As a kid growing up in Hollidaysburg, Pa. - which is about two hours away from Pittsburgh, just outside of Altoona - Sam Lafferty fell in love with hockey after watching the Penguins' playoff run in 2001 when he was 6 years old.
A few years later, his beloved Penguins drafted Sidney Crosby with the first overall pick in 2005, and he immediately became Lafferty's favorite player.
Needless to say, it was incredibly surreal for Lafferty to make his NHL debut with the Penguins - who drafted him in 2014 - on Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena in their 4-1 loss to Winnipeg, with his first shift being centered by Crosby himself.
"You can't draw it up any better," said Lafferty's stepdad, Dave Weaver. "We were watching warmups and he's standing next to Sid, and then we're standing there looking around at the crowd going, 'Holy cow, this is pretty real.'
"It's really fun and special. He grew up a Penguins fan, so to get drafted by them, stay with the organization for the last several years and then to finally get the chance to play in a real game in front of a big crowd…"
"It's pretty amazing," finished Lafferty's mom, Jill.
Lafferty had just finished practice with Pittsburgh's American Hockey League affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Monday when head coach and general manager Mike Vellucci told him he had been recalled. After that, Lafferty's first call was to Dave.
"He was my hockey coach all growing up, so when anything happens, he's usually the first guy I call," Lafferty said.
From there, it was chaos for Dave and Jill. Not only did they have to figure out travel arrangements for themselves, Sam's brother Charlie and sister Natalie from Boseman, Montana (where the family relocated a few years ago) - they had to figure out how to help get 100-plus people from Hollidaysburg to the game.
"It means a lot," Lafferty said. "It felt like pretty much the whole community from my local ice rink. Kudos to all those guys for the support. It was awesome seeing them."
They wouldn't have missed it for the world.
"For everyone to be at this together, to see him play his first game, is just absolutely incredible," said Lafferty's childhood friend Adam Badorrek. "This is so cool to see."
Adam's father Hal has known Sam since he was little, so the past couple of days have been pretty emotional for him.
"He called me yesterday but I missed the phone call, though I knew what it was about because I heard some players had gotten hurt," Hal said. "So I called him back and he said 'Mr. B…' and I started to cry. He's just a good kid."
At that moment, Hal was brought to tears again.
"We're just very proud to see him play," Hal said. "For him, it's a dream come true. For us, it's a dream come true, too, because we envisioned this a long time ago. For it to happen you need a lot of luck, a lot of hard work, to stay healthy - so many things. He's overcome all of that. It's tremendous."
Though Dave and Jill joke that Sam's hockey career got off to a rough start. After watching that 2001 playoff run, Jill took Sam and Charlie down the street to a brand-new ice rink called Galactic Ice that had just been built nearby. Dave was the general manager of the facility, and was there when the boys first took the ice - or tried to, anyway.
"I didn't know you had to sharpen hockey skates," Jill said with a laugh before turning to Dave and asking, "These two skated for how long?"
"About five minutes, and then I was like, 'You need to get these kids off the ice. They can't move,'" Dave responded with a laugh. "She brought them back a year later and I'm like, 'Who are these two? They're pretty good.'"
"We were at like every public skate possible just trying to be better so we could get invited back," Charlie said. "Sure enough, we showed up a lot better."
Jill and Dave eventually ended up getting married, and Dave then became Sam's coach for the next 14 years, starting with the Altoona Trackers.
"The only real team to play for was the Trackers if you wanted to play travel hockey," Lafferty explained. "All of our away games were in Pittsburgh."
They went, as Lafferty laughed, "everywhere" in the Pittsburgh area to play - listing Castle Shannon, Southpointe and Bladerunners, to name a few.
"When we would go to Cranberry, we would get off the same exit but we would go to Bladerunners instead of UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex," Sam said. "That would've been really cool, but it's awesome to see the new facility and just seeing how the game continues to grow."
Crosby being drafted certainly had a huge impact on growing hockey in the area and inspiring more kids to play.
"Sid getting drafted by the Penguins saved hockey in Pennsylvania, in my mind," Dave said. "It galvanized youth hockey. They started the Little Penguins program and it just got so many more kids playing. At that time, there was talk about them moving the team. So it was a big deal when he got drafted. For Sam and Charlie to be able to watch Crosby is pretty awesome."
Though Sam wouldn't just watch him play. After taking in a game, he would go to the rink the next day and try to replicate whatever he had seen Crosby do on the ice the night before.
"You would see Crosby make a move and the very next day, you'd see Sam in practice trying to mimic the same exact move," Adam Badorrek said. "And he would do it. I would do that and fall over right away (laughs). Sam was just so determined to be a great player, even from early on."
In 2004, Weaver started a program called the Mid-State Mustangs, which began as a tournament team for higher-level players in the central Pennsylvania region.
It developed into a full-season program in 2008-09 and the Mustangs have gone on to win 11 western Pennsylvania state championships, 1 Mid-Am district championship and two USA Hockey national championships.
"We'd go to States, and if you won States you'd go to Nationals," Lafferty said. "We started having a lot of success with that and it drew some more players to our area to play. Kids from State College would come down and a few kids from Pittsburgh as well."
After scoring 69 points (34G-35A) in just 18 games for Hollidaysburg Area High School as a freshman in 2010-11, Lafferty played the next three seasons for Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. The Penguins drafted him the summer after he graduated.
"It's always been a dream (to play for the Penguins), but when I got drafted, it became like, 'I really can do this,'" Lafferty said. "It's been a few years since then, but pretty surreal it finally happened."