The Pittsburgh Penguins made it clear at the end of the season in May that they would be back as Cup contenders - even champions - in 2018-19, following their elimination at the hands of the eventual champions Washington Capitals. The Pens had won back to back championships, and had gotten used to it.
Training camp started with very motivated Penguins when it was sadly announced that head coach Mike Sullivan would be taking a leave of absence. And unfortunately, it is due to very sad news.
Sullivan is taking a leave of absence to be with his family after the death of his father, George. The Penguins said George Sullivan, 81, passed away on Saturday in Scituate, Massachusetts.
Assistant coach Jacques Martin has been running the day-to-day operations of the coaching staff while Sullivan is away.
"We'll handle the load until he gets back," assistant coach Mark Recchi said to USA Today on Monday. "It's a very tough time for him. We'll make sure things run the way he would run."
It has been known that George Sullivan visited his son occasionally after he took over as Penguins coach back in December 2015. George Sullivan was also very active and present with the club during Pittsburgh's run to consecutive Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.
“He was still doing pretty well then and was able to really enjoy it,” Recchi added about George. “I just remember sitting on a deck out in Sewickley with him, smoking cigars, and he was just loving life. He was very proud of Sully, obviously.”
Soon after taking over as coach in Pittsburgh, Sullivan took a leave of absence when his own mother, Myrna, died in February of 2016 at age 78.
Last year, star goalie Matt Murray suffered the same loss, when his father James passed away in January. The starting netminder also took a leave of absence following the death of his father at the time.
"It's hard to lose a parent," Sullivan said about Murray when he returned from his leave of absence. "It's a difficult time. Everybody grieves differently. As his coaching staff and teammates, we're just trying to be there and be supportive of him in anyway we can to help him through this."
Of course, Murray and all of the players will support and understand what Sullivan is going through. Our thoughts are with him and his family at this difficult time...