In the Room: Season Ticket Holder Edition
Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Dumoulin host surprise behind-the-scenes tourby Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter
On Monday, a group of Penguins season ticket holders thought they were coming to UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex to attend practice and eat a meal prepared by team chef Geoff Straub. But they had no idea what actually awaited them.
They were surprised with a personal behind-the-scenes tour of the Penguins' facilities, led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin.
"I was expecting to watch practice and maybe have lunch. I was not expecting the tour. And I definitely was not expecting those four players to come into that locker room and embrace us the way they did," said Carole Sabol, who has been a season ticket holder since 1970.
"It was just fantastic," she continued. "I would have never in my wildest dreams thought that would happen."
The idea for today's event came from the Penguins' veteran core of players. After so many years of season ticket holders welcoming them into their homes to hand-deliver their season tickets, they felt it was time to return the favor.
"It's a place we spend so much time," Crosby said. "We spend as much time here as we do our own homes. It's cool to share that with others."
When the season ticket holders first arrived, they were treated to beverages and breakfast pastries as they waited for the players to take the ice at 10 a.m. After practice ended, the season ticket holders were escorted to the team's video room, where they were greeted by Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford - who gave them an exclusive Q&A.
"Maybe you'll get some answers the media won't get," Rutherford quipped.
After answering questions about his players and what it's like to hold the Stanley Cup, Rutherford posed a question of his own to 5-year-old Kaelyn Feeney, who was there with her aunt and uncle, Carol and John Riddle, wearing a No. 87 jersey.
"Do you want to see Sidney Crosby?" he asked. "That's who she's been asking about," Carol acknowledged with a smile.
"Well, maybe we'll bump into him at some point," Rutherford said. "Why don't we go and look at the dressing room? Maybe give you guys a little tour here. Who knows, you might bump into somebody you want to see."
After they walked into the locker room, Rutherford took Kaelyn's hand and led her to the other set of doors that lead to the runway. "I've got a surprise for you," he told her. That's when Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Dumoulin all walked in, much to the delight of the group.
"I was blown away," said Tim Plocinik, who has been a season ticket holder for 25 years. "Absolutely blown away to be able to spend time with Kris Letang and talk to Sid, talk to Geno, talk to Dumoulin."
The players mingled with the season ticket holders in the locker room for a few minutes before starting the tour. They split into four groups, with each player taking them around to different areas.
"I think it's cool for people to see what our day looks like, where we spend our time and how we prepare," Crosby said. "All the little details that go into that. We have a lot of pride. Whether it's equipment guys, trainers or strength coaches, everyone is proud of this place. They want to show it."
Crosby took around Kaelyn, the Riddles and their nephew, 12-year-old Owen Linton, with their tour starting right in the locker room. He brought them over to his stall and showed them his gear.
At one point, head equipment manager Dana Heinze walked over to talk with the group. John asked him who had the strangest equipment quirks, which made Crosby burst into laughter.
"He's looking over at me," Crosby joked.
As they stood there chatting, Kaelyn tugged at her aunt's sleeve to whisper something in her ear.
"Yes, Sidney is coming with us," Carol laughed. She and John were so impressed by how excellent Crosby was with the kids.
"I can't believe he ended up being our guide," Carol said. "It was great."
Malkin's leg of the tour began just outside of the locker room at the team stick rack. He gifted one of his personal sticks to a member of his group before autographing it. From there, he took them to the team's kitchen area, pouring everyone a glass of orange juice and doing a group cheers.
"When I realized we were going to go on a tour with Geno, I mean, that's cool as hell," said David Repko, who has been a season ticket holder for 14 years. "He was pretty open. You would say something to him and he would give an answer. It was fun to interact with him.
"I was there when he scored his first goal and some of the other goals that he scored that were really impressive, I was there and I got to watch them. It's cool to say 'Hey, I was there when you did this.'"
Of course, Dumoulin - who is a huge foodie that loves to cook - started in the team kitchen area. He explained how the team meals work, saying that there's usually meat, fish and vegetarian options along with a starch. With today's menu including a pasta bar, Dumoulin then asked his group what sauce they would pick - regular, meat or alfredo?
"I would go combo," Dumoulin said before adding with a laugh, "You can't go too heavy on the alfredo or you'll feel it that night."
Letang was the most thorough of all the guides, offering plenty of insight and detail along with a good dose of humor. When he took his group back into the video room to explain how their sessions worked, Letang joked, "This is not a movie theatre. It's where we get yelled at" - which had everyone in stitches.
"He was being very thorough," Plocinik said. "He was entertaining. He would answer the questions and he was really personable. A lot of comedy thrown in. He was hysterical. He was a lot of fun. He made it really comfortable for us."
The tours featured many other stops, including the player lounge, equipment areas, athletic training room, computer room and the gym. Something that stood out to the season ticket holders was just how much the organization takes care of every little detail in order to help the players be at their best.
"You hear about it from the players and the coaches, but to actually come here and see the facilities, experience the food, get into the finer details and see what's going on, we learned a lot about that," Plocinik said. "It's a big part of why they succeed."
Along the way, the season ticket holders ran into other members of the team: Matt Murray sitting down to eat lunch, Jared McCann stretching, Jake Guentzel talking fantasy football, Erik Gudbranson working out and Patric Hornqvist talking that morning's practice with Justin Schultz. They all stopped to say hello and pose for selfies, sign autographs and have conversations.
"They just seemed like normal guys," Sabol said. "They were just so down to earth, so friendly, so personable, it was amazing."
The tour still ended with lunch prepared by Straub - served in head coach Mike Sullivan's office.
"If you need more ice time, you come here to talk to Sully every day," Malkin joked.
After addressing the group, Sullivan sat at the head of the conference table in his office, where the coaches hold their meetings. They feasted on filet mignon with a black garlic demi-glace, sweet potato mash and brussels sprouts, with cupcakes with gold frosting and black sprinkles for dessert.
As Sullivan chatted with the season ticket holders at his end of the table, Straub answered questions from the season ticket holders at the other end. Once lunch finished up, it was time for Sullivan to leave for State College, where the Penguins were set to play the Buffalo Sabres at Penn State University.
"I think it's great for our guys. I think it's great for the season ticket holders," Sullivan said of the day. "I know our business side is always looking for creative ways to reach our fans. This is one more way that these guys getting an opportunity to see our guys up close and personal. They get a chance to look at the inside, they see our facilities, they get a chance to interact with our players. It's a great idea. It's a win-win for everybody. We're appreciative of their support. We couldn't do what we do without them. This is one way we can show our appreciation."
The day concluded with the group returning to the video room to retrieve their season tickets for the upcoming year.
"I can't wipe the smile off my face," Plocinik said. "I've been smiling since I walked in. We're just so appreciative. We love the Penguins. We get together with family and friends, we go to the games and we watch the playoffs and we have a good time. We look at the Pens as sort of an extended family. But to come here and experience this, we're just so grateful and really humbled by how we've been treated by everybody here. It's been absolutely amazing. We can't say enough."