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March (Madness) of the Penguins

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins are undefeated in the month of March, going 10-0. But there’s something else going on right now in the world of sports that had everybody’s attention today.

The 2013 NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, known as March Madness, began this afternoon. It’s tradition for people to fill out a bracket for the 64-team field – including president Barack Obama – and the Penguins are no different, as the players and staff all fill out brackets for what’s technically their office pool.

“I think we all have fun with it,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “One of our trainers always runs that. We always have a Masters pool and a football pool, though we obviously missed all the football this year. It’s just something where it’s just another outlet from hockey. You’re playing so many games, it’s just something else to occupy some of your time and get your mind off hockey for a little bit.”

So who’d he pick to be the champions?

“I just filled it out,” Orpik admitted with a smile. “I can’t remember. I think I had Louisville beating Miami in the final. We’ll see how it plays out. I think this is the one year I probably have the least amount of confidence in my pool. It seems like the No. 1 teams this year lost every week and there was a new No. 1. Should be a lot of fun. A lot of upsets this year.”

Orpik and the rest of the American-born players, especially the ones who played college hockey, tend to get the most excited about the tournament. Defenseman Paul Martin is perhaps the most invested, as he went to college at the University of Minnesota – a member of the Big Ten, arguably the most competitive league in men’s basketball.

“March Madness is a lot of fun,” Martin said. “We used to go to a couple Gopher games every now and then when we had time. It’s fun to watch. A lot of excitement. Some of the guys are obviously more into it than others, like the Europeans and some of the Canadians. Basketball is not their strong suit (laughs). The guys that are into it, they enjoy it and have a good time with it.”

Did Martin pick the Golden Gophers to go all the way?

“I have two different champs – one is Syracuse and one is Gonzaga,” Martin said. “I’m all over the place.”

While captain Sidney Crosby may be Canadian, his competitive nature won’t allow him to not try and win the March Madness pool.

“I have Indiana,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a few pools that have Indiana. We’ll have to see what else I can try to get points in. I think Michigan’s in there. I don’t know who the other two are in my Final Four. It’s always fun to follow that. I know a lot of guys will be following that pretty closely.”

Rookie Beau Bennett, who grew up in California and went to school at the University of Denver, also picked Indiana to win. But he doesn’t have much faith in his pool.

“I picked Indiana to win just because every time I turned on ESPN this year I saw their name usually being talked about, so I kind of went with the popularity contest,” Bennett admitted. “I don’t know much about college basketball. I’m sure my bracket will be ruined after the first day. I’m not putting too much effort into it. A lot of the trainers take it pretty seriously. They do their research. They know what’s going on. Me, I just write whatever name looked cooler out of the two teams I picked.”

Beau may know hockey, but he certainly doesn’t know basketball.

At one point during today’s practice, the players gathered around the dry-erase board hanging on the glass to find out the next drill. But this time, it wasn’t coach Dan Bylsma drawing it up. It was Bennett.

Bylsma asked the rookie winger to go over a play he failed to execute correctly in a previous game. And Bennett gamely did as his teammates and coaches watched attentively (but then playfully chirped him once he was done).

“I had messed it in a game earlier this year,” Bennett explained. “It was just a couple forechecks I didn’t know the names of. Coach asked me if I knew it before practice and I told him I’d answer questions in front of the team, but I didn’t know he was going to make me demonstrate. It was all fun and luckily I got them right.”

Having to get up in front of the entire team was certainly a good learning moment for the rookie winger, and ensured he won’t make the same mistake again.

“That’s a good way for me to never forget what I’m doing ever again,” Bennett said. “It’s kind of instilled in my brain.”

Evgeni Malkin
(upper body) practiced with the team, while Kris Letang (lower body) did not. Letang skated with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar in the morning.

“(Letang) is still day-to-day,” Bylsma said. “Evgeni Malkin had (his) second day of practice with the team. Not going to elaborate any further.”

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