Penguins captain Sidney Crosby sat in the dining room of the Bianchin family home signing autographs and chatting with Penguins season-ticket holder Reuben, his wife Molly, and their four children, Sydney, Cole, Tyler and Miles.
“Is there anything you want to ask me?” Crosby prodded.
“Would you like to play hockey with us?” blurted out 7-year-old Tyler.
"I'd love to, let's go play," Crosby responded.
Crosby then joined Tyler and his brothers Cole, 10, and Miles, 5, in the family driveway to engage in some playful shoot around. Crosby played goalie while the boys – all of whom have taken part in Crosby’s Little Penguins Learn to Play program – took turns showing off their hockey skills.
“Absolutely unbelievable,” Reuben said of the experience. “When would you ever have a superstar like that just walk in your front door, hand you a package, sit down and have a nice conversation?
“It’s like we won the lottery ticket.”
Crosby and 15 other Penguins hand-delivered ticket packages to various season-ticket holders throughout the greater Pittsburgh area Monday afternoon. It’s something the team has done since 2007.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time,” Crosby said. “To be able to meet the people individually – you see the masses at games, but don’t get to see everyone personally – to be able to do that is the best way we can say thank you. It’s a great opportunity for all the guys to be able to do it.”
As it turns out, Sydney’s (not named after Crosby) first-ever Penguins game was the night Crosby made his NHL regular-season debut in Pittsburgh.
After some final photos with the family, Reuben gave Crosby a farewell message.
“See you at the parade in June.”
* Two-year-old Nate Bell cried throughout the duration of Evgeni Malkin’s visit to his grandparents’ house this afternoon, something his family said he’s “never going to live down.”
* Everything started out okay. After season ticket holder John Bell and his family invited Malkin into their home and exchanged greetings with him in the foyer, the group went into the basement where a net was set up. Nate’s parents asked Malkin if he would play mini-sticks on the carpeted floor with their future hockey player,who had his own little set of gloves and a goalie stick.
Nate was wearing a James Neal jersey, and Malkin said to him, “Come on James Neal, let’s go!” However, as soon as Malkin knelt down to play, the little guy burst into tears and ran into his mother’s arms (which, to be fair, is probably the same reaction a lot of us would have if we had the two-time NHL scoring champ shooting on us). “When you’re 25, you’ll be hearing about this,” Nate’s grandmother joked.
Nate did calm down enough at the end to give Malkin a high five and then a fist bump, but was still too scared to get in close for a picture. “He didn’t play hockey with me, but it’s all right,” Malkin smiled. “Maybe next year.”
* Betsy Christof’s daughter Laura just moved back to Pittsburgh on Saturday after living in London for the last year, where she was getting her master’s degree. And with Laura starting a full-time job on Tuesday, the two of them planned on spending some quality time together this afternoon. It worked out perfectly that Malkin stopped by to join them the one time Laura could be home in the middle of the day. “I’m starting a job tomorrow, so today was literally the only day I would have been here,” Laura said.
* Erin Gaus is a social media and online marketing consultant who authors the ‘Burgh Living Blog, which, amongst other things, provides a look at what makes Pittsburgh such a great place to live. So it was fitting that the player who delivered season tickets to her and her husband David was new Penguin Nick Spaling, who’s just getting to know the area. They chatted about different neighborhoods and restaurants during his visit.
“It’s completely insane,” Erin said of the experience. “Even just following along on social media with where everyone was going, it was so funny how many people were commenting about how jealous they were, saying I’m a Pens fan but I live in Minnesota, and I’m a Pens fan but I live in Canada. It’s like wow, how awesome would that be (if a player came to our house)? When he called and told me, I thought you’ve got to be joking, that can’t even be real, how does that happen? It’s kind of like you win the lottery when you think of how many fans, how many season-ticket holders there are that we get to have this happen.”
* David and Erin’s son Ronan is 21 months old. Like the little boy at Malkin’s first house, Ronan was too young to realize what was going on and was much more content watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood in the living room over hanging out with the strange man in his kitchen. But while Ronan may have appeared unimpressed now, his parents know he'll appreciate this experience later.
“Clearly (Spaling) is going to be in the league for a while, so to have Ronan be old enough to appreciate it in a couple years and him still be playing, it’s going to blow his mind,” Erin said. “He’s going to have those pictures and we’re going to customize Ronan’s jersey to put (Spaling’s) name and number on it. We bought a blank one just so we could do that. It was mind-blowing. It still feels a little surreal. I’m excited for him to get old enough to realize what just happened.”
* Many of the fans Spaling visited chatted with him about what to expect in CONSOL Energy Center this upcoming season, and he can’t wait to get going. “It was fun. It was pretty exciting to see how excited the fans were,” he said. “Obviously it’s a good following here in Pittsburgh and every house seemed to be excited. Everybody’s wearing Penguins jerseys and a bunch of getups, so it was really cool.”
*Marc-Andre Fleury began his journey at the house of Ken and Mary McGettigan in Wexford. When the Penguins goalie arrived, Ken was eager to show him around the house, which happens to be right down the street from Kris Letang and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Neil Walker.
Ken happily took Fleury down to the family basement, which included the Penguin-themed theater room where Ken and his family enjoy Penguins game. Ken’s most prized possession in the theater happens to be an original goal lamp from Mellon Arena, which amazed Fleury when he realized that it was still functional.
Fleury stopped at two more homes in Wexford. He met his most awestruck fan in Taylor Condiotte, the cousin of season-ticket holders Colleen and John Murray. The 8-year-old was shy, but couldn’t take her eyes of her hero when he signed both of her No. 29 jerseys.
The final stop on the delivery trail was to the home of Andrew and Maria Caine. Andrew’s father, Pat, couldn’t be there in person, so he decided to Skype his dad over the phone from North Carolina. When Fleury asked Pat whether he was a Hurricanes fan or a Penguins fan, Pat replied “I am a Penguins fan today!”
*Thomas Greiss may have only been in Pittsburgh for a few weeks now, but thanks to the season-ticket delivery, he now has quite a few new friends who were eager to learn more about the newest addition to the Penguins’ roster.
Greiss’ three visits were all in Cranberry, which was pretty convenient since he lives nearby. He made his first visit to the house of Bob and Lee-Ann Krome, who had their daughter Josie already on Skype by the time Greiss arrived. Despite being at college, Josie still was able to take a photo with Greiss after her parents printed out a picture of her face and plastered it on the wall, which gave Greiss a pretty good chuckle.
At his final stop of the day, Greiss met some of the most die-hard hockey fans he has ever seen. Steven and Stephanie Vaughn have four kids, and their youngest daughter happens to be named Jordan Crosby after Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal. Greiss got to talk to all of the children and played knee hockey with their one son, Steven Joseph.
“It was fun,” Greiss said. “Getting to know the people, the fans and learning about their passion is just good to know. (The Penguins) really care about their fans and trying to give back."