To pass some time until the end of the month, when the Penguins are supposed to reach their decision, we put in a call to the NHL to see whether any pro players hail from Kansas or Missouri.
The answer was yes. Out of 714 players in the NHL, there's one from Missouri.
That player is 22-year-old Cam Janssen, who grew up in Eureka, a suburb 20 miles southwest of St. Louis.
Janssen is a second-year pro with the New Jersey Devils. He hasn't scored a goal yet, but, well, that's not his job. The 6-foot-tall, 210-pound Janssen represents Missouri as one of the league's biggest badasses. In just 48 games during his rookie season, Janssen spent 91 minutes in the penalty box.
Due to a fight back on November 24, Janssen is on a rehab assignment with the Devils' minor-league team in Lowell, Massachusetts. The Pitch reached him there by phone last week, and the affable tough guy relayed what it's like explaining to other pros that Missourians do play hockey.
See how this Missourian plays hockey.
"Oh, yeah, they give me trouble," he said. "They say, 'Where the hell is that?' And 'What is Missouri? You put that on bread or something?'"
Janssen learned to skate on a small pond that froze over a few days every January, recalls his father, homebuilder Dennis Janssen. "When your kid tells you at 8 years old that he's going to be a pro hockey player, you say, 'Oh, yeah, sure you are, Cam.'"
But the leagues in Missouri quickly became too small for Janssen. When Janssen was 15, his parents sold their home so that they could afford to send him to Canada, where he played minor-league hockey for three years. Even though he was drafted by the Devils in 2002, Janssen says, he's still the same guy when he returns home. "It's not like living in Canada. People recognize me just because I grew up here and I'm outgoing, not because I'm some hockey player."
As a pro, Janssen explains, his job is to wait for a guy to put his head down. Then he skates into him at full speed. "I run around and hit guys."
Back home, he admits he's not as tough as his older brother, who's a cop in run-down Berkeley, Missouri. "When he has a gun, he's tougher. I'll tell you that."