Randy Paulick is the most recent recipient of the Penguins' largesse.
Who is Randy Paulick, you ask?
He's a diehard Penguins fan living in Oslo, Norway, after relocating from Wexford, Pa., six years ago. How diehard? He hopped in the car this morning with a buddy, Todd Berman, and they drove six hours to take in Friday's open practice here at the Globe Arena.
"This is a huge event," he told NHL.com as he watched the practice. "How often can you see players like Sidney Crosby
practicing right in front of you?"
Paulick was so excited about the opportunity that he came for the hour-long practice without having tickets for the NHL Bridgestone Premiere Stockholm game the next day (2:30 p.m. ET, NHLN, CBC, RIS) in which his Penguins start the 2008-09 season with a showdown against the Ottawa Senators.
That's right, Paulick and his buddy made the six-hour trip knowing that after the Penguins left the ice Friday, their hockey adventure most likely would come to a sudden and unfulfilling end. But a little of something is better than nothing, right?
He hoped to score tickets to the sold-out game, but he understood it was a long shot. A long shot, that is, until he ran into a group of Penguins fans that had come over on a team-sponsored trip.
As he told his story to the group, they decided such dedication should be rewarded. Suddenly, a pair of tickets to Saturday's game was proffered to a flabbergasted Paulick.
Could he go?
"I got permission from my wife," he said with a smile.
And just like that, Paulick and Berman were part of the Penguins family, adopted into the unit without a question other than: "Who do you support?"
Tom Trzcinski from Beaver Falls, Pa., is a long-time fan and his family has four season tickets to the Pens. He was one of about 30 Penguins fans to sign on for the trip. He's often witnessed the Penguins family in action and never is surprised by their generosity.
"There's just a family atmosphere and a generosity that comes from the top all the way down with the Penguins," he said. "It's a warm, cohesive feeling that everyone gets, from the fans right on up."
Trzcinski should know.
He is the president of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League and his organization works hand-in-hand with the Penguins to grow the game at the grass-roots level in the Pittsburgh area.
In the past few years, the Penguins have become exponentially more involved in the PIHL, promoting the high school game in a myriad of ways, said Trczinski.
Utmost among those ways is the Penguins' eagerness to support the Penguins Cup, the playoff portion of the PIHL schedule, which promotes the western Pennsylvania state champions. The Philadelphia Flyers support a similar competition in the eastern half of the state and the winners of each competition -- at different division levels -- meet for the state championship.
"It's just been phenomenal for them to help us the way they do," said Trczinski. "They have allowed the Penguins Cup to become a money-making proposition and it's increased the visibility of hockey in the area."
And that can only be good for the Penguins. After all, a united family is a strong family.
"There's just a family atmosphere and a generosity that comes from the top all the way down with the Penguins. It's a warm, cohesive feeling that everyone gets, from the fans right on up." - Tom Trzcinski
For proof, one had to look no further than the Globe Arena ice surface Friday afternoon as Trczinski and Paulick raved about the benefits of being members in good standing of the family.
Out there, more than 4,000 miles from Pittsburgh, was Bill Thomas, another Pittsburgh-area native. This one is trying to crack the most inner sanctum of the Penguins family -- playing for the actual team.
The 25-year-old left wing is trying to become the second Pittsburgh native in recent memory to play for the hometown team. Ryan Malone, who signed a free-agent deal with Tampa Bay this summer, is the other.
Thomas has survived to the final cut, playing a capable two-way game as he tried to stick in the NHL full-time after several cups of coffee with the Phoenix Coyotes in the past three seasons.
Thomas doesn't have much trouble today accepting that he is on the cusp of making the Penguins, but rather that he is fighting for his right to do so in Stockholm, Sweden.
"It's really exciting that hockey allows you to do things like this," he told NHL.com Thursday. "Hockey has given me so much in my life. It's truly amazing."
Author: Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor