Matt Bartkowski on going home to Pittsburgh: ‘Everyone’s calling in their favors’ for tickets
|05.29.13 at 5:45 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Going home again has its drawbacks. Just ask Matt Bartkowski.
The Bruins’ 24-year-old defenseman is headed back to where it all began for him and he couldn’t be more excited. But the homecoming for the native of nearby Mt. Lebanon, Pa., does have some obligations to fill.
“The last few years it’s been close [to] playing Pittsburgh in the playoffs and now it’s finally happening,” he said after practice on Wednesday. “I’m stoked up, pumped up and ready to go, and I’m sure the rest of these guys are. Everybody’s calling in their favors, this and that and all that crap. It just pumps us up and we’re ready to go.”
The homecoming was made possible the moment the Bruins beat the Rangers in Game 5 on Saturday, less than 24 hours after the Penguins eliminated the Senators, also in five games.
“You can’t believe how many times I’ve been asked that,” Bartkowski said of being asked about heading home. “It’s going to be awesome. I can’t think of any other way of it happening. Playing a role on the team now, and it’s playoff hockey. We’ve been looking at this match up for a while, especially me. It’s going to be awesome.”
When Bartkowski was growing up, his current teammate Jaromir Jagr was helping Mario Lemieux win back-to-back Cups in 1991 and ’92. The Penguins then went through a down period in the early 2000s before Sidney Crosby was drafted in 2005. Pittsburgh, home of the Steelers and Pirates, once again had the hockey bug.
“It died down for four years or so until Crosby got drafted,” Bartkowski said. “It’s the same thing with Jagr-Lemieux era. Now it’s the Crosby-Malkin era. Every time they get big players in Pittsburgh, it seems to jump-start all the little kids playing. It’s good for the area.
“With the Pirates doing [great], what do even you say about them? It’s pretty unfortunate. Every year they have a chance at the playoffs and then they kind of blow it. Once football season is over, it’s a hockey town. And especially with the talent they have now, it’s a hockey town once football season is over.”
His coach isn’t worried about Bartkowski being overwhelmed with it all.
“No, I don’t think so,” Claude Julien said. “I think it all depends how you approach it. He seems pretty excited, he’s looking forward to it. I think at the end of the day, he knows who he’s playing for. He wants to do well for his team. The better he does, the better he looks in everybody’s eyes, whether it’s his hometown that’s rooting for the other team or whether it’s us. I don’t see an issue with that; if anything, it’s a positive, it’s exciting. You know that he’s going to be ready to play.”
What’s interesting is that, as a defenseman, his idol didn’t play for the Penguins.
“Actually, it was [Scott Stevens] on the Devils,” Bartkowski recalled. “Any chance I got to watch a Devils game, I would. I remember in ’95, they played the Penguins in the playoffs.”
Reminded that it was Stevens who carved a reputation by laying out star players of other teams, like Eric Lindros in the 2000 playoffs, Bartkowski conceded, “Yeah, I don’t think you’d get away with those hits now. We talk about that sometimes.”
When Bartkowski, who was paired Wednesday with Dennis Seidenberg, gets on the ice, he won’t be worried about the fans, tickets or his hometown. The only names he’ll be concerned with are Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jarome Iginla and the roster of the Penguins.
“I don’t know if many adjustments,” Bartkowski said. “Just making sure you’re hard on the puck and playing as physical as you can in every situation that you can. Don’t get yourself out of position but be as physical as you can.”