When 4-year-old Brody Hays watched the Penguins play the Blue Jackets on TV with his father Eric, he had no idea he would be skating on that very same ice the following day with his idol, Sidney Crosby
“We were watching the Pens’ game Friday night,” Eric explained. “And I said, ‘Look buddy, see the big Penguin in the middle of the ice, you’re going to get to skate there’ and he said, ‘Really? On Crosby’s ice? I get to skate on Crosby’s ice?’”
Crosby surprised the kids from the Warrendale area Little Penguins “Learn to Play Hockey” program by joining them on the ice for their special practice session at the Mellon Arena Saturday afternoon.
The 33 lucky kids – all sporting white Little Penguins Jerseys with Crosby’s name and No. 87 on the back – were in shock when their idol joined them on the ice. They tapped their sticks on the ice with excitement as the reality of the moment sunk in.
“It was so fun seeing him on the ice,” 5-year-old Isabella exclaimed. Her
blue mouth guard couldn’t conceal her giant smile that stretched from ear-to-ear the entire time she was on the ice.
The “Learn to Play” program was designed to increase youth hockey participation among children ages 4-8 by providing the 600 participants throughout Western Pennsylvania with complimentary head-to-toe Reebok Crosby SC87 equipment.
The Penguins, Crosby, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Reebok contributed to the program, which gives kids a chance to play hockey and enables children like Brody, who already has a strong passion for the game, to afford to play. Brody is a self-described tough guy and he has a menacing “mean” face to prove it. He includes Crosby in his bedtime prayers, and he even stopped talking to his pre-school teacher because she didn’t know who Evgeni Malkin
“This is something these kids will never forget; we won’t let them,” Eric Hays said. “It’s so nice Crosby did this and sponsored these kids with all the equipment. It’s unbelievable. I mean, not everybody’s got the money to put out for all that (equipment), and it’s all Reebok. It’s beautiful.”
Crosby skated with the enthusiastic kids for over an hour and offered instruction to the youngsters, who ranged from experienced skaters to those who were skating for the second or third time. It was exciting for Crosby to witness the actuality of what started out as just an idea.
“I didn’t realize how young some of the kids would be,” Crosby said. “But that’s good because I was hoping young kids would get an opportunity to do it. It’s nice that they can start early and they can make a decision as they get older whether they like it or not, but it’s good to start them young.”
Hugh Hachmeister, the head coach of the Warrendale program, has been coaching hockey in Pennsylvania for 25 years and he is excited to see so many new faces getting involved in the game.
“I think this is the future of hockey in the region,” Hachmeister said. “It’s so important at a young age to teach the fundamentals. With a program like this, we can do that. Thanks to Sidney Crosby
, Reebok, Dick’s and the Penguins for supporting a lot of young boys and girls who might not otherwise be able to afford the equipment to start.”
The kids from Hachmeister’s Little Penguins group were thrilled to watch the Penguins practice before trying out the Igloo surface for themselves. Having Crosby join them was just the icing on the cake for the group.
“Every kid has reasons for enjoying the game, but the fact of the matter is, they’re all out there, and loving it, and love of the game is the most important thing,” Crosby said. “One day maybe those parents will remind them of the day they skated at the Mellon Arena.”