The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on American soil have changed the way many of us live our daily lives. Perhaps nobody is more affected than the soldiers who are now deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan to protect our country, and their families that have to see them go.
On Tuesday at Mellon Arena, the Penguins were able to take time to pay tribute to a local hero who recently returned from Iraq three weeks ago after spending a year overseas with the 56th Stryker Brigade.
Steve Mitrisin, a City of Pittsburgh police officer who patrols Zone Two just up the road from the arena, enlisted in the army after graduating college. He was in basic training when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred.
Officer Mitrisin, in the midst of planning a wedding with his then girlfriend Kristin, was called back into duty by the Stryker Brigade in 2008. He and Kristin opted to instead elope, and quickly received news Kristin was pregnant with their first child.
While serving his tour of duty, Mitrisin missed the birth of his son, Tyler. Thanks to a local charity group, he was able to witness Tyler’s birth via a live satellite feed.
Mitrisin also missed another big event while in Iraq, his favorite hockey team, the Penguins, winning the 2009 Stanley Cup championship.
Mitrisin followed the Penguins’ run along with other members of his unit through the internet. Watching his local team from thousands of miles away gave Mitrisin an energy boost that is often needed while in the trenches ensuring our freedom.
“I don’t know if (the Penguins) have any idea how much (winning the Stanley Cup) helped us being over there,” described Mitrisin of the effect the victory had on him. “Morale was kind of low for me with everything going on, as well as for a lot of people. Knowing the Penguins were at home having this great playoff run and winning the Cup really helped us over there. It truly did.”
Since he missed the team’s championship run, the Penguins invited Mitrisin and Kristin to the Penguins’ afternoon practice. Mitrisin’s appearance was part of a special program, “Return Salute,” to be played at 10 p.m. on Veteran’s Day on the Discovery Military Channel. A preview of the show is available on the Discovery Military Channel website at www.military.discovery.com
At the conclusion of practice, Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, captain Sidney Crosby
and the rest of the team honored Mitrisin on the ice. Bylsma opened the entrance to the ice closest the Penguins locker room and invited Steve and Kristin Mitrisin onto the ice as Discovery camera’s filmed the festivities.
Bylsma explained Mitrisin’s story to the Penguins, who had gathered into a semi-circle around the officer and his wife. Then, Crosby came to the forefront and handed Mitrisin a Penguins sweater complete with his last name and the number “56” on the back, to represent the 56th Stryker Brigade. Mitrisin also received tickets to Wednesday night’s home game versus the Phoenix Coyotes at Mellon Arena.
Penguins’ players then showed Mitrisin an age-old hockey tradition, lightly tapping their sticks onto the ice in admiration. Winger Eric Godard was the first player to come shake Mitrisin’s hand following Crosby, and the entire team quickly emulated.
“It was great to shake all of their hands,” Mitrisin said following a complete tour of the Penguins locker room facilities. “They are just outstanding guys to do this for me, and at the end of their practice bring me down and have my wife and I come onto the ice to give me tickets and present me with a jersey. It was great.”
What was also great was that Mitrisin, who resides in nearby Greentree, had no idea any of these events were going to occur. His wife had him believing he was just coming to view practice.
“It was hard to keep it from him,” Kristin Mitrisin said. “We knew about a month ago what was going to happen, so I was trying to keep it as casual as possible.”
Kristin did a great job fooling her husband, because his expectations for the day were much different than what played out.
“Today, I really thought we were going to be walking around the city and (the Discovery camera crew) would be shooting us at different places in the city,” he said. “Then they brought us up here and all this happened. I had no idea any of this was going to happen.”
Steve Mitrisin couldn’t stop praising the Penguins organization for the way they welcomed him.
“Just the fact the Penguins organization would do this for me and my wife – bring us down here onto the ice and tell me thank you, it just shows how great the Penguins are – the players as people and the organization as a whole.”
Crosby was pleased to hear what Mitrisin had to say.
“That’s not the first time I have heard that. It means a lot as a player. We all kind of catch the odd glimpse of the people watching overseas, following the games in the early hours, especially during the playoffs. To really realize what they are going through and the importance of what we do having an effect on their life and morale, I think it makes us appreciate it even more.”