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Crosby surprises young fan from Ireland

Ethan McClean, an 11-year-old with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, met his idol Tuesday

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

The Penguins and PPG are working together on a series of stories to feature the most colorful fans in the game.

Ethan McClean is an 11-year-old boy from northern Ireland who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a terminal illness. He absolutely adores hockey, with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins inspiring his love for the game. 

Ethan's parents, Andy and Yvette, wanted to bring him to the United States to watch his favorite sport while he is still able to travel. What Ethan didn't know was that his biggest dream was about to come true.

***

Ethan and his parents had a blast during the Penguins' 7-1 win over Philadelphia on Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena. 

They watched warmups from Suite 66 before going up to their seats, where they were even shown on the videoboard at one point. 

And like a true Penguins fan, Ethan had some chirps reserved for Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott.

"Through his illness, he can't do a lot of things that his peers do," Andy said of Ethan, who was devastated to learn earlier this month that he is losing his major mobility. "He finds he can get rid of a lot of frustration through ice hockey because he's shouting and cheering and is basically a bit of a mad kid at the games. He loves it."

After the game, the Penguins invited Ethan and his parents down to the locker room. The plan was to wait outside in the hallway to see if any of the players would come out following their media availability.

And when that was finished, Ethan got the surprise of a lifetime - Crosby himself walked out to greet him.

"There were tears," Andy said. "We had to help Ethan fight them back. He couldn't believe who was standing in front of him."

Crosby, who had three points in the game, didn't just stop to say hello - he invited Ethan into the locker room for a visit.

"You picked a good one, huh?" the captain said with a smile as they wheeled Ethan in. "This is the room. Doesn't smell too bad, does it? They keep it nice and clean."

Video: Sidney Crosby meets international super fan

While holding back his tears, Ethan did his best to answer all of Crosby's questions about his trip before they walked over to the logo - "We just can't go on it," Crosby playfully warned - to pose for a photo.

Crosby then presented Ethan, who was wearing a No. 87 jersey along with a Penguins hat, with one of his sticks. Crosby knelt down and wrote on the blade with a silver Sharpie: "To Ethan, great to meet you. All the best. Your friend, Sidney Crosby."

The following morning, Yvette wrote on social media that Ethan held onto the stick like it was "£1M - it is to him. Nothing got that stick away from him, nothing."

When assistant athletic trainer Pat Steidle came into the locker room to bring Ethan a signed puck from Crosby, he noticed that Yvette was wearing the jersey of former Penguins player Bobby Farnham, who is currently playing in Ireland for the Belfast Giants.

"What's he doing over there? Has he gotten into a couple scraps? Or is he on his best behavior?" Crosby joked.

Crosby then asked Ethan if he wanted to take another photo at his locker stall. Ethan was able to get up from his chair and walk over, shaking the entire time because he just couldn't process what was actually happening. 

Crosby and Ethan sat together in the stall and gave the thumbs up while smiling ear-to-ear. At that point, it was time for Andy and Yvette to get Ethan back to their hotel.

"You're welcome any time, you know that," Crosby told Ethan. "Have a safe trip back. Come see us again sometime, okay? Nice to meet you."

Meeting his hero was a bucket list item for Ethan, who was uncharacteristically speechless following the experience.

"For us, it's amazing that somebody who people think could be sitting on a pedestal is somebody who really does want to come down and talk to the fans and meet people like Ethan," Andy said of Crosby. "That is brilliant. That means an awful lot to us."

***

This marked the McCleans' second trip to the U.S., with the first one coming about a year ago. 

After attending a charity hockey tournament in the U.K. with Dreams Come True, a children's charity similar to Make-A-Wish, the organization arranged for them to travel here last November to take in some hockey games.

They made stops in Atlanta to see the ECHL's Gladiators and in Nashville to see the NHL's Predators. And while that experience was incredible, his parents decided that if they were to ever make it back across the pond, visiting Pittsburgh was a must.

Ethan loves going to see the Giants play, and once their games are over, the Penguins are usually just about to start due to the time difference. So Ethan will then tune in to their games, watching and telling his parents what's happening on the ice.

"Ethan really, really wanted to come to Pittsburgh as well to see Sidney, because right from the very beginning he's followed Sidney, he can tell you loads about him if anybody asks," Andy said. "So that was why we decided on this trip. We were going to see a few more teams and one of them had to be here. It took a bit of organizing, but we got there in the end."

Of course, Ethan was aware they were coming back to America. But he was only told that they were returning to Atlanta, where they've made amazing friendships within that organization.

From there, Ethan thought they were going to Washington, D.C. to see the Capitals - which was made all the more believable by the signs for Washington, Pa. on the highway. But once they started seeing signs for Pittsburgh, Ethan's reaction was priceless.

"The cheers, the shouts coming from the backseat of the vehicle, he knew exactly where he was going," Andy said with a laugh. "And then we had to start spilling, but he didn't know about maybe meeting Sid, he didn't know anything about that."

They couldn't have written up the night better if they tried.

"It's something he's wanted to do," Andy said. "Our lives are around whatever he wants to do. If he wants to do it, we'll try to find a way of doing it. That's what's happened tonight. That's a huge big tick for Ethan."

The McCleans couldn't be more grateful for how the hockey community has rallied around Ethan - starting with a simple request on social media in August 2018 for pucks to decorate his disabled adapted room. 

 

 

"Back in the UK, those adaptations happen but they're done to a point where they're still very clinical, so it looks like a hospital bedroom," Andy said. "So my wife and I, we gathered up like 10 or 15 pucks because she decided she wanted to put them around the door just to make them look slightly different. Now we've got between 500-600 on the walls."

The puck Ethan received Tuesday night, however, will not be joining them.

"That will go in a glass case," Andy laughed. "Nobody can touch that. That will be there for Ethan, nobody else."

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