The French Connection
Thursday, 03.10.2011 / 7:40 PM / Features
By Michelle Crechiolo
La connexion française – the French connection.
That’s what four players in the Penguins locker room have. And while they’ve all adjusted to American culture at different times and speeds, in the end, they all speak the same language in the Penguins locker room – both literally and figuratively.
Maxime Talbot, Marc-Andre Fleury, Pascal Dupuis and Kris Letang are the Penguins’ four French-Canadian players, all of them hailing from the Canadian province of Quebec.
Fleury, 26, and Talbot, 27, are the two longest-tenured Penguins of that group. They have a history that goes way back, as they both played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League – albeit with different teams – from 2000-04.
The two were then teammates for Team Canada at the 2004 World Junior Championships before they both broke into the league for good with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League for the 2004-05 campaign.
In retrospect, it couldn’t have worked out better for the two of them to learn on the fly together. They’re now road roommates when the Penguins travel.
“I think it was nice to have Max, a guy that I knew from before,” Fleury said, who hails from Sorel. “It’s a little different with all of the English around, so it was nice to have him there.”
“It was obviously easier to adapt when you have different guys with you that come from the same place,” Talbot said. “You learn things at the same time.”
Dupuis, however, didn’t have quite as smooth a transition when he first came to the U.S.
Dupuis, 31, broke into the league in 2000 after signing a free-agent contract with Minnesota. He spent his first professional season with Cleveland of the International Hockey League, and adjusting to English was a tough transition for the Laval native.
Ever heard of a dish called “Same Thing”? Dupuis sure has. It’s what he ordered at restaurants during his first year in the league, as he didn’t understand the dinner menus when the team went out and felt bad asking for translations.
He chose instead to simply tell the server that he would have the same thing that the person next to him had ordered.
“Guys ordered sushi and stuff like that. My first time eating sushi I thought it was called ‘Same Thing,’” Dupuis joked.
Letang, who is from Montreal, was fortunate enough to have Dupuis, Fleury and Talbot already in the organization before his arrival. They have taken the 23-year-old defenseman under their wing to help him get acclimated, with Fleury even housing Letang for a pair of training camps while he looked for a place of his own.
“I was not that comfortable at the beginning with the language,” Letang said. “I was just really quiet, scared to talk. But coming in, I think Pascal, ‘Flower,’ Max, helped me a lot to get into it. They talked to me, gave me some tips.”
“You try to get the youngest French guy,” Talbot said. “I remember during camp, you take guys like Simon Despres out for supper. He speaks English, but you try to show him around. It’s not so much being French-Canadian. You try to do that with all of the rookies and young guys. You show them around. But especially sometimes when you speak French, it might be even more helpful.”
But they all admit that while it’s nice to have a group of French-Canadians in the Penguins organization, in the end, it doesn’t matter much with the closeness of this Pittsburgh squad.
“I think it’s nice, but I think in Pittsburgh we’ve always had teams that are very close to each other,” Fleury said. “It didn’t matter if you were French, Russian, English. I think everybody just gets along good and we have such a great chemistry, so that it makes it easier. You just come to the rink and it just feels good. It’s all your buddies there. So it’s a big help as a team.”