Seated next to Sidney Crosby in the Pittsburgh Penguins locker room, Chris Conner felt at home during Thursday’s first day of training camp.
After spending two years with the Pittsburgh organization, Conner played the last couple of years with the Detroit and Phoenix organizations. Despite the time away, he said, a lot of the players are the same - motioning to Crosby. The coaching staff is still in place and the system remains unchanged.
“Pretty much everything is familiar, which makes it great to be back,” Conner said. “This is one of my favorite organizations to play for, and when they showed interest in me it was an easy decision.”
Conner had success at both levels of the organization during the two seasons he split between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
In 2009-2010 he set a career-high with 56 points in 59 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The next season, Conner earned an early call-up to Pittsburgh and remained there, appearing in 60 games while registering seven goals and 16 points.
Despite that past success, Conner isn’t taking anything for granted his second time with the organization.
“It’s a new year and I have to prove what I can do. I have to prove I can help this team win games,” he said.
Conner spent last season in the Phoenix organization, appearing in 12 games with the Coyotes and 60 in the AHL with Portland. The season before, the Michigan native split his time between Grand Rapids and the Detroit Red Wings.
“Being from Detroit, it was a thrill to play there,” Conner said. “Phoenix is a class organization, too and I enjoyed it.”
But now Conner is a Penguin again, playing in a system that has allowed him to find success in the past.
“They play fast here and they emphasize working and protecting the puck. Those are my strengths and it’s something I kind of hang my hat on,” Conner said.
- During Thursday’s scrimmage, the Black team defeated the White squad 5-0. Craig Adams, Tanner Glass, Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis accounted for the goals. Marc-Andre Fleury allowed four goals in the first half of the scrimmage.
- With forward spots tight in this year’s training camp, former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin Joe Vitale knows he’ll have to battle in order to spend a third straight season with the NHL club. “My mindset is the same as it was a few years ago. It’s a competitive game and there’s a lot of players that want my spot,” he said. “There are no guarantees and the worst thing I can do is get comfortable. I welcome the competition and I love it.”
- Forward Steve MacIntyre spent much of his summer on the back of a horse as one of 1,100 ropers to compete in the Memory Lane Team Roping Challenge in Alberta. MacIntyre finished third overall in the event.
- The third and final group in Thursday’s practice went through several minutes of skating tests. Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo stood out from the crowd, and the former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton blueliner has reported to camp in noticeably good shape.”I got the contract out of the way over the summer and now it’s just about playing hockey games,” he said. “I want to play every night and be a top six defenseman.”
And of his success in the skating test? “No matter how many times you do it, there’s still nerves. But you just go. Don’t even think about your legs. For those four minutes you go and then you’re done for another year.”
- Former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forward Beau Bennett spent part of his summer participating in the orientation camp for the U.S. Olympic team. While he won’t know if he made the team until the end of the year, Bennett said he is thankful for the experience. “It was a great opportunity just to be around the U.S. players and that atmosphere,” Bennett said. “I don’t know exactly what it all means, and if something works out that’s great. If not, it was a good experience.”