Sometimes the hardest stories to write are the ones you see coming. You watch them, like a freight train, coming straight for you. You know as a journalist your job is to cover them even if you kind of hope, selfishly, that someone else will swoop in and do it for you.
I knew last year I’d have to write the story I am writing today. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to for the next two years. And I certainly hoped I wouldn’t even be thinking about it until next summer with a Stanley Cup parade going on behind me.
After battling with blood clots multiple times over the past two years, Pittsburgh Penguins’ forward Pascal Dupuis announced on December 8, 2015 that he will no longer play in the National Hockey League. He played 871 games and scored 409 total points.
At 6’1″ and 205 lbs Dupuis looks like a typical a hockey player. He was never known for prodigious skill growing up and played four seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League but went undrafted. In August of 2000 he signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Wild and worked his way through the minor league IHL to the NHL. This would become the story of Dupuis’s career, like the little engine that could, he never gave up.
He bounced from the Wild to the New York Rangers to the Atlanta Thrashers in the span of less than 20 days during February 2007. Then, in February of 2008, he was packaged up as part of a multi-player trade and became a Pittsburgh Penguin. He was part of the squad that went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2008 and he captured the Cup with the Penguins in 2009.
But while he won the Cup in 2009, his story in Pittsburgh, believe it or not, was just starting.
Over the next six seasons he would become everything that a Pittsburgher wants in a sports figure. Honest, hard-working, and with a sense of humor that always kept the lockeroom or media scrum light. He touched anyone he met and even got hyper-competitive Sidney Crosby to lighten up at times.
He scored his only NHL hat trick, as a Pittsburgh Penguin, against the Islanders December 11, 2008. He notched his 100th career goal, in the black and gold, to win a game in overtime over the Boston Bruins on November 14, 2009. He won the franchise’s longest shootout in the 7th round against the Washington Capitals and was a part of the franchise’s first number one ranked penalty killing unit in the 2010-2011 regular season.
Honestly, Dupuis is irreplaceable. Sure his numbers aren’t irreplaceable if looked at on their own, but the intangibles are. He’s not the kind of guy you find anywhere.
Ask any championship team and it’s not the players with the otherworldly skill they’ll say were the key but the role players. Pascal Dupuis, Bill Guerin and Max Talbot will always mean more than the numbers they registered on the scoresheet during the 2009 Stanley Cup run.
But during his time here Dupuis did find one pretty magical fit on the ice. He found the one player he knew like a mind-twin, the one who he could read in his sleep. This player just happened to be Sidney Crosby.
Crosby, the best in the world according to most, clicked with Dupuis to the point where their trio, completed by Chris Kunitz, became automatic in the 2013 shortened season. This alone would explain why the Penguins paid a premium to keep him in 2013.
But this still isn’t it. Dupuis the person was even better that Dupuis the hockey player. During the 2012 lockout he worked with his son’s hockey team, teaching kids to love the game. During the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs (he couldn’t play due to the blood clots that would ultimately end his career) he could be found with not just his kids, but Kris Letang’s young son, Alexander. He loves going out to the Children’s Hospital and always seems in his element when shopping for winter clothes with local kids at Project Bundle Up.
He became famous among the fanbase for tormenting ROOT Sports broadcaster Dan Potash. His signature “Thanks Dan,” was even added to in-game features at the Penguins home rink, The Consol Energy Center.
To put it plainly, Dupuis is the kind of man you want in your family. He’s the uncle who would be there for you in any situation, any time, anywhere. Losing “Duper” on the ice hurts. It’s tough to see such a good man have to leave the game early because of something out of his control. But the good news is that his leaving the ice means we get to have him in our Pittsburgh family longer. And Pascal Dupuis is an integral part of our family. We’ve put our lawn chair in the best parking space of his heart and aren’t going to be moving it any time soon.