The Penguins hosted the third annual “Free Game for Kids” on Saturday, as they took on the Columbus Blue Jackets in a preseason matchup with the new Metropolitan Division rival.
CONSOL Energy Center and the Penguins played host to 18,004 youths from hockey groups and other organizations across the region.
Organizations that received free tickets and were represented at the game include: the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League (PIHL), the Pittsburgh Amateur Hockey League (PAHL), local university and high school students, the Little Penguins’ Learn-To-Play program and groups such as the Boy Scouts, Boys & Girls Clubs, Big Brothers and Big Sisters and the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation.
The event allows the Penguins to reach out to the younger community — all tickets were given to fans between the ages of 8-21 — that have embraced the game of hockey in recent years, as evidenced by the growth of Pennsylvania into the fifth largest hockey state in the nation in terms of numbers of participants.
Coaches and players from local youth teams came out not only to support the hometown team, but also for the chance to bond with team members outside of the practice rink.
“My sons play hockey all the time and events like this just keep them motivated,” said John Morgan, whose son plays for the Pittsburgh Aviators. “It’s a great experience. Our biggest thing was getting our group together as a team to bond and watch the game.“
Penguins President and CEO, David Morehouse, said he is extremely happy the organization has played such an active role in growing the game for youths in the area.
“It’s a great way for our organization to reach out to the youth of our region and give them the chance to experience the excitement of Penguins hockey at CONSOL Energy Center,” Morehouse said. “And it creates a very unique game-day atmosphere for our players and coaches.”
The youth players kept a close eye on the pros, hoping to emulate what they saw at CONSOL Energy Center in their next practice or game.
““It’s a dream come true,” David Decollo said, a local youth player. “My favorite players are (Brooks) Orpik and (Kris) Letang and I like watching them a lot since I play defense, just seeing how they play.”
David’s father was thankful for the chance to bring his son to see the Penguins play, just like his father did when he was a youth player.
“It’s great,” Stan Decollo said. “Going yourself as a kid and then being able to bring your son back, it’s great. Going from watching my son play to watching these guys, you just can’t beat it.”