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Penguins' Bennett, Lightning's Killorn visit school

by Kristen Nelson

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- Students at Westmont Hilltop Middle School couldn't really focus on what their teachers were going over in class on Tuesday. They couldn't keep their minds off the visitors scheduled for the end of the school day.

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Beau Bennett and Tampa Bay Lightning center Alex Killorn visited the school as part of the Kraft Hockeyville USA celebration prior to the preseason game between their teams at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The students piled into the gym, which was covered in signs made by students for the Penguins, and started chants well before anyone arrived.

"It was great. We had a page and a half of absentees this morning. They were all at the morning practices, but of course they all ran back to school to be here for the players," said Tom Callihan, the athletic director of the school.

Pittsburgh's mascot, Iceberg, and his Tampa Bay counterpart, Thunderbug, arrived first to pump up the kids and offer up a few dance moves. Once Bennett and Killorn arrived, the players immediately jumped in on a hockey game with students and faculty on the gym floor with the mascots in net.

One faculty member had a genetic advantage while playing with the pros.

Seventh-grade teacher Hollis Hall is the daughter of local legend Don Hall, who played for the Johnstown Jets in the Eastern Hockey League for 11 seasons from 1950-62; he had 424 goals and 1,056 career points.

"It was very fun playing with Beau and Alex," Hall said with a laugh. "I don't think I have the skills my father does, but I did block a shot with my foot. My eyes were closed when it happened, but I'll just pretend it was Alex Killorn who shot it."

After the game, which Bennett's team won 4-3, the players answered questions students had prepared on notecards. Many of the students were proud of their town's history as the home of the movie "Slap Shot" and were curious to know what it was like for the players to be here.

"It was pretty cool to play in the same place the greatest hockey movie ever was made," Killorn said to one giddy student.

Other students were more interested in what players do off the ice. When Bennett told them he likes to play "Call of Duty," the students erupted in one of their loudest cheers of the afternoon.

Callihan said having the visit from the players was worth sacrificing an afternoon of lesson plans for his students.

"Our kids, they look up to athletes. To have two NHL players here answering their questions, playing hockey with them, those are the types of people we want our kids to emulate," Callihan said. "They certainly are good role models. This is a day our kids are not going to forget."

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