It doesn't take the world's biggest hockey fan to recognize the allure of the Stanley Cup. No, to those that watch the game, or play the game, they already know it's the Holy Grail.
And for the youngsters at the Fort Dupont Ice Arena here, "the grail" was delivered right into their hands.
Members of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins
began their day of celebration here Thursday by bringing the Stanley Cup with them and then leading a clinic for youngsters from three hockey programs -- the Fort Dupont Ice Arena, the Fort Dupont Kids on Ice program and the Hockey in the Hood Pittsburgh Youth Hockey Program.
The clinic is a central component of the National Hockey League's partnership with United We Serve, the initiative established by President Obama to challenge all Americans to engage in sustained, meaningful community service. For more information, visit Serve.gov
The Fort Dupont program is the oldest minority youth hockey program in the U.S.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby
, along with teammates Bill Guerin
, Jordan Staal
, Marc-Andre Fleury
and Brooks Orpik
stretched, skated and gave tips to the kids during the hour-long session.
"They're really cool guys," Saffeon Salter, a 16-year-old from the Pittsburgh program, told NHL.com. "It was fun. That was definitely not one of the things I thought I would run into like this."
But that's exactly the point of programs like the ones at Fort Dupont and in Pittsburgh.
"These kids are getting an opportunity to play a great game through some great organizations," Guerin told NHL.com. "It's great to see kids who might not otherwise be able to play, get to play and love it. You see how happy they are on the ice. It's good to see."
The kids on the ice ranged in age from 6 to 16, and all at different levels of ability. But not matter how good their skills were, the responses from the youngsters ranged from "very cool" to "awesome."
The kids' day started with a meeting with a hockey icon. Willie O'Ree
, the head of the NHL's diversity program, spoke with them about his rise to become the first black person to skate in the NHL, and the obstacles he had to overcome to get there, ranging from racism to an injury that cost him his sight in one eye.
"I liked when he said don't worry about you can't see and focus on what you can see," 10-year-old Quinn Aitchison, a defenseman with the Fort Dupont program, told NHL.com.
Labi Koi-Larbi, a 10-year-old goalie who skates at Fort Dupont, said what stood out to him was how O'Ree dealt with incidents involving the color of his skin.
"When he said there was racism and he just let it all go," Koi-Larbi told NHL.com. "He let it in one ear and out the other ear."
Koi-Larbi said that's something he can keep in mind if someone pushes him at school -- just ignore it and move on, rather than start a fight.
That's exactly what O'Ree hopes the children take from his speech -- how to apply lessons learned on the ice in an off-ice setting.
"It's nice to come and see the expression on these boys' and girls' faces," O'Ree told NHL.com. "When you're on the ice with them, when you're talking to them about goal-setting and staying in school and getting an education and believing in yourself and having dreams -- for a lot of these boys and girls, they're at the age where they can set goals for themselves and work to become who they want to be. The opportunities are there.
"We not only teach hockey skills, we teach life skills to these boys and girls. These boys and girls are at the age, they're 12, 13, 14 years old -- if they decide to have a career in whatever sport they chose, you can only play it for so long, maybe eight, 10 years, and then there's a day you retire. After you retire you have to prepare yourself for that second part of your life and that's where the education part comes in."
Stacey Kornegay, whose son Ricardo skates at Fort Dupont, was glad her son got the opportunity to meet and listen to O'Ree.
"It meant the world to me for him to see it," she told NHL.com. "It helps me emphasize what I'm telling him, how if you do your best with something how you can be recognized."
Crosby and his teammates already have proven they're the best at what they do. They were more than willing to pass their knowledge along to anyone who asked.
While most of the kids were too shy to ask too many questions, Crosby did get one that touched him.
"Best question of the day was if me and Geno (Evgeni Malkin
) were brothers," said Crosby.
"These kids are getting an opportunity to play a great game through some great organizations. It's great to see kids who might not otherwise be able to play, get to play and love it. You see how happy they are on the ice. It's good to see." -- Bill Guerin
"Sometimes it's a little tough to get them to say stuff," Guerin said. "You always find a couple that aren't afraid of anything and you just chat it up with them. They're neat kids."
Salter said he was one of the more nervous ones, but he was blown away when Crosby offered him some advice unsolicited.
"Crosby told me a better way to hold the stick that would give me a lot more control of the puck," he said. "I was holding it a little too far down; he told me to pull up a little bit and move my left hand out a little bit."
Salter definitely took the advice, and he wasn't the only player to catch Crosby's attention.
When asked if there were any future NHL players in the group, the Penguins' captain said, "There's some kids that were pretty good, could skate pretty well. Who knows? Programs like this, this is great. It gives a chance for kids to play and you never know."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com