be a terrific general manager. He has a wealth of experience. He's worked under some real good general managers, starting with the guy right beside me.
I think he's had an opportunity to really gain a lot of experience in a successful environment. I think Jason as a person is a terrific person. He's a hard-working guy. He's a diligent guy. He leaves no stone unturned to try to help his teams have success.
So for all of those reasons, I think he'll be a terrific general manager.
Q. Jim, could you talk a little bit about your relationship with David Poile, maybe what it means to you to have him opposite of you in this Stanley Cup.
JIM RUTHERFORD: Yeah, I mean, doesn't mean a whole lot. There has to be a GM on the other side. As much as I respect David and I'm happy for where he is today, we're competitors here for the next couple of weeks.
But David's been a very good general manager for a long time. He really deserves this opportunity to get to where he is today. He's done a terrific job.
Q. Mike, how much can you appreciate the significance of this series just in the sense that you and Peter are the two first American-born coaches to go head-to-head in the Stanley Cup Final?
MIKE SULLIVAN: I think, first and foremost, I have so much respect for this league and how hard it is to get to this point. I couldn't be more proud of our players for the effort and the sacrifices that they make to help us get here.
I'm grateful for the opportunity to coach this group. I believe that it's a team effort starting with Jim right on down in order to get to this point. So from that standpoint, I think, when you look at the parity in the league, how difficult this league is, how hard it is to win, I'm certainly appreciative of this opportunity.
The fact that there's two American coaches that are going to play against one another here, I think it speaks a little bit about the progress that hockey has made in the United States. I think there's a lot of really good coaches that are working extremely hard to be the best at their craft. There's a lot of real good American coaches, just like there's a lot of real good Canadian coaches and European coaches and others.
To be part of that American fraternity, I guess, it's something that I'm certainly proud of.
Q. Mike, what is it about the college players now and what have you seen from the time you were in college and playing, the progression of U.S. college hockey being a feeder system for the NHL?
MIKE SULLIVAN: It seems like there's more and more college players that are having success. I think it speaks to the competition level in Division I college hockey today. I think it speaks to the respective programs and the coaches, that they do a terrific job in developing their players.
I think, when you look at the logistics of college hockey today, it tends to be an older game. That's different than when I was in college, when I went through. I think there are some teams, some of the blue chip schools, the more established schools, might have younger teams with first-round draft picks. But they could be playing against teams that have four-year players that are 24, 25 years old. They're grown men, they're physically fit, their experience level in playing the game make them difficult to play against.
I think it's a hard game. So from that standpoint, I think it prepares players for difficult circumstances. Maybe that's something that may help them moving forward when they do decide to turn pro.
Q. Mike, some of your players yesterday were mentioning they're expecting a faster pace of play from the opponent as compared to the last series. How do you get your team ready for something like that? How much do you draw upon the first two series when Columbus and Washington were pretty aggressive with you forechecking-wise?
MIKE SULLIVAN: One of the things I've always talked with our players about is having the ability to generate offense different ways. Regardless of the challenge that is in front of us, we believe we have the capability of having success. We just beat a really good team that was a defense-first team, always had numbers back, tried to limit opportunities off the rush, and had more of a counterattack mindset.
We played teams earlier in the playoffs that were a heavy forecheck, trying to establish a physical presence, in a heavy forecheck type of game. Every team is going to have their own identity that they're going to try to play to their strengths.
What I love about our group is I believe we have the type of team that can have success against our opponent regardless of who our opponent it is. We have to take what the game presents. That's something that the coaching staff talks about with our players before, during every series that we play in.
We know that Nashville has a much different identity than Ottawa, the team we just played. The nature of the games are going to be very different. But we believe that we have the type of players and the ability level to have success in that environment.
Q. Mike, Guentzel didn't score a goal in the Ottawa series. How has he handled the rigor of a playoff run?
MIKE SULLIVAN: I think Jake's game has been really good. He didn't score in that series, but I think there's more to his game than just that. He's played some heavy minutes for us since he's joined our team, in particular, in this playoff race.
So I think as our team starts to get healthy here, we're able to lean on the balance of the group, which I think will serve Jake in particular really well. He's a very good player. I think he helps us win even on nights when he doesn't score because he has a complete skill set. He's pretty sound defensively. He has awareness away from the puck. He's a play-maker. He has a high hockey IQ. He's a competitive guy.
There's a lot of aspects of his game other than just his ability to score goals that help our team win.
Q. Mike, I know you obviously addressed this, but going into this series your decision to go from Marc-Andre to Murray is a big one. When you said you thought that Fleury looked a little tired when you made the switch, what was it in his game that made you believe that? How much of an advantage is it for Murray to come in pretty much fresh at that stage of the playoffs?
MIKE SULLIVAN: First of all, I don't ever remember saying that Fleury looked tired. You might have drew that conclusion based on my comments, but I never said that.
What I did say was that Matt was fresh. The silver lining -- Jim and I just had this conversation in my office, the silver lining in an injury process is that players have an opportunity to rest that's very difficult and demanding physically. As much as we don't like to see our players go down with injuries, when they do come back, in some way they have some advantage because they have been rested. They have the opportunity to jump into our lineup, regardless of what the position is, and potentially make an impact.
The decision that was made in goal was a very difficult decision. Our coaches discussed it at length. That was a very difficult decision because we have so much respect for both players. Both of these goaltenders that we have are Stanley Cup-winning goaltenders. I've said all year long that we believe that we have two number one goalies. That's a unique challenge to our team, because most teams don't have that.
Part of my responsibility is to try to decide which guy on a particular game is going to give this team the best chance to win. There are a lot of factors that go into it. Quite honestly, I like to keep those decisions within the confines of our hockey team. But there are a lot of factors that go into it.
Ultimately, I think the most important thing for you guys to know is that we have so much respect for the players that we have. Regardless of which guy we choose to go with, we know that guy's going to give us a chance to win.
Q. Jim, it's been a while since a team has won a Stanley Cup without a real star defenseman in their lineup. There's been so much made of your injuries on your back end, curious if maybe that says something about it's hard to replace a guy like Kris Letang, but maybe the dropoff from one guy to the next isn't nearly as much as people make it out to be.
JIM RUTHERFORD: You have to go about it in a different way. Kris Letang played 28 minutes a game, plays in all situations. He comes out of the lineup, it means other guys have to play a different role.
We're fortunate that guys, that we have the right guys that can play that role. As long as the six guys that are in the lineup on any given game play within themselves and don't have to eat up too many minutes, maybe like they did in the overtime game the other night, then this group is fine. We've seen that they've got it done, and they can do it.
Q. Mike, what have the last two years been like for you? You come in, you haven't lost a playoff series. Has it been a blur? Have you been able to take a second and enjoy where you are?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Well, I can't tell you how rewarding it's been to have the opportunity to coach this team. I'm so grateful to have been given this opportunity. We believe we've got such a competitive group of players, they're high-character people, they have an insatiable appetite to win, they're a privilege to coach.
I don't take one day of it for granted because, I guess, over the last 15 years of coaching, I know how hard it is. I know that there's a lot of really good coaches out there that are very capable, that work extremely hard at what they do. Not all of them get the opportunity like I've been given here in Pittsburgh.
I'm grateful for this opportunity. I think every day I come to the rink, I'm excited to get on the ice with this particular group of players. We have a unique chemistry that we believe is a competitive advantage within our room. We've got a highly competitive group of players.
To have the opportunity to go to work with these guys every day and try to accomplish a common goal, for me, is a thrill. As I said, it's been the most rewarding, the most fulfilling couple of years of my coaching life.
Q. Mike, injuries are always a part of this process. Last year Trevor was hurt. This year he's healthy. Is there a little bit of extra satisfaction when you can do something like this and give a player like that the opportunity to experience something like this?
MIKE SULLIVAN: Well, Trevor is such an important part of our team for a lot of reasons. He's a really good player. I think his play speaks for itself. But he's a great person.
I think he's one of the veteran players in our room that's played a lot of hockey in this league. I think he understands how difficult it is to win the Stanley Cup. So I think he's one of those guys that doesn't take it for granted.
We have a great opportunity here. He understands that we got to go out and earn it. So to have him in our lineup at this time, not just because of his play, but also because of his leadership and his perspective, the influence that he has in our locker room, I think makes us a better hockey team.
I couldn't be happier for him. He missed the opportunity to play in the Finals last year because of the injury, but his play up until that point was so critically important to helping us get there. I think now that he's healthy and he has the chance to play in the Finals, I'm sure that he's thrilled. We're certainly thrilled to have him.
Q. Jim, can you talk a little bit about the team you've assembled off the ice. Everybody talks about your team on the ice. I'm talking about former players in Mark Recchi, Geurin and Sergei Gonchar, reinforcing the winning attitude in this organization, and how much you lean on them maybe a little bit more during the playoff run.
JIM RUTHERFORD: Well, they're champions. They won as players. They bring that to our organization. Billy and Rex have done a terrific job on the development side.
You see the players that come in with a big club, and they immediately come in, and when the coaches take them over, they're ready to play, they fit in.
It's such an important part of our game now. Like, the scouts have to do their job, they have to draft the right players. But if you don't develop them right, they never get to where they need to get to. That's what those guys did.
In Sergei Gonchar's case, he's moved out of the development side and now is on the coaching side. He works with the coaching staff. He's excellent. He can pick things up that our defensemen are doing and fix them very quickly. Sully can probably speak to that more than I can because he works with him all the time. But those three former players are a very important part to our group.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports