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Friday, December 20, 2013

The Heart of the Maatta, By @LuigiLemieux

The Heart of the Maatta

Article by: Kyle Fritz (@LuigiLemieux) for Pens Initiative

What a night for hockey.

What a night for a resilient Pens team written off by the media as "Exhausted" and "Decimated by injury".

The best part was seeing the guys on the bench, each one with eyes almost as wide as the grins on their faces as the 19 year old Defenceman from Jyvaskyla, Finland made his way back to them, having just laid the Minnesota Wild firmly to rest on a Thursday night in the Steel City.

So the story went during last nights 5-2 scoring festival against Mike Yeo and now Matt Cooke's Minnesota Wild, a game that saw almost as many gloves dropped as goals scored.

Perhaps no star shined as bright as the rookie Maatta, who is proving every night that he has just what it takes -and more- to not only justify his spot on a pro roster, but perhaps even bring home a Calder Trophy at the end of the season.

The question of whether or not Olli is ready for the big time is no longer a question at all. His smooth skating and solid defensive play have been a welcome shoulder on which a team plagued by injury, specifically but not limited to the Defence, can rely. Playing far beyond his years and demonstrating a work ethic that shines through not only in his game, but also in the praise of his more veteran teammates.

Don't look for his impact on the score sheet alone, although you could find it there last night. The young blue-liner put on quite a show for the Penguins 305th consecutive sell-out crowd, adding three points to the spreadsheet with two assists and a huge short-handed penalty shot goal that he snuck past fellow Finnish countryman Niklas Backstrom to put the fifth tally on the board, and the game thoroughly out of the reach of the "wildly" determined squad from St. Paul.

The gritty resolve of the Penguins organization, from the very top, all the way down to the AHL and ECHL is on full display for the League. The drafting know-how, and foresight of the management team and coaches evident through the depth of talent the Pens have to pull from. Could it be that only a year after a Free Agent spending spree that sent players such as Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow, and Douglas Murray to the Pens ended in heartbreak against the Bruins, that the secret for sustained success all the while lay in our very own system the entire time?

It was only one year ago that Maatta, 18 at the time was suiting up for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. Splitting his time between his OHL responsibilies and his appearances in the World Junior Classic U-18 tournament for his native Finland, Scouts had no idea just where he would be right now, besides back in London.

Who would have thought that Olli Maatta would be in the top defensive pairing of the number one team in both the Metropolitan Division, and the Eastern conference?

Who would have thought that in a lineup that features the likes of Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi, and Olympic hopeful Paul Martin, that his line mate up at the top would be Matt Niskanen, who was thrown in with James Neal in the trade that sent Alex Goligoski to Dallas?

Who would have predicted that the very same top D-pairing would combine for 2 Goals and 3 Assists in a game that put the Penguins in the win column for the 6th straight game?

 My guess is nobody.

Well, as it turned out Nobody was right, and for that we can be thankful.

Let's Go Pens.

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