Could Penguins Rally Around Olli Maatta’s Cancer?


The Pittsburgh Penguins have dealt with more than their fair share of injury issues throughout the past year. Last season, Pittsburgh led the league with 429 games lost due to various injuries among members of the team.

Most notable was the unusual injury to Penguins star defender Kris Letang. He suffered a stroke last year at the age of 26 due to a very small hole in the wall of his heart. Letang had the hole in his heart since birth but was unaware of it.

Apr 11, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period at Tampa Bay Times Forum. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This year has not started out well for the Pittsburgh Penguins on the injury front, stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both missed most (if not all) of the preseason and training camp. Then during a routine practice the Penguins lost promising forward Beau Bennett for weeks. Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo was not far behind and also found his way to the trainers room. Both Bortuzzo and Bennett have yet to play in a game this season.

Crosby and Malkin both have not missed any time this season, Bennett and Bortuzzo are not far from returning and everything was looking positive for Pittsburgh.

Then the press conference came this past Monday (10/27/14). It was announced that young defender Olli Maatta will have to undergo surgery to remove a tumor on his neck. Just like that, the Pittsburgh Penguins go from being almost fully healthy to dealing with another health tragedy.

Dec 21, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta (3) at the face-off circle against the Calgary Flames during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

How does Pittsburgh respond in their first game since the breaking news? Well upon first glance it appears the Penguins dominated the New Jersey Devils 8-3, but with closer inspection after one period and five minutes of the second, the black and gold warriors were down 1-3.

Then something changed, the team rallied, came together and utterly destroyed the Devils by scoring seven straight goals.

Just based upon pure speculation, could Olli Maatta’s situation have been behind the rallying? Two days after the team and the public knew about Maatta’s tumor Pittsburgh started the game slow, looking out of sync and without the will to play. Logic would dictate that despite Olli Maatta being in the lineup, the team was mentally struggling.

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While his tumor should not pose a long term issue for Maatta’s health, this incident could be something the entire team rallies around.

During the 2012-2013 season, Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. Pagano was forced to miss the remainder of the season and Indianapolis’ offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians was promoted to interim head coach.

The following weeks were incredible, the Colts bonded as a team, with their fans and rallied around the tragedy.

The team played their way to an 11-5 record, their starting quarterback (Andrew Luck) was named to the Pro Bowl and their General manager was named Executive of the year.

**A note on their general manager, at the start of the season he was under immense criticism because it was widely believed that he had not built a competitive roster (specifically on defense)**

Pretty impressive for a team who lost their coach and were thought to be pretenders, not contenders.

I’m not saying that the situation the Pittsburgh Penguins are in right now is the same, but there are some key takeaways that we could see in action. Yes, Maatta’s situation is much less severe, but his misfortune could cause the Penguins to play some of their best hockey while he is away.

Mar 28, 2014; Columbus, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (41) skates with the puck as Columbus Blue Jackets center Artem Anisimov (42) chases at Nationwide Arena. The Penguins won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Olli Maatta is a a better defender than who will replace him (Bortuzzo or Scott Harrington) but his absence could cause Pittsburgh to raise their level of play.

It is the notion that a team will thrive and grow when faced with adversity, and frankly the Pens have had to deal with more adversity than just about any hockey club in the last year. All it takes is some small incident to unite a team and send them on a hot streak.

We could see a much more potent team when Maatta returns, but don’t expect it to stop there.

What do you think? How will Olli Maatta’s absence impact the Pittsburgh Penguins? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!