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Inside Scoop: Happy Holidays!

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

When Justin Schultz first realized that the Penguins would be wrapping up their annual western Canada road trip right before the holiday break, he was ecstatic.

"You never really think being over here that you would be able to get home for Christmas, since we're so far away and don't have that much time off," Schultz said. "Definitely saw that and me and my fiancé were really excited, the family is really excited. Couldn't have worked out any better for us."

The defenseman, who grew up in Kelowna, British Columbia, is one of two western Canada natives on the Penguins roster along with goalie Tristan Jarry.  

He grew up in Surrey, British Columbia, which is just 20 minutes from Rogers Arena - where the Penguins are played the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.

"This will be my first time in probably nine years that I'll be going home for Christmas," said Jarry, who explained that he didn't get to go home during juniors because of the World Junior Championship. "It's exciting. It's something I've never gotten to do."

Overall, the schedule worked out extremely well for the entire team as a whole. Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, Dec. 24, 25 and 26 are designated as off-days for all purposes - meaning no team can practice or even travel.

But as luck would have it, with the Penguins playing their last game before the holiday break on Dec. 21, they will be off from Dec. 22 to Dec. 26 - giving them an extra couple of days to spend with their families.

"It's really nice to be home with your family and take your mind off hockey for once and not really think about it," Schultz said. "It's definitely needed."

While the team is scheduled to stay overnight in Vancouver and fly back that Sunday, a few players headed home right after the game.

"I'm taking the red-eye home after the Vancouver game to go see my family in Toronto," winger Brandon Tanev said. "Lucky there's a flight that goes out there."

Forward Jared McCann did the same.

"I'm going to take a flight home with some of the guys and just head home to Stratford, Ontario for the break," he said. "I built a house there last summer, so I'm going to have some of my buddies around town over for dinner and stuff like that. Maybe have a couple waters and go from there (laughs)."

With McCann being from the same town as Justin Bieber, the 'Under the Mistletoe' holiday album will probably be playing at the house.

"He's from Stratford, so I've got to represent," McCann joked.

This year marks the first time since becoming an NHL regular that goalie Matt Murray will be able to make it back to Thunder Bay, Ontario for Christmas.

"I think we only had a couple days my first couple years, and it's a long trip," Murray said. "So my wife Christina and I just stayed here and hung out together. This year we're going to go home and get some family together."

Murray's mother Fenny is Dutch, so one tradition they had growing up was to each open one present on Christmas Eve.

"Then we would open the rest when you wake up in the morning on Christmas," he said. "Usually make a big breakfast with pancakes, bacon, eggs - a whole spread. Then hang out and watch movies all day and have a fire. Just relax and enjoy some time together."

Rookies Sam Lafferty and John Marino are also heading straight home. Lafferty is joining his family in Montana, where they moved from Hollidaysburg, Pa., a few years ago for his stepdad's job, while Marino will be going back to Easton, Mass.

"Usually for Christmas Eve we have everyone over and do the Feast of the Seven Fishes, the Italian dinner," said Marino, who estimates that he's 75-80 percent Italian.

A few of the players will be staying in Pittsburgh, including forward Bryan Rust. For the second year in a row, he and his wife Kelsey will be hosting family from both sides at their house.

"It'll be a big loud house, but I think it will be fun," said Rust, who joked that his strength as a host is being an errand boy.

One tradition that he and Kelsey have started together is dressing in matching pajamas on Christmas morning - with their dogs, Cooper and Oliver, joining in on the fun too.

That's also a tradition in the Johnson household for Jack, his wife Kelly and their two kids, daughter Jacklyn and son Ty. Another tradition includes making cookies for Santa.

"We make sugar cookies. Santa prefers chocolate chip at our house," Johnson said with a grin. "You also have to leave carrots for the reindeer. My kids are really into the Grinch right now. The adults will watch Christmas Vacation. We make beef tenderloin and mashed potatoes for dinner. Then we usually try to get to Christmas Eve mass."

Christmas Eve is actually when the Penguins' European players celebrate the holiday. And since forward Dominik Kahun won't be able to make it home, his family is flying in from Germany to stay with him.

"It's going to be a great time," he said. "In Europe we do it on the 24th, in the evening. It's when you give and get the gifts. We make a nice dinner, watch some Christmas movies and then we get into the gifts."

Kahun was born in Czech Republic, but moved to Germany when he was 4 after his parents got divorced. Because of that, they mix Czech and German traditions at Christmastime, particularly at the dinner table. 

"We do some fish because in Czech you eat fish in the evening, and we also do potato salads and some desserts," he said. "My mom always does different ones."

While they don't have any issues when it comes to the food, sometimes they have issues when it comes to the movies.

"I usually love watching Czech Christmas movies with my mom, but my brother and my stepdad don't understand because they're German," Kahun said. "So sometimes we just leave them and watch, my mom and I (laughs)."

In Sweden, starting on Dec. 1, there is a special Christmas Calendar show that airs 10-15 episodes every morning until Dec. 24 that defenseman Marcus Pettersson looks forward to every year.

"It's more for kids, but everybody watches it," Pettersson said. "You get up and you would watch it before school. We watch that a lot. That's every day."

Then on Christmas Eve, it is a Swedish tradition to watch the 1958 Walt Disney Presents Christmas special 'From All of Us to You.' Or, as it is known there, Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul - "Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas" - or Kalle Anka for short.

"We watch that at 3 o' clock on Christmas Eve every year," Pettersson said. "It's a Swedish thing. That's a great tradition too."

While the show airs on Swedish public television back home, Pettersson and his girlfriend will have to find it elsewhere as they are staying in Pittsburgh. They plan to make a traditional Swedish dinner consisting of Christmas ham, meatballs, Prince sausages, potatoes, and salmon - and just relax.

"Just take it easy," Pettersson said. "Eat well. Get some good food in me. And just get away from everything. Take a couple deep breaths. During the season you're kind of not aware of what's going on in the rest of the world and you're in a bubble. So you kind of step out of that bubble a little bit. Just take it easy and hopefully get some good presents (laughs)."

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