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Lucky Fans Surprised, Thrilled to Receive Players' Jerseys in "Shirts Off Our Backs"

by Addison Smith / Pittsburgh Penguins

Terry Harder traveled a long way for his first NHL game - from the province of Alberta. He was genuinely surprised and thrilled when he was told he had won a shirt off of a Pittsburgh Penguins player’s back following their 3-2 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.

And who did Harder get? Another Alberta boy, Craig Adams, presented Harder with the jersey off his back.

“We had a little Alberta moment,” Harder joked after meeting Adams. “It was good.”

Gallery: Shirts Off Our Backs

The popular “Shirts Off Our Backs” promotion is the highlight of Fan Appreciation Night, which takes place during Pittsburgh’s last regular season home game. The members of the Pittsburgh Penguins present their jerseys to lucky randomly selected fans to cap off their Fan Appreciation Week. Every single guy on the roster participates, including the injured ones, and they go in numerical order.

Joining Harder in traveling a long way was Yannik Wildhaber from Switzerland. He attended Saturday’s game against the Flyers; then treated himself to today’s matchup to complete the weekend. And what a treat it was for him to learn he would be receiving a jersey from Joe Vitale.

They were the first two games Wildhaber has ever attended, and he said that it was the perfect weekend to experience his first NHL action.

“Yesterday was a really good game, it was hard played, it was intense,” Wildhaber said. “I liked it ... It’s always nice to watch an NHL game.”

However, it’s not just the traveling fans who won. Season ticket holder Susan Vandewater was among those who walked away with a shirt off of a player’s back. She came in sporting a James Neal jersey, then walked away with another James Neal jersey – this one given to her and signed by the player himself. When she learned she would be receiving Neal’s jersey, Vandewater let out an excited scream, texted her best friend and waited in anticipation to meet her favorite Penguin.

Vandewater said the moment didn’t disappoint.

“It was wonderful,” Vandewater said of meeting Neal. “He’s really, really nice, like I expected him to be. I asked him to sign my shirt because he’s my favorite player and he said ‘whatever you want to’ ... I told him ‘good luck in the playoffs’. It’s just such a surreal moment, you have to kind of collect your thoughts.”

The lucky lady who received Sidney Crosby’s jersey, Teri Hudson, estimated that she has attended around 100 Penguins games in her lifetime – including a trip to Colorado last Sunday to see the Penguins win in a shootout. That night was the Avalanche’s own Shirts Off Our Backs promotion, and Hudson said the people in front of her won. But of course, she was more excited for the Shirts Off Our Backs promotion she’d be attending a week later – and for good reason.

When she walked off the ice after meeting Crosby, Hudson still seemed a little starstruck.

“It was one of the most exciting days of my life,” Hudson said with a smile. “He’s a very nice young man.”

It could be considered an early Mother’s Day present as well, as Hudson said she used her son’s tickets for tonight’s game.

“I’m so glad he let me come tonight,” Hudson laughed. “But he told me I could keep (the jersey).”

When the players weren’t meeting the lucky recipients of their jerseys, they were throwing t-shirts to the fans in the stands. Some even had target practice, literally, as some fans thought ahead of time and brought signs with targets on them.

Fan Appreciation Night wrapped with a wave from No. 87, the last player to go, as he left the ice, signaling the official end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs on Wednesday.

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