The Pittsburgh Penguins will trade their black and gold for camouflage this week.
Starting Monday, the Penguins begin a four-day team-building trip to the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY. The squad will continue on-ice and off-ice hockey workouts, but most of their time will be spent building team chemistry through unique military-based situations.
“I think it’s going to be a good time. I think it’s going to be a good opportunity for the guys to get to know each other a little better. I am sure we’ll do a lot of team building,” Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton said. “Anytime you get that kind of an opportunity away from the rink, where you can get to know guys better and work together with guys in different situations, I think it’s going to be fun and beneficial for the team.”
The Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers went through similar team-building experiences in the past. Penguins center Dominic Moore, who spent 2005-06 with the Rangers, knows what’s in store this year in his second trip to West Point.
“West Point was really valuable for us last year as a team, as far as creating an identity for ourselves as a team and also reminding ourselves what the key values you have to have as a team player and as a person that brings success both in hockey and in life. The guys at West Point do an excellent job of bringing those out,” he said. “I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s the kind of thing that’s challenging and brings out leadership skills and teamwork skills. It brings out a lot of things that make people successful in sports – they are a lot of the same things that make the Army Rangers successful.”
First Sergeant J.B. Spisso, a former Army Ranger and current member of the New York National Guard, is a co-founder of Elite Leadership Training, LLC. In addition, he is a West Point employee and will oversee the Penguins’ training.
“J. B, Spisso is an intense fellow and he does an unbelievable job,” Moore said. “I consider ourselves very lucky to have the opportunity.”
Spisso and his staff have many activities in store for the Penguins. One of which is a paintball game.
“I don’t know what all we’re going to do, but I know paintball is extremely fun. I know all the guys are looking forward to that,” Eaton said. “I think some guys were heading to the sporting goods store [last weekend] to get some camouflage gear. It’s going to be fun and intense.”
There are many other exercises scheduled, which may not be considered as enjoyable as paintball.
“That never hurts when you have a team. It’s a little different atmosphere and freshens up your mind,” Penguins winger Jarkko Ruutu said. “I think it will be fun – a little different than normal days. I was in the army [in Finland] for eight months, so I kind of know what it’s like. It’ll be tailor-made for us. It will be fun.”
The entire trip is aimed at building team chemistry. Moore knows it will provide that.
“To start your season with something like that, brings you back to the fundamentals of what you need to do to be successful,” he said. “A lot of times in sports, you forget about that those things are. It’s a challenge that brings out those qualities.
“To be honest with you, last year’s experience was some of the must fun I have ever had. It was just awesome all the way around. I am looking forward to going back.”
Eaton believes the four days spent at West Point will benefit the Penguins for many months.
“I am sure. I have done team building stuff off the ice and guys talk about it all season and years after, just about all the experiences they had and the challenges they went through together,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”