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"Free Game for Kids" A Huge Success for All Involved

by Justin Criado / Pittsburgh Penguins

It wasn’t just the Penguins’ third preseason contest Saturday afternoon at CONSOL Energy Center against the Minnesota Wild. It was also the second annual "Free Game For Kids."

The Pittsburgh Penguins gave out 18,000 tickets for the game to local youth hockey organizations, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League (PIHL), the Tickets for Kids Foundation, Hill District youth, members of the TGI Friday's Penguins Kids Club, local university students, the Little Penguins’ Learn-To-Play program and groups such as the Boy Scouts, Boys & Girls Clubs, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Make-A-Wish, The Children’s Institute and Autism Speaks.

"I think it’s fantastic. We just want to thank the Penguins for doing it too. It’s fantastic," coach Rick White of the North Pittsburgh Wildcats said. "This is a team-building exercise for us."

The free game allows the Penguins to give back to their young fan demographic, as all of the tickets that were distributed were given to fans between the ages of 8-21.

"It’s a good thing to expand the Pens fan base," said Southpointe Rink Rat player and Washington, PA native Garrett Wocnichak expressed. "I even see teams here from West Virginia. I see Morgantown Blades shirts."

The arena was a checkerboard of jerseys from local youth hockey teams, as hockey is growing bigger in the Steel City with each passing day. And from the Pittsburgh Children's Festival Chorus singing the national anthem to the final buzzer, the arena was rocking.

"The pitch of the crowd is definitely a lot different than a regular season crowd or an adult crowd, but it’s usually high energy,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “It’s usually high energy the whole game.”

Bylsma's son Bryan came with his youth hockey team, the Arctic Foxes, and they were just one of hundreds of teams in attendance Saturday afternoon.

Some coaches used the experience as a teaching tool to reiterate what they tell the kids in practice.

"I’m real excited that the things we’re trying to teach the kids can now be seen by them," Westmoreland Eagles assistant coach Ray Vasinko said.

With the Penguins giving the fans an exciting 4-1 victory, the "Free Game For Kids" was once again a giant success for all involved.

“I’m excited for a win,” Wocnichak added. “But you know, it’s also nice just to hang out with your friends and go to a Pens game. It’s nice.”
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