Over 60 adult hockey players from around the country converged in Pittsburgh this past weekend to fulfill their dream of playing hockey like a professional at the Penguins’ seventh annual Adult Hockey Fantasy Camp.
The players were distributed onto four teams based on their hockey experience and skill level to create four evenly matched teams to compete in a round-robin tournament. Each team is also assigned one amateur hockey coach from the area and a former Penguin player. Former Penguins this year included Rob Brown, Bryan Trottier, Syl Apps, and John Cullen.
“I like the fact that we get to go one-on-one with the alumni,” attendee Colin Martodam explained. “Listening to good hockey stories is a lot of fun. I think hanging out with them and feeling like you’re actually part of the group and part of the team and playing in this arena are (the highlights of the event).”
This was Martodam’s third year at the fantasy camp, journeying all the way from Calgary, Alberta. Martodam is part of a group of four men who formerly played recreational hockey together in Las Vegas, Nevada. A few of the guys have moved away so the group reunites every year at the Penguins Fantasy Camp.
“We have what we call the Vegas line.” Martodam said. “We’ve become quite a notorious group here the last couple of years. We make this an annual event. We talk about this trip as soon as November hits. We’re like, ‘It’s coming, it’s coming!’ and then we just get excited for it.”
The event kicked off on Friday with the “preseason,” which included time in the Penguins’ weight room at Southpointe, two practice sessions on the ice, and one dry land session or team building session. The participants were also given a tour of the Penguins locker room at Mellon Arena and attended the Penguins’ game against the Blue Jackets that night.
The fantasy-campers watched the Penguins practice at Mellon Arena Saturday afternoon and then kicked off the “regular season.” With family and friends in attendance, the teams played a round-robin tournament to determine the standings for the playoffs.
The teams watched the Penguins’ game against the Red Wings on Sunday afternoon and then hit the Mellon Arena ice for the “postseason.” Three games were played to determine the winner of the Penguins Fantasy Cup, or the “Jack Riley Cup" - named after the Penguins first general manager.
Each Sunday contest was treated like an actual Penguins’ game to create a professional experience. The teams warmed up with the Penguins’ theme song playing in the background. A public address announcer introduced the teams and shouted out the scoring line of each goal. The jumbotron aired a live broadcast of the play on the ice – including replays of goals.
The Rockhoppers raised the coveted trophy following a 6-4 victory over the Chinstraps. The Rockhoppers ran up an early 4-1 lead. The Chinstraps fought back to pull within a goal, 5-4, but an empty-net goal sealed the title for the Rockhoppers.
According to Penguins Director of Amateur Hockey, Mark Shuttleworth, approximately 45 percent of the camp’s participants are from out of town and have no connection to Pittsburgh other than being Penguins fans. Some participants attend once, while others make it an annual event.
Jeff Schimizzi, a Penguins season ticket holder, has attended the fantasy camp since its inception in 2002.
“It’s always nice to meet former Penguins,” said Schimizzi, a Pittsburgh native. “My first year here I skated a lot on a pair with Ulf Samuelsson. To play on the same defensive pair as him was a dream come true.”
The Penguins annual fantasy camp is a unique event that allows grown-ups to live out their dreams. The Penguins look to add a new feature to the event each year and plan to continue the program next year.
“You feel like you’re 5 years old,” Martodam said. “It’s a good boys’ trip. You just get here and you go hard and you have fun.”