It's a great time to be a hockey fan in Pittsburgh. Since Friday, the Penguins have defeated their two biggest rivals, Philadelphia and Washington, and trail only the Caps and Bruins for most points in the NHL. Crosby and Malkin are flying, Rust is playing the best hockey of his life, and Matt Murray seems poised to really start a goaltender controversy after another solid performance Sunday in the nation's capital.
But the best Pittsburgh hockey story going right now doesn't involve the Penguins. In fact, it's not even taking place in Western Pennsylvania. Instead you have to travel over 1,200 miles away to Dallas, Texas. That's where Wampum's (a small town north of Pittsburgh past Ellwood City for those who never leave Allegheny County) own Stephen Johns has made an inspiring return to the NHL, after a nearly two year absence dealing with issues that included post-traumatic headaches. The 27 year old defenseman missed 22 months of hockey, returning to the Stars this January to play for the first time since March of 2018.
Last night against the New York Rangers, Johns scored his first goal since February 16, 2018. For context, the last time Johns scored an NHL goal, Patrick Mahomes had just one start in the NFL and had yet to throw his first touchdown pass as a Kansas City Chief. Feels like forever ago, right? Johns talked about his parents being a part of his recovery process, the pain they experienced together, and what it meant to have them in attendance for his first bingo in two years.
A decade ago, Stephen Johns' parents were driving him to Pittsburgh Hornets practice. Last night they watched him score a goal at the World's Most Famous Arena after wondering if he would ever play hockey again.
With all due respect to Mike Sullivan and company, you won't find a better story in Pittsburgh hockey this year.
Wesley Uhler is the host of Steelers Blitz, Noon-2 on Steelers Nation Radio, and a Producer for ESPN Pittsburgh. You can find him on Twitter @WesleyUhler.
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