Fans rub elbows with Pens at annual Summer Sticks eventby Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Penguins
At first, it was an autograph. Then a picture and a handshake. As the night wore on, everything from a conversation about his summer to an offered beer (respectfully declined) was thrown at Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
This all took place Tuesday evening at the Penguins' annual Summer Sticks golf charity event at Topgolf in Bridgeville.
In between bouts of golfing, food and drinks, Penguins fans mingled with Penguins players, coaches, staff and alumni. It was a unique opportunity for fans to get up close and personal with everyone in the Penguins organization - and that even included legend and Hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux.
"You can't wrong when you're golfing with Jake Guentzel, Evgeni Malkin is next to you, Sidney on the other side and Mario walking around," said fan Bill Garrison. "We're all having a good time and it's all for a great cause."
Summer Sticks comes a day after the Penguins held their annual Season Ticket Delivery day, where 14 players hand-delivered ticket packages to the homes of season ticket holders. It's all part of a weeklong celebration of fan interaction called "The Season Begins with You." More surprises for season ticket holders are to come in the following few days.
At Tuesday's event at Topgolf, Crosby's section was a popular stopping point for the fans that made their way around the facility. Some fans shared jokes or showed him pictures of their dog (named, yep, Sid). One fan had their golfing glove autographed (while wearing it), and others just wanted to talk hockey.
When Crosby wasn't aiming his shot at the ball cart (hit three out of four, don't worry - the cart was empty) he was talking to fans about everything from his summer diet (stays strict, needs to remain light to keep his speed up) to his travels (went to Europe) to the upcoming training camp (there were three fights during the first training camp scrimmage in Crosby's rookie season and everyone went out for dinner after) to encouraging his teammates in the Summer Sticks tournament.
Every player had their own personal bay and shot three rounds (periods) of golf with groups of fans. Sometimes it was difficult to tell if the players or fans were having more fun during the evening.
Crosby's stories filled each fan with delight. As did those of head coach Mike Sullivan, who discussed his summer golf expedition in Ireland: "We had two good weather days and three Irish weather days."
Sullivan held court around three fans as they discussed the finer points of golf, Irish music and even the New England Patriots (Sullivan's hometown team).
But Sullivan's eyes lit up as fans asked about the upcoming season, as if his brain switched into coach mode. "I'm so excited about this year. We're younger, faster and going to be harder to play against," Sullivan told a fan.
Fans also had the opportunity to buy auctioned items and compete for various prizes based on their Topgolf scores. All the proceeds benefit the Penguins Foundation's scholarship programs.