CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. (AP) - Phil Kessel returned to work on Friday hoping to talk about his blessedly short summer after helping the Pittsburgh Penguins to their fourth Stanley Cup in June.
Instead, the forward ended up walking back a critical tweet about Team USA following its disappointing performance in the World Cup of Hockey. Kessel, the leading scorer for the Americans during the 2014 Winter Olympics, was not invited to join this time. While he said all the right things last spring after getting passed over, his frustration bubbled up while watching the U.S. lose to Canada on Tuesday.
“Just sitting around the house tonight w/my dog,” Kessel posted on his account. “Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn’t put my finger on it.”
Kessel didn’t delete the tweet even after some members of the U.S. team took exception. But he made clear on Friday, as the Penguins reported for training camp, that it wasn’t a personal attack on the group that went winless in three games and failed to advance to the medal round.
“Obviously I meant no disrespect to any of the players,” Kessel said. “I have a ton of respect for all those guys there. I played with a lot of those guys. They’re great players and great guys. I know this game is hard. I know it’s not an easy one to play.”
Kessel would rather focus on the 2016-17 season as the Penguins try to become the first team in nearly 20 years to repeat as champs. He’ll spend the early days of camp seeing how his surgically repaired hand is responding after undergoing a minor procedure in July.
“Just going to take some time here,” he said. “Just kind of get back into it.”
Pittsburgh’s summer lasted all of 103 days, barely enough time to make sure everyone involved with the team’s six-game victory over San Jose in the Stanley Cup Final got to enjoy some one-on-one time with their sport’s most valuable hardware.
“It’s like we never left each other,” defenseman Trevor Daley said. “Looking around, didn’t we just see each other the other day?”
Not that Daley is complaining. There’s a sweet reason for the short break, after all.
“We’re the champs, obviously,” Daley said with a laugh.
Ones who insist they’re just as hungry as they were last spring, when they raced through the playoffs behind a mixture of speed, grit and the precocious goaltending of rookie Matt Murray. Pittsburgh did little to mess with its formula in free agency, keeping the core intact for what it hopes is another season that bleeds from spring until the edge of summer.
Coach Mike Sullivan, however, is taking great pains during camp to keep his squad from getting complacent. He divvied the players into three groups hoping to keep things fresh.
“I think we have competitive guys by nature,” Sullivan said. “I think they like to compete. It’s our job as coaches to put them in an environment where they’re allowed to compete. It took a lot of players for us to go through the playoff run that we did.
Captain Sidney Crosby and center Evgeni Malkin are still in Toronto competing for their native countries in the World Cup. The two will meet in the semifinals on Saturday and are unlikely to return to their regular gig until the middle of next week. Their absence, however, will give others an opportunity to impress Sullivan and the rest of the coaching staff.
“What’s exciting from our standpoint is that we have the type of depth that we have and we have players that are competing for jobs, literally,” Sullivan said. “That’s going to keep everyone at their best. That internal competition is a critical component to drive our team to the level that it was at last year.”
Pittsburgh opens the preseason on Tuesday in Detroit. The Penguins exhibition home opener is next Friday against Chicago.
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