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Penguins Reflect On West Point Trip

by Joe Sager / Pittsburgh Penguins
(Penguins TV: West Point Recap)

The Pittsburgh Penguins benefited from going to West Point last year.

They hope it pays off again this season.

The Penguins returned home to Pittsburgh on Wednesday night after spending two and a half days at the United States Military Academy at West Point for some team building and practice.

“It’s always a fun time to go to West Point. You never know what to expect,” Maxime Talbot said. “It’s really fun for the guys and great for team chemistry, team building and leadership. It was a great experience again.”

The routine was altered a little from last year’s trip. This time, the Penguins had to embark on a campus-wide scavenger hunt and make a hike up a hill.

“We switched up a few of the missions. This time we climbed a mountain together with all the Army backpacks on and we had to carry heavy things to simulate guns and artillery boxes and things like that,” Colby Armstrong said. “We had to work as a team with guys switching off packs and stuff to climb. We had a scavenger hunt on campus. I don’t know if anyone has ever been there, but it’s in the mountains and there are hills everywhere, so it was pretty hard trudging across the entire campus going up hills and looking for things to find on the scavenger hunt. It was definitely a good time and challenging.”

In addition, the Penguins got a tour of some military airplanes

“We didn’t do that crazy mission this time that took us like five hours last year,” Ryan Malone said. “We did a warrior hunt thing where we had to run around all over campus and do different stuff. We took a little tour of the airbase and saw all the different planes they use, which is pretty cool. We did some different stuff, but it was still the same concept. It was another good experience.”

One popular activity remained this year – paintball.

“That’s the fun thing. We all wait for that moment,” Talbot said. “In the summer, when you play with friends, you shoot the guy from far away and there are a lot of rules, but at West Point, you just shoot guys from really close, so some guys had some pretty big welts and bruises. It’s very good for team building because you have to cover each other and try to get plans to attack the other team.”

While the Penguins didn’t have to storm a house in a simulated hostage situation, they did embark on various other paintball missions.

“Everyone loves the paintball there – that’s definitely the most-fun activity,” Malone said. “We didn’t have the house brigade this time. We did have a ‘paint or pain’ session where you either quit because you were in too much pain or you ran out of paintballs. Malkin has a good welt on the side of his face. Ruutu just ran around like a crazy Finn that he is. He probably has 30-40 welts all over him. It was fun and there were some crazy stories there.”

Armstrong also felt the brunt of the paintball war.

“Yeah, I got smoked in the neck – really hard. That was the first time I got shot in that round, but it eliminated me really quickly,” he said with a laugh. “As far as paintballing goes, it teaches you to work as a team and communication is really key. I thought, after we did the paintballing, that in practice the next day we had a lot more communication in practice and guys were jumping in and there was more life. You could see how it transfers onto the ice.”

Erik Christensen, who was sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last year before the Penguins went to West Point, enjoyed his first trip there.

“I sort of came out of there with a new-found respect for the American Army and the Special Forces and those types of military people who go overseas and fight in wars,” he said. “Being Canadian, we certainly see all the headlines and what’s going on with the U.S. and the war. To see what they sort of go through day in and day out and the type of effort, mental discipline and physical training they go through – it was really a cool experience to see that. It’s something I will remember forever.”

First Sergeant J.B. Spisso, a former Army Ranger and current member of the New York National Guard, oversaw the Penguins’ training. The Greensburg native kept the team moving.

“If we weren’t practicing, we were in our shorts and running shoes out running, climbing hills and carrying heavy stuff,” Christensen said. “Every day we had virtually no down time to relax or rest. You were either eating, playing or working on something else. We were pretty busy for about two and a half days.”

Overall, though, it was a rewarding experience for the Penguins.

“The guys enjoyed themselves and it was nice to get away from the pressure and intensity of training camp. This camp has certainly been more difficult than last year,” Christensen said. ‘It was nice to get away from camp and have some time to each other and learn something new together. It was something I will remember for a long time.”

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