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"Free Game for Kids" provides unique atmosphere for Pens

by Adam Lindner / Pittsburgh Penguins

The roars were bountiful inside of PPG Paints Arena for the Penguins' preseason game against the Buffalo Sabres on Sept. 28. They were unusually high-pitched, too.

That's because the Penguins hosted their ninth annual "Free Game for Kids," welcoming young hockey players from around the region to come and catch the action, all free of charge.

Christine Gilbert, the mother of a youth hockey player in attendance, said it's nice to have the chance to attend a game for free, because many times, it can be difficult to make it during other points in the year.

"I think it's very cool, and it gives everybody an opportunity to come, because you can't always do it during the regular season," Gilbert said.

Video: Pittsburgh Penguins Host Free Game for Kids

The Penguins donated over 18,000 free tickets to youths across the region, as well as the parents, chaperones, youth hockey coaches and leaders of other kids' groups. The game featured several youth-centric events, including Aidan Krepin's (sixth grader at Mars Centennial School) beautiful rendition of the national anthem, numerous DICK'S Sporting Goods Jr. Starters of the Game from various of the area's clubs, youth announcers, and other fun activities for the region's youth.

In addition, in conjunction with Evoqua Water Technologies, the Penguins celebrated their first-ever "A Great Day for Our Ice" event.

In early September, Pittsburgh-area youth programs collected ice shavings from their home rinks inside of three-ounce branded vials, distributed by the Penguins. Then, upon entering the game, the vials were collected to be poured into the Evoqua Zamboni and pressed onto the surface of PPG Paints Arena's ice after the game. The catch: five players from various area youth organizations were randomly chosen to pour their teams' vial onto the ice surface at the first intermission.

Phil Mains, a coach with the Plum Mustangs youth hockey program, said he was able to bring his team to the Penguins' Free Game for Kids for the first time this season - last season, the game fell on a Sunday, and Plum has practices on Sundays.

"It's good to see the guys together anywhere, but at a hockey game, it's even better," Mains said. "They're picking out things on the ice that we teach them sometimes, so it's cool to see Sidney Crosby do the same thing we're asking our kids to do sometimes. It's definitely cool."

A lifelong Penguins fan, Mains said he appreciates the Penguins' gesture in continuing the Free Game for Kids tradition.

"Even when I was in college here at Pitt, they always did great things for kids," Mains said. "I'm happy to be a Pens fan, I'm happy to be in Pittsburgh, and happy to enjoy it with the kids, for sure."

In the end, the Penguins fell to Buffalo, 3-2, in a shootout, but the day was a victory as a whole - especially for the kids in the building.

"It's nice having a place to go that you don't feel stressed that you have kids with you, because there's a million other ones with you," said Ashley Bezilla, who was at the game with her son. "It was low key, and they actually paid attention for the first period."

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