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Penguins make return trip to White House

Back-to-back Stanley Cup champions honored by President Trump, say winning again at 'forefront of our minds'

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / NHL.com Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The Pittsburgh Penguins went to the White House again on Tuesday to wrap up the celebration of their 2017 Stanley Cup championship.

They were hosted by the President of the United States for the second year in a row after they became the first team to win the Stanley Cup in consecutive seasons since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. Last year, President Barack Obama lauded their accomplishments.

This year, President Donald Trump congratulated the Penguins on making their third trip to the White House in nine seasons, including their 2009 Stanley Cup win.

"That's pretty amazing because I know the competition is tough," Trump said.

The Penguins are focused on trying to become the first team to win the Stanley Cup in three consecutive seasons since the New York Islanders won it in four in a row from 1980-83.

"Obviously, that's at the forefront of our minds," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "This event today is really the last event as part of the celebration of winning the Stanley Cup, and, quite honestly, as their coach we're looking forward to turning the page and focusing on this season. We have important games moving forward, most specifically [Wednesday] night."

The Penguins are in town to face the rival Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV). They defeated the Capitals in the Eastern Conference Second Round in each of the past two seasons.

"I know the Capitals will be looking for payback [Wednesday] night," Trump said.

Video: White House honors back-to-back Cup Champion Penguins

Trump noted that the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, NCAA football champion Clemson Tigers and World Series champion Chicago Cubs visited the White House this year prior to the Penguins.

"This is really a truly great group of world champions," Trump said. "That's what they are. They're world champions."

As Sullivan said, the Penguins roster includes players from six countries -- the United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland and Germany.

"So anytime you have an opportunity to visit the White House and see it up close and personal with the history and what the White House represents to the United States, I think it certainly is a terrific experience," Sullivan said.

Before the reception in the East Room, the Penguins met with Trump in the Oval Office and presented him with a gift. Trump opened his remarks by addressing the people in California dealing with wildfires there, and said he told California governor Jerry Brown "that the federal government will stand with the people of California and we will be there for you in this time of terrible tragedy and need."

Trump also offered his prayers for the victims of the mass shooting in Las Vegas and of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. He praised the Penguins for their charitable work in Pittsburgh and their recent donations to the hurricane and mass shooting victims and to the first responders who have worked tirelessly to help them.

"Your generosity has shown the true character of this incredible organization," Trump said. "You are true, true champions and incredible patriots. Now with hockey season again underway, I know you're ready to make yet another run at the Cup. The NHL has not seen a three-peat in the generation, but I know you are ready for the challenge. I'm going to be watching so closely because do you think you're going to be back here next year? I think so."

Trump welcomed Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle, who he called "a friend of mine for a long time," and said co-owner and former Penguins captain Mario Lemieux is "one of the all-time greats and, by the way, a really great golfer too."

Among the Penguins players Trump mentioned by name were captain Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Matt Murray, Justin Schultz, Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary and Kris Letang.

Crosby, Malkin and Letang are the only remaining Penguins who played on the 2009, 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup teams and have visited the White House three times.

Trump noted that Crosby, 30, won the Conn Smythe Trophy each of the past two seasons and wondered if he has surpassed the accomplishments of Lemieux, who won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy with the Penguins in 1991 and 1992.

"Sidney, do you know how to win or what?" Trump said, "Look at him. He's shy. Do you know how to win or what? What a job you've done."

Last year, Obama playfully ribbed Kessel, whose play has often been scrutinized throughout his 11-season NHL career, for being an unlikely Stanley Cup winner.

"We are here to celebrate an extraordinary achievement," Obama said. "Phil Kessel is a Stanley Cup champion."

This year, when Kessel, 30, climbed down from the riser behind Trump to shake his hand, Trump advised, "Don't be a politician," before teasing him that his sister, Amanda Kessel, a player for the U.S. women's national team and New York of the National Women's Hockey League, "may be the best hockey player in the family."

"I thought it was a great event, obviously," Sullivan said. "It's an indication of the accomplishments that this group of players has experienced over the last two years, most specifically this last season. We're so proud of this group. What they've been able to accomplish over the last two years has been nothing short of amazing. To be associated with this group as their coach has been an honor."

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