Sport Penguins' Sullivan loses his first and best coach: his dad

01:26  16 september  2018
01:26  16 september  2018 Source:   post-gazette.com

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Penguins coach Mike Sullivan ’s father, George, passed away on Saturday. He was 81.

Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan addressed the media on what has changed in him as a head coach and what he wants to see from his fourth line.

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On off days between Stanley Cup playoff games in 2016 and ‘17, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan and his father, George, would sit outside with a cigar in one hand, a beer in the other and play cribbage, the way any two good Irish men would.

“That’s part of the fun, just having him around and having the opportunity to see what’s going on with our family,” Mike recalled while discussing his ultra-tight relationship with his dad last August.

George Sullivan, in declining health over the past couple of years, passed away Saturday. He was 81.

Although he had moved to Bonita Springs, Fla., when his wife Myrna died in February 2015 at age 78, George Sullivan would fly north for the spring, living with his son, daughter-in-law Kate and their kids in Pittsburgh.

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O' Sullivan starts his bid to win a sixth World Championship on Sunday evening. She says she has cut O' Sullivan out of his life after claiming he has failed to act upon his words. 'I had always hoped for a better , closer, more loving relationship with my dad and think I've been waiting for him my whole life.

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George Sullivan offered coaching tips – usually hilariously obvious ones like keeping Jake Guentzel with Sidney Crosby or making sure to give Evgeni Malkin enough minutes.

In turn, Mike Sullivan did what any good son would do and played practical jokes on his dad, usually disrupting some aspect of his complicated morning routine.

“He’s just particular with everything that he does,” Mike said last summer. “I always get a kick out of it. I play around with it just to give him a hard time.”

The laughs, Mike would later admit, were helpful, as the Penguins dealt with the rigors of chasing a Stanley Cup.

“It’s such an emotional roller-coaster when you’re going through the playoffs, especially as the head coach, because you feel responsible,” Mike said. “To have someone like my dad and my family in particular to unwind and sometimes just to get away from it for a little bit is helpful to me.

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“I think it helps me re-energize and bring the right mindset to the rink every day to try and help the team move forward.”

Losing a parent stinks, and the Penguins are entirely too familiar with the feeling.

Goaltender Matt Murray’s father, Jim, died in January. A couple months later, in March, general manager Jim Rutherford lost his mother, Dorothea. Two members of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Thomas Di Pauli and Garrett Wilson, lost parents in the past year or so.

“It has certainly been difficult,” Rutherford said last season.

Mike Sullivan will obviously spend a couple days away from the Penguins, who open the preseason Tuesday in Buffalo.

In announcing the news Saturday, the Penguins issued the following statement: “The Pittsburgh Penguins offer our deepest sympathy to Mike Sullivan and his family and on the passing of Mike’s father, George, today. … The Sullivans appreciate the excellent care [George] was given at Cardigan Nursing Home in Scituate, Mass.”

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George Sullivan, who worked for 40 years as a bank executive with State Street Corporation, didn’t walk much in his later years. On the ice in Nashville after the Penguins’ second consecutive Stanley Cup, Mike Sullivan stayed by his father’s side, dad in a wheelchair, ecstatic, clutching the son’s arm.

Mike Sullivan had many coaches – Dave King and Jack Parker are two of his biggest influences – but George was the first, in baseball and hockey. If you ever wander where Mike Sullivan, the second-youngest of five, gets his intensity from ... yeah, don’t. It’s George all the way.

“He was always just a real competitive guy,” Mike said of his dad. “I think all of my brothers and myself … he’s passed that trait onto us, just as far as him being a fierce competitor.”

With Sullivan away, assistant coaches Mark Recchi and Jacques Martin will take the reins of training camp, which is now two days old.

Recchi said it’s their job to steer the ship in the right direction.

“When you got Jacques, he’s Mr. Organized,” Recchi said. “He’s as organized as you get. We’ll handle the load until [Sullivan] gets back. It’s obviously a very tough time for him. We’ll do what we have to do. We’ll make sure things are run like he would like them run. We’ll keep the machine going.”

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But it won’t be easy, emotionally anyway.

George – who actually loved Recchi and repeatedly praised Mike for the hire – was omnipresent around the coaching staff, an honorary member.

Same as those games of cribbage — the Sullivan boys always bickered over who was better — Recchi’s fondest memories of George involve beers, cigars and a great time.

“We had a lot of interaction with Mr. Sullivan, especially the two Cup years,” Recchi said. “He was always around. He loved the fact that he got to be part of two Stanley Cups. The great thing about it is he was still doing pretty good then. He was able to really enjoy it. I remember sitting on a deck out in Sewickley with him, smoking cigars. He was just loving life. He was very proud of his son.”

Jason Mackey: jmackey@post-gazette.com and Twitter @JMackeyPG.

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