The Penguins held a unique "Kids Breaking Barriers" virtual panel featuring rookie defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph on Wednesday evening.
It featured a Q&A session with Joseph before Dorin Dickerson - Director of Lower Hill Development for the Penguins who is a former NFL player that also grew up playing hockey in Pittsburgh - moderated a panel featuring local youth players and their family members. The goal was to provide an open dialogue for children and their guardians to receive support and guidance on their hockey journeys.
The event started with Joseph taking the virtual stage with a big smile and wave, commenting on how excited he was to take part in the discussion and share his own path to the NHL for all the kids who were tuned in.
Growing up in Quebec, Joseph and his older brother Mathieu actually first started out figure skating, but it wasn't long after that they picked up hockey sticks.
"It was just the passion. We just embraced every day at the rink for practice, for games, seeing your friends at the rink," Joseph said of what he remembers the most from his youth hockey experience. "It was always a special time to know that you have a game or practice at night."
Joseph went on to play for the Charlottetown Islanders in the QMJHL. Based in Prince Edward Island, it was a team that was far from home.
"This is where I learned to speak English and this is where I grew up, basically, as a player and as a man," Joseph said. "I'm really happy that I had the chance to be there. Then I got drafted in the NHL in 2017, and after that I got traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. I'm really, really, really happy to be here."
When Joseph was asked to name some people who have guided him along the way, he noted that while there were too many to name, his family has always been his biggest support system. And that was evident last night, as Joseph's parents - dad Frantzi and mom France - were in the virtual audience.
Before Dickerson took over to host the panel, Joseph's message for all of the youth watching was to stay positive and never give up.
"My biggest point would be to always, always, always stay positive," he said. "You're going to have ups and downs along the way, but the goal at the end is so much better when you just stay positive along the way. You're going to have people that want to bring you down, but always surround yourself with people that are there for you, that are there to help you, that are there to make you a better player, but most importantly, a better person."
At that point, Joseph signed off for the time being and Dickerson was in the spotlight, along with panel guests, including Rocky Saganiuk - a former NHL player who spent time with Toronto and Pittsburgh - and his grandson Colby, a former Pens Elite player.
They all had the opportunity to share some of their own experiences within the sport before answering questions, with Joseph jumping back on for that portion of the panel.
"I've got a great job working with kids," said Saganiuk, who currently works as a manager for the Pittsburgh Penguins Learn to Play program. "Kids see no barriers. They don't see black, white, nothing. They just want to play hockey, and they have so much fun out there."
Attendees also had the opportunity to hear briefly from Penguins Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel Kevin Acklin, who spoke about the commitment that the organization has on all levels to diversify the sport of hockey and create the support and resources to do so from a young age.
"We want to be the club in the league that makes the difference in diversity," Acklin said. "We want to be No. 1 in that."
This event, which was presented by DICKS Sporting Goods, was the second of four weekly programs the Penguins are holding throughout February to celebrate Black History Month. For more information on the rest of the Penguins' virtual programming, visit here.