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Penner a purveyor of pancakes to benefit charity

by Curtis Zupke
LOS ANGELES -- Dustin Penner normally would have been tucked away in bed the day after returning from a six-game road trip.

But on Monday morning the Los Angeles Kings winger was making rounds at a local International House of Pancakes.

Bleary-eyed and wearing a red apron, jeans, flip flops and a jack-o'-lantern smile, the 6-foot-4, 242-pound Penner wasn't exactly your typical IHOP waiter. Yet there he was signing autographs, posing for pictures, and, yes, serving flapjacks in the name of self-deprecating fun and charity.


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Last month Penner suffered back spasms when he sat down to eat pancakes made by his wife, Jessica, and the easy-going winger agreed to have fun with it by staging "Pancakes with Penner," a pancake breakfast benefiting the Kings Care Foundation.

"I'm pretty impressed (at the turnout)," Penner said. "It took me a while to wake up -- we got in late last night. But to see all the people here and how happy everyone is made it worth it."

About 75 selected Kings fans paid $10-$75 for a buffet breakfast with Penner, with the proceeds going to aid educational and recreational opportunities for kids throughout the Los Angeles area.

The team had 386 applications for the event and raised about $3,000, according to a team official.

Penner took what was initially an embarrassing entry in the history of freak sports injuries and turned it into a charitable cause that showed his sense of humor.

Shortly after the incident, Penner contacted John Hoven, who runs the blog, and wrote an open letter to fans that "explained" the incident.

"Right off the bat, I'd like to clarify a few things," Penner wrote. "For example, they were vegetarian pancakes. The injury happened as I was sitting down to eat, not mid-bite. And yes, I did finish them."

While many athletes would have tried to remain discreet about such an injury, Penner thought differently.

"I think the years being in Edmonton, I finally decided to say something back and it turned into this," Penner said. "It started off maybe more of an outburst by me and it got more calculated and you saw the final draft. It was just fun."

Hoven pitched IHOP to Penner.

"He loved the idea," Hoven said.

So did fans, who lined up for photos with Penner in a baker's hat and were more than willing to play along with "Pancakegate."

"I thought it was funny," said Michelle Arroyo, who bought a $25 ticket package. "I met him at (another team event). I thought he was a great guy. I got picked (for the breakfast) and he recognized me. I thought his letter was hilarious."

Penner had already come under scrutiny for being injury prone this season because of knee and hand injuries. He has been a healthy scratch the past two games.

"I think the years being in Edmonton, I finally decided to say something back and it turned into this. It started off maybe more of an outburst by me and it got more calculated and you saw the final draft. It was just fun."
-- Kings' forward Dustin Penner

The pancake incident didn't help. During a game in Vancouver, a fan propped an Aunt Jemima syrup bottle up behind the Kings' bench.

Interviewed between periods of that game, Penner said he wasn't much of an Aunt Jemima fan and mentioned he preferred another brand.

Ba-da bing!

It's all been part of Penner's approach to the incident. If fans rib him, he understands.

"I think that's part of it," he said. "I think if I was in their position, I'd be doing the same thing.

"When I saw it came out, initially was like, 'Why?' Then I kind of was the guy. Now I get it. It's not that big of a deal. I think everybody helped turn it into something special like this."

By the way, Penner did mention that his back is fine.

"It had never happened to me before," Penner said. "Until you've been in that position, you don't know what it's like. It's another injury I wouldn't want to have again. A back spasm, it's an acute incident that hopefully doesn't happen too often."

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