By Mike Mastovich
For The Tribune-Democrat
PITTSBURGH – Dany Sabourin realizes he’s fortunate to be part of a NHL team contending for a Stanley Cup championship.
The former Johnstown Chiefs goaltender knows opportunities such as this don’t surface every season.
Sabourin, 27, appreciates his spot on the Pittsburgh Penguins roster for the Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings.
But as special as the past few months have been for the Pens, this playoff run has been somewhat bittersweet to Pittsburgh’s No. 3 netminder.
“It’s kind of tough. I’d rather be in the lineup or be a backup or whatever. Still, I’m pretty happy with my season,” said Sabourin, who had a career-high 10 wins in his first full season with the Penguins. “It’s been a really good experience for me. I’ve learned a lot this season. I’m still with the team. I’m still part of the team, and I’m enjoying the ride. I’m doing the little things I can do right now to help the team.”
Sabourin and the Penguins’ other extra players continue to work during practices and off-ice conditioning drills.
He’s filling a role similar to that of former Chiefs all-star forward David Gove and other reserves on the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning Carolina Hurricanes. That group, nicknamed the “Black Aces,” was recognized for its contributions during Carolina practices despite most of those players never appearing in games.
“I work hard in practice. I work out and be ready,” Sabourin said. “You never know what can happen. That’s how I’m taking it. I’m trying to take the positive and help my teammates as best I can.”
Sabourin began the season as backup to Marc-Andre Fleury.
His role was elevated after Fleury suffered a high ankle sprain on Dec. 6.
As the Penguins’ primary goaltender, Sabourin initially struggled, losing four of six games from Dec. 11-21. Meanwhile, veteran Ty Conklin was recalled from Wilkes-Barre in the AHL on an emergency basis and emerged as Pittsburgh’s top goalie. Conklin won 18 games and kept the Pens in playoff contention until Fleury returned on Feb. 28.
With Fleury back, Sabourin was moved into the No. 3 slot.
His last game was on Feb. 21, a win at Montreal. The 6-foot-4 native of Val D’or, Quebec, won three of his final four decisions.
Fleury has been superb during the playoffs, winning 12 games and losing twice as the Penguins won the Eastern Conference championship with series victories over Ottawa, New York and Philadelphia.
“It’s unreal. The vibe in the room, it’s good to be a part of,” said Sabourin, who won 18 games in two ECHL seasons with Johnstown (2000-02). “Everyone is happy. It’s not done yet. Everybody is ready and waiting for (today).”
Whether or not the Penguins hoist the Cup, Sabourin hopes to stay in Pittsburgh. He has another year remaining on his contract.
Conklin is among a group of 12 players who will qualify as unrestricted free agents on July 1.
Fleury will be eligible for restricted free agency and should be a priority for Pittsburgh General Manager Ray Shero.
“You never know what’s going to happen, but I should be here one more year,” Sabourin said. “Who knows with hockey? We have a lot of players to sign. As of now, I’m here for next year.”
But, one major challenge awaits the Penguins before free agency and contract talks.
“Not everybody can accomplish the dream,” Sabourin said. “It’s a dream when you’re really young to play for the Cup. Now we have a chance. I’m really proud of everybody and I’m really happy to be with this team.”