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Penguins Entertain Students at Practice

by Tony Jovenitti / Pittsburgh Penguins
CONSOL Energy Center hosted the loudest event in its history this week. And no, it wasn’t the game where the Penguins registered their 11th win in a row.

It was a practice.

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The Penguins held their 3rd annual “Open Practice” for students from Allegheny County elementary and middle schools Thursday morning, and the kids in the crowd chanted and screamed throughout the entire hour-long practice.

“We had over 10,000 students in attendance today from about 60 schools,” said Jill Shipley, the director of fan development and special events for the Penguins. “We’re really excited to have them all here.”

The students were equally excited to come to the new arena to see the red-hot Penguins take the ice.

Paige Rothhaar, 13, from Bishop Leonard Saint Mary of the Mount Academy, came to the previous two open practices, but she said she gets a thrill every year.

“I was shocked when I found out we were coming again,” Rothhaar said. “I was excited.”

Cheers echoed throughout the arena as early as an hour before the 11 a.m. practice. And perhaps the loudest cheer came when the scoreboard prompted fifth graders to “scream if you like recess.”

At least, that was the loudest until Sidney Crosby took the ice. The morning after fans chanted “MVP!” for his two goals in a 5-2 win over Toronto, 10,000 kids chanted “Crosby!” for the superstar.

“To get a lot of people and a lot of kids that are happy to be here, I think it motivates you a little bit more,” Crosby said.

“It’s a good little pump up for practice to have kids around and make it so noisy,” Marc-Andre Fleury said.

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For some of the newer Penguins, like Zbynek Michalek, this marked the first time they experienced the Open Practice.

“It was tough hearing the coaches, so it’s a little bit different,” Michalek said. “But it’s good for the kids. It’s fun for them and gets them out of school for a little bit, so I’m sure they like it too.”

Each school could request up to 250 students to attend the practice, and Shipley said the schools decided how to distribute the seats.

“Some schools use it as an incentive for different math or reading programs, some use it for anti-bullying programs and some use it for behavior rewards,” Shipley said.

Marie Jo Marks, a second grade teacher from St. Bede’s in Point Breeze, said they didn’t have any criteria for choosing students to come, she did, however, use the practice to teach an important lesson.

“We used it as a lesson about team sports and sportsmanship, and to let them see the importance of practice, especially with the winning streak,” Marks said. “So that worked out well.”

Many of the students in attendance have never been to a Penguins game.

“Some of the kids never would have gotten to see the arena,” she said. “And some play hockey, so they were anxious to see the place.”

“We know that all of the kids here don’t always get a chance to come to games, let alone see a practice up close like that, so it’s fun,” Crosby said.

Julia Miklasevich, a sixth-grader from St. Maurice in Forest Hills, said this was the first time she ever saw the Penguins in person.

“It was pretty cool,” Miklasevich said.

Penguins broadcasters Paul Steigerwald and Phil Bourque emceed the event and taught students some of the intricacies of a hockey practice – in addition to some lessons about hard work and dedication.

During practice, Maxime Talbot came over to the bench and talked to the crowd about the importance of education.

“Every guy on our team went to school and worked hard,” he said.

Talbot also stressed the importance of having fun, but the students were way ahead of him.

They danced and chanted as they found themselves on the scoreboard’s giant screen.

“We like to entertain the kids and use it as a reward,” Shipley said. “A lot of teachers have commented on what a great tool it is for them to incentivize the kids to work hard at something.”
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