The Pittsburgh Penguins delivered plenty of smiles in time for the holidays on Tuesday.
For the 22nd season, the team held its annual Make-A-Wish Foundation practice and party at Mellon Arena. Participating families serviced by a local chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation attended a Penguins practice in the morning and had lunch with the players in the afternoon at the Igloo Club.
“This is fun for us and, obviously, for these kids to come here and have a change of mind for a bit and have some fun watching practice and meeting some of the guys. Hopefully, they enjoyed it,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “I think it puts things in perspective. A bad game or a bad day for us, probably most of the time is a lot different than a bad day for a lot of these kids. To have the opportunity to put a smile on a child’s face once in a while is something we should take the opportunity to do if we have the chance. We have a great group of guys for it. Every time we do things like this, there is always great feedback and we always have fun with it. But, people don’t realize how much fun it is for us. As much fun as the kids have, we have a lot of fun meeting all these kids and seeing the personalities and all the different things they bring.”
The children cheered on the Penguins during practice, much to the players’ delight.
“It’s good to have them out in practice, too,” Colby Armstrong said. “You can see their faces while they were watching practice and you could see how much fun they were having.”
Following lunch, the players mingled with the children and their families and posed for pictures and signed a variety of items, including hockey cards.
“It is such a fun day. They look forward to this and we look forward to this also. The players are just so gracious to the children. They give up their time and autographs and picture taking and never break their smile at all,” said Dana Antkowiak of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “It’s just a really nice thing for the kids when they’re dealing with so much that they shouldn’t have to at their age that they can take a break with their family and do something really fun and really spectacular. We’re so grateful for it.”
Georges Laraque was thrilled to meet all the children.
“Everything involving kids is fun. Those are the people who look up to you. It’s a dream come true for them to come and meet the guys and we know that. For us, aside from hockey and the business side of it and all that stuff, coming here is the real world. Making everyone smile is what it’s all about and it’s awesome,” he said. “It’s good that teams do this. We love that we play in front of a packed audience every game. This is a way to show the fans our support by doing this. We thank the fans for coming to the games and being really loud when we score and they are behind us whether we win or lose. We are behind them, too, and this is a way of showing it. There was a lot of positive energy here. Everyone was so happy to meet each other.”
Jordan Staal was happy to put some smiles on children’s faces.
“It puts a smile on my face, too. I enjoy doing this. It’s great to see these kids light up when they see you. It’s a special feeling,” he said. “It’s nice for us to be able to do this. It’s great to give back to the community. It’s something I love doing. It’s something special for the kids. I am glad they could be a part of it. “
Armstrong enjoyed meeting the children and signing his autograph.
“Some are more thrilled to see me than others. They are all great. They have all their cards ready. They are fans of the game and it’s definitely fun to talk some hockey with them and see some smiles and meet them and find out what they are all about,” he said. “A lot of the people up here are just great people. It’s really a great thing to just see them and get around and meet a few of the people. The children got to watch practice and then come here and get some good food. I put down a couple hot dogs, too. Meeting the kids is fun. They have some great stories and we had some good laughs.”
Erik Christensen was glad to help make many great memories for the children.
“Anytime you can put a smile on someone’s face, especially someone who may be less fortunate, it’s always nice and it feels good for us. We’re always happy to do it for the fans. They give us a lot, so we’re just glad to give back,” he said. “These are true fans. The kids just love the Penguins. It’ll be an experience they remember forever.”
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury had a blast talking with the children.
“It’s pretty cool just to meet some kids. Everyone is real nice to us. It’s real nice to see them be happy,” he said. “They all have great families, so I am glad to make them happy.”
Crosby saw some familiar faces, too.
“This little girl Paige, I saw her last year at the hospital. To know that she is out and able to come to practice and see the guys again – it was a little different last year when she was in the hospital for a long time,” he said. “It’s always nice to see kids, especially when things are going a little better for them and they are able to finally get out and be with their families and get a chance to come see practice.”