James Neal aimed for the top corner of the net. The orange street hockey ball flung off his stick and headed right for the netting.
But 13-year-old Olivia swooped in with her glove to make a save and rob Neal of a goal.
“I’m a little rusty, I haven’t played in a while,” Neal joked. “She was good in the net. It was fun to shoot on her. She said she plays hockey in Pittsburgh.
“I was trying to go glove. She knew where I liked to shoot the puck. She studied up on me.”
Olivia had a specific strategy.
“It was fun,” she said. “I tried not to be scared and just had fun.”
Neal visited the Boys and Girls Club in Carnegie on Thursday afternoon to announce his new ticket program, “Neal’s Neighborhood,” which provides four tickets to every Penguins home game for the 2013-14 season to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Pittsburgh. The tickets will be distributed throughout the local clubs and will provide families the opportunity to attend a game.
“I got four tickets for some kids and their families to be able to come to games,” Neal said. “They aren’t able to afford to go to Penguins games. For me to help them out is easy and I know how excited they are to go. It’s fun to be able to put a smile on their face.”
“For Olivia, that’s something she’ll live with for the rest of her life and remember that,” said Mike Hepler, President and CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania. “Part of our goal is getting the kids off the streets. Once you get them in and involved then you can navigate them into all kinds of wonderful opportunities within the club.”
Working with the Boys and Girls Club is very close to Neal’s heart.
“It’s close to my family,” Neal said. “My mom and dad both worked at the Boys and Girls Club growing up and it’s funny because that’s how they actually met. Back home they always did stuff with the kids.
“They’re excited and any time you can get them off the streets and help them out it’s great. They do great work here at the Boys and Girls Club. It’s easy for me to say hi.”
During his visit, Neal talked to the kids, answered questions (“Are you good at hockey?” “I'd like to think so.”), shot a few balls at Olivia and signed autographs.
“It was very nice,” Olivia said. “The kids have so much fun when special guests come here. It was really special.”
“I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of James,” Hepler said. “He’s having a good time here.”
And Neal said that he would return as often as he could. Maybe next time he’ll be a little more successful shooting on Olivia.
“You never know what can happen. Maybe one day one of them will be playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins,” Neal said. “It gives them a chance and that’s all they can ask for.”