Several smiling children and their families from three different Pittsburgh charities got the unique opportunity to meet their favorite Penguins players following practice on Wednesday.
Children from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, The Children’s Institute and The Children’s Home attended a luncheon in Mellon Arena’s Igloo Club, where players spent time talking with the families, taking pictures and signing autographs.
“We love to do it, and it’s a big thrill to us,” Bill Guerin said. “These events never get old because they always involve kids. It’s always about doing something special for a certain child. You never get tired of it.”
Even Iceburgh made an appearance during the morning skate as he walked around giving hugs and high-fives to the laughing kids. Two clowns joined him in the blue seats, designing balloon hats for the children and joking with the families.
“Our kids are just super thrilled to be here,” Dana Antkowiak, a representative from Make-A-Wish, said. “This is our 24th year doing this type of party with the Penguins. They are always the most gracious and most wonderful hosts to have us, and the kids just have an awesome time.
“It’s so nice to get them all together when you have families who are maybe going through some tough times to meet with other families who have similar experiences and to just cut loose and relax and have a great time. We’re just so appreciative that this tradition continues every year.”
After the practice, families enjoyed hot dogs, burgers, chicken fingers, smiley fries and chocolate chip cookies as they dined at tables with different colored balloons attached to the centerpieces. Many of the parents and children also wore Penguins shirts and jerseys to show their support of the team.
“This is just an outstanding job that they do,” Joe Pigeon, whose daughter Tressa is a Make-A-Wish child, said. “They brought us to a game Monday night, then to this. It’s Tressa’s Make-A-Wish to meet Sidney Crosby
, and they treat you like royalty around here. It’s fantastic.”
“The kids have liked the Penguins ever since they were little,” George Stuyvesant, whose child participates in The Children’s Home, said. “It’s nice that they’re doing something like this. It’s unbelievable.”
Like the Pigeon and Stuyvesant families, the Ducoeur family – who could not wait to meet Crosby – was equally excited to attend the luncheon.
“This is the first time that we’ve ever met anybody at a sports-related event, so we’re very excited,” Lisa Ducoeur, whose daughter Alexis is a Make-A-Wish child, said. “Make-A-Wish left a message on the machine, so I saved it and played it for Alexis, and she was all excited.”
As the players mingled with the families at different tables, they realized the importance of making time to give back to the community and spending time with the children.
“Anytime you can help in any way – if it’s just taking their mind off what’s troubling them – if they want to come and be a part of this, it’s a fun thing,” Matt Cooke
said. “Sometimes I think you take health for granted. It always puts your mind back and allows you to be thankful for the good things in your life.
“Even just watching them at practice – you throw a puck over, and they’re ecstatic. It brings you back to when I was a kid and I had a chance to go watch the (Toronto Maple) Leafs play. It’s fun, and it’s a cool thing.”