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Bylsma, Pens "Bundle-Up" Kids

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
While the Pittsburgh area hasn’t seen a lot of snow yet this winter, a light flurry was falling in Cranberry this afternoon. And after participating in the Penguins’ annual “Project Bundle-Up” initiative on Tuesday, two dozen local elementary school students will be all bundled-up to face not just that snowfall, but whatever else the elements send their way this winter.

Head coach Dan Bylsma, assistant coaches Tony Granato and Todd Reirden, alumni Phil Bourque, Warren Young and Randy Hillier and a number of Penguins executives (including president and CEO David Morehouse and chief operating officer Travis Williams) took part in the annual “Penguins Personal Shopping Day,” where they were matched with kids from Carnegie Elementary School selected by The Salvation Army to shop for new winter clothing at the Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Cranberry.
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The Penguins coaches, alumni and staff – most of whom have children of their own – were extremely grateful to have the chance to spend time with these kids and ensure they will be prepared for Pittsburgh’s falling temperatures.

“Project Bundle-Up is not an opportunity that the coaches have had in the past,” Bylsma said. “So to be here today with the kids and to shop for them to buy some needed stuff for them and their families – I had a brother/sister combo today, so I felt like I was buying for the family – was a good thing.”

This is the sixth year that Penguins’ corporate sponsor Dick’s Sporting Goods has hosted the Project Bundle-Up event, with TGI Friday’s providing lunch for the participants.

After everyone finished their meal of sandwiches, chicken fingers, pretzels and cookies, the Penguins and their little partners headed out into the store with their shopping lists of essentials that the children need to stay warm this winter, including coats, hats, gloves and boots.

Granato had quite the challenge trying to keep up with third-graders Aleah and Lakia, two vivacious little girls full of personality.

At the start of their shopping trip, Granato was riding the escalator with the girls when one of them ran ahead to the top, which worried the Penguins assistant coach. When the three of them reunited at the end of the escalator, Granato told the girls they had to stick together. “We’re a team,” he said.

Aleah and Lakia said the best part of the day was spending time with the affable, easy-going Granato, who did his best to help them pick out the right clothing items – even though he may not be as fashion forward as the girls.

“The best part of the whole day was that we got to shop with Tony and he was actually a good shopper with us,” Aleah said. “We got many things. I just appreciate this whole thing. Tony is a great shopper but he isn’t as great because he’s a man.”

Lakia agreed, saying sheepishly “Even though he’s a man he is a good shopper. He was actually very polite to us.”

They started in the coats section, where Granato told one of the girls trying on a blue coat with a fur-trimmed hood to move around and see if it fit, jokingly asking, “If you had to throw a snowball at me by the bus, could you?” After that, Granato asked if they should get boots or hats and gloves next.

“Hats and gloves first, because (Lakia) is picky,” Aleah responded.

“Yes, we’re going to be there for a while in the boots!” Lakia said.

Granato has four children with wife Linda, three sons and a daughter. He couldn’t imagine his own kids having to do without proper winter clothing.

“It’s a pretty special day to be able to help these children in need,” Granato said. “The winters can get harsh and cold, and you want these kids to get everything they need in order to be all bundled up, safe and warm. You don’t want them to be out there freezing. So we’re glad to be here and it was very rewarding to be a part of that.”

Phil Bourque poses with his shopping partners, whom wore his Stanley Cup championship rings.
While Granato was by himself with his shopping buddies, Bylsma got some help from wife Mary Beth. They had a blast with fifth-grader Deindre and his sister Mykel in first grade, with coach Dan even donning a glittery headband at one point.

“Glitter suits me,” Bylsma joked.

At one point, Bourque’s shopping buddies tried on his Stanley Cup rings and posed for a picture with the Penguins broadcaster, grinning widely for the cameras. The smiles on their faces and the bonds that are developed is what makes this so worthwhile for Bourque and the rest of the Penguins.

“You never get tired of seeing the looks on the kids’ faces,” Bourque said. “I don’t think they saw this coming. It’s a little bit of shock. They want to jump up and down and scream and yell, they’re so happy. You just never get tired of playing Santa for a day.”

And their efforts were truly appreciated by the children. Some of them couldn’t even wait to wear their new gear, putting it on upstairs after checking out.

“I’m thankful for everything that I got here,” Aleah said. “I actually love this store and I love everyone here. We just love everything that they did today.”
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