PITTSBURGH – His playoff beard thick, Pascal Dupuis comes to the rink every day as if he’s going suit up in the Stanley Cup Final.
“I still have my change stall with the players, I still put my underwear on before they go on the ice, I still work out with the team. I’m still around the guys,” Dupuis said.
But, he added, “The title next to my name is player, but I don’t feel like it now.”
That’s because the Pittsburgh Penguins veteran had his career stolen from him prematurely because of a medical condition related to blood clots. He retired in December after a couple of eye-opening scares in San Jose and Edmonton.
Talking before the Final with his one of his four children — 10-year-old son Kody — sitting cutely behind him swinging his legs and absorbing a busy media day, Dupuis talked about his transition from player to, well, whatever he is now.
“It’s more nerve-racking than anything not having any control of anything that’s going on,” said Dupuis, 37. “I do care about all the guys in the locker room, and I want then to win and I want to win, too, so whatever I can do to help, that’s pretty much my role right now.”
For example, between periods of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against Tampa Bay, Dupuis became an equipment trainer and hurriedly switched out the butt-end of Eric Fehr’s stick. He’ll help the coaches with video, travel on road trips and keep his old mates loose with his typical quick wit and humor.
“I’m hanging out with the players. It’s not like I’m going to dinner with the coaches,” Dupuis cracked. “I haven’t stepped over that fence yet. I’m still in my head a player.”
It feels like an eternity ago that the popular former Penguins player began his career with the Wild. Signed out of Canadian junior, Dupuis played parts of six seasons in Minnesota, including a 20-goal season in 2002-03, the year the Wild advanced to the Western Conference finals.
Since then, Dupuis has won one Stanley Cup and went to another Final with the Penguins. Every day he wishes he still could play, feelings that especially re-emerged when Lightning captain Steven Stamkos came back from a blood clot to play Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against Pittsburgh.
“The thought comes back to you quick,” Dupuis said.
So hurt by not being able to play, Dupuis initially stayed away from the team and left his equipment in his garage in Montreal. But he got his gear back because he couldn’t kick the habit. So before practice every day, Dupuis said, he skates alone.
“I missed it too much,” Dupuis said.
He doesn’t want his teammates trying to “win won for Duper.” He said that would be too awkward and they should be winning this for themselves.
“I’ve won one Stanley Cup, which doesn’t make it easier, because you still want it,” he said. “It makes it harder because you know what it feels like, you know what it tastes like, so you want it again.”
• Sharks speedster Matt Nieto was inserted into Game 2’s lineup Wednesday for veteran Dainius Zubrus. It was Nieto’s first game since Game 6 of the second round against Nashville. “He brings some things that are unique to his skill set that we think can help us,” coach Pete DeBoer said.
• Penguins winger Bryan Rust, who left Game 1 in the third period after being hit in the head by Patrick Marleau, played Wednesday. Rust entered with goals in three consecutive games and a team rookie record of six playoff goals.